What a difference a school can make.

Childhood Magic
5 min readJul 31, 2021

Before the lockdown, my son suffered severe anxiety in Year 1. He had been happy in Reception but as a June baby, he wasn’t ready for the formal structure of year 1 and the demands of the curriculum. He has lots of energy and thrives on learning through play and being outside. He has a phonological delay which made it difficult for him to write independently although he has a great vocabulary and imagination to create stories.

He became miserable, hiding underneath his duvet or the kitchen table before it was time to leave for school and begrudgingly stepping into school. He had always been happy and cheerful with some close friends but in Year 1, he became withdrawn, angry and antisocial. It was hard to imagine that he would ever like school. He was sat in the corner at his own desk facing the window which made him feel even more alienated from the rest of the class. His self-esteem was rock bottom and he couldn’t cope when others around him received praise and recognition.

I took him and his brothers out for lunch every day which did help to break up the day and give them a taste of adventure which they craved.

The week before the lockdown he developed a rash and the Doctor was surprised as he danced around singing “I’ve got a virus” when he realized he couldn’t go to school. The lockdown gave him a break from school and the chance to recover from the cycle of classroom trauma he had endured.

As the lockdown eased and children were due to go back to school I kept thinking of the tear-stained, bewildered face I saw on my son at school and knew our son needed a fresh start. So luckily secured a place at a local prep school.

The first week went well but he still was anxious and was still on edge and ready to go into fight or flight mode. At the end of his second week, he was rushed by ambulance in the middle of the night with laboured breathing. The doctors suspected asthma or a viral wheeze but luckily it has not reoccurred and I wonder if it was stress-related.

We also visited an audiologist that week who saw how anxious our son was. When she closed the door of the soundproofed room he panicked and tried to escape.

Recently, we attended a follow-up appointment with the audiologist and she was astonished by the transformation in our little boy. He was able to articulate exactly which noises upset him during drama lessons and how he coped with them.

Luckily his new teachers worked so hard to reassure him and help him to feel safe and secure. They gave him a space hopper to bounce on in between tasks and gave him space to doodle in a notebook if he became upset. (I had asked if this was possible at his old school but was told that he couldn’t be different from his peers.) His classmates were all so kind and understanding and made him feel that he belonged and was part of a team.

The staff recognised the anxiety behind his behaviour and supported him rather than alienating and distressing him further.

One kind, determined little boy in the year above asked him to play with him and his friends every single day until he was confident enough to agree and play with them. He understood that he needed time as he had come from the same school a few years before. From that day on my son began to interact with others and became more confident and happy.

As his confidence grew he began to engage more and loved Forest school and all the opportunities to be creative and active.

His reading has improved enormously and he now asks to do his homework and bring extra reading books home. During the second lockdown in January, the teachers worked so hard and creatively to bring the daily routine, varied curriculum, and fun interaction of school into our homes. You could feel the warmth and companionship oozing from the computer screen and they had fun with online charades, PE games, forest school, quizzes, one-to-one reading sessions, and storytime at the end of the day. My other sons and I enjoyed taking part in the activities too.

He now can’t wait to go to school and is full of stories at the end of the day. At the previous school, he would fall apart at the end of the school day and was miserable until we reached the safety of our home.

He now says he loves school as he can be creative, and that he respects all his teachers. He has lots of opportunities to engage in sports, gymnastics, dance, drama, French, science, art, and swimming. He asks to stay for the after-school clubs and enjoys mindful drawing, drawing with Rob, and listening to audio stories. He also loves wraparound where he can colour, draw and be creative and enjoy his favourite snacks. The school chef makes delicious meals and snacks which he loves, especially the fruit!

He takes part in LAMDA which has boosted his confidence and communication skills. He recently performed a poem in a virtual assembly. He was so nervous but got through it with support from his teachers, mouthing the words in the background. Another highlight was Sports day as the rain the fell didn’t dampen their spirits and my son ran, danced, and skipped his way along to the music, twirling his baton in the relay race. He wasn’t perturbed if he didn’t win but had fun and cheered on his classmates. Also if he dropped his egg from the spoon he wasn’t phased and simply picked it up and carried on. He is no longer afraid of making mistakes.

Out of school, he is now back to the giggly, carefree, and friendly boy he was before school anxiety set in. He is very confident when he meets new people and loves making friends and playing with them. He is always on the move, dancing, playing, and being creative.

We are so glad that we found a new school for our son and can see how everyone has encouraged him to be the best version of his best self. He has developed an interest in current affairs and loves the general knowledge quizzes and chances to catch up on Newsround in class. He loved the recent STEM day building towers with marshmallows and spaghetti and he is keen to create his own leaning tower of pizza at home.

The fabulous, kind inspiring staff at his school have made a fantastic difference and given my son the best fresh start so that he feels valued, supported and can have a happy and fulfilling childhood as he matures and grows.