The Education Minister has vowed to keep the pressure on the Executive to follow England's lead and get all school children back into the classroom as soon as possible.
Peter Weir said he intended to press the matter with fellow ministers again this week after overseeing the return of P1-P3 pupils on Monday morning.
And he said the time was now right "to start normalising the world again for our children".
"Regardless of our efforts and sacrifices, it remains clear to me that remote teaching and supervised learning is very much a second best to children being taught in the classroom," Mr Weir writes in Monday's Belfast Telegraph.
"This is not solely about the education of our children but also their mental health, physical wellbeing and social development.
"It will come as no surprise to anyone... that I have consistently lobbied the Executive to prioritise school return above all other sectors.
"This week again I will be directly engaging with Executive ministers to persuade them that we must ensure that all children are back to school as soon as possible and that we have firm dates for this return to be realised."
As P1-P3 children return to school the Department of Health recorded that a further three people had died after testing positive for Covid-19, and 138 new cases of the virus were reported.
It brings the death toll to 2,075 and the total number of confirmed cases since the outbreak to 113,645, with 1,198 people testing positive in the last week.
Department figures showed that there were currently 227 Covid patients in hospitals, with 33 in intensive care and 24 requiring ventilation. Pupils returning to the classroom on Monday are due to go back to remote learning after two weeks to allow Years 12-14 to return, but that is something the DUP wishes to review.
No date has yet been set for the wider return of all pupils, but for a leading union, the return of the youngest pupils is a day teachers have long waited for.
Jacquie White, general secretary of the Ulster Teachers' Union, said her members will be as pleased as the kids to see the classrooms come alive again.
"This is a day we've longed for and I know that most children will feel the same, though some are bound to be a little apprehensive given the trauma and upheaval they've faced," she added.
"Many schools have remained open throughout lockdown for the children of key workers and vulnerable children and our teachers have worked incredibly hard juggling the needs of these pupils with those who were being schooled at home."
But she urged Mr Weir to give more assurances over safety before any attempt to speed up the return of more pupils.
"While there's no doubt children learn better when they're in school, questions remain and we want reassurance from the Department of Education that it will ensure all risk assessments in schools are updated and control measures reinforced," she added.
"The single most important thing is that this time we have a plan we can stick to, one around which our pupils can start rebuilding their childhoods.
"We want a clear path out of this, not the stop-start approach that's been the case until now.
"Getting the youngest pupils back is a common sense first step and would appear to follow the science.
"However, there are issues to be resolved before older, post-primary school age students go back fully.
"Our exam-age pupils in particular have suffered a difficult and distressing year of disruption and interrupted learning.
"What is crucial is that pupils return in a way which is safe and sustainable, and which inspires the confidence of education staff and the public."
Meanwhile, Boris Johnson said he was "very hopeful" the return of pupils will go to plan as he warned the risk of keeping classrooms locked outweighed a school-led spike in Covid cases.
Pupils in England return to school for the first time in two months on Monday as part of the first stage of lockdown easing.
Some scientists have raised concerns the increased levels of interaction could cause coronavirus to spread faster. The Prime Minister echoed the warnings of education experts that more damage was being done to pupils by keeping them at home than having them return to in-person lessons.
He said: "You ask about the risk (of schools returning) - I think the risk is actually in not going back to school tomorrow given all the suffering, all the loss of learning we have seen."
Mr Johnson said he believed pupils, parents and teachers were "ready" to go back, with more than 20,000 schools set to open their gates once again.
"Tomorrow, on March 8, is the big step on the roadmap that we hope is a roadmap to freedom," the Prime Minister said during a visit to a north London vaccines centre.