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Can we change the long-term impact of the pandemic on young minds?

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Early Years children sitting on floor clapping in a group

Effects of the Pandemic on Children in the Early Years  

Reading Time: 5 minutes

In March 2020, the Covid pandemic hit the UK and the first of several lockdowns occurred. We have all been affected by this and children are no exception. I spoke to several settings to delve into this more.

Headlines around speech, language and social skills suggest that these are the areas being most affected by the pandemic so far. We have been confined to our homes and adults have worn masks and told to keep a distance, so children have had reduced opportunities to able to observe, listen or develop these skills. Something as simple as saying hello to people as they pass or whilst at a shop, let alone play with others as part of a large group, have all been diminished.

Children’s well-being has been brought to the fore-front even more since the pandemic and this is where we need to begin. If children do not feel safe, secure and happy, they will not progress well in any area of learning and development.

Personal, Social and Emotional Development and ways to support:

Much of children’s personal, social and emotional development has been affected. Settings have reported that children do not know how to play, perhaps because the use of television and devices has increased to keep children occupied. Children are struggling to share, take turns, have less confidence, are upset when parting from parents, find it hard to co and self-regulate, with children being far more dependent.

Different ways of supporting children’s personal, social and emotional development could include the use of stories, puppets and small world play. Other suggestions could consist of circle times, malleable activities, lots of modelling and being involved in children’s play, whilst not forgetting the importance of cuddles and conversation. Try to make sure your expectations are not unrealistic, and children are taught social skills of turn taking and sharing.

Physical Development:

Physical development effects have also been reported where children lack ability, desire and confidence to use their gross motor skills. Get children interested in the outdoor environment again, using their interests as a starting point. Can you make your outdoor space more engaging or exciting? What about visiting various places of interest and parks?

Communication and Language: 

Children’s speech development has been slowed and an increase in a difficulty to listen has also been noted. Needless to say, lots of talking, stories and songs are vital to improve children’s speech and language development.

Knowing your Children:

Due to these effects, other areas of learning and development are suffering as settings are spending most of their time developing the prime areas.

It may feel like a mammoth task trying to fast track these children, but the right teaching, environment and partnership working will make it much easier for you. You know your children. You get to know them inside out with the help of parents. Use this information as your guide. What does a child like/dislike? What are their favourite things/places to play? All the kinds of questions you ask parents when a child starts your setting. Observe them closely in the setting: how they play, what support they need in what areas of development. Schools are as much aware as you and need children ready emotionally as a priority.

Positives from the pandemic

Despite many challenges, providers have, however, reported some positive effects of the pandemic.

Partnerships with parents and carers

Working in partnership with parents has improved as settings had to find alternative ways of communicating with families whilst they were at home and once the children returned, as parents have not been allowed into settings. Strengthening this area effectively promotes children’s learning and development. This can be done through wider questioning and conversations with parents about a child’s home life to help you understand what their experiences have been like – have they been out/socialised/visited different places/played games, do they live in a small or large family/have a garden/read stories together, what do they play with at home – is this alone/with others/with who? Look at what is important to the family in terms of their culture and beliefs. The pandemic has affected people in various ways and left many afraid. Children pick up on parental feelings and will have heard the news and parents talking, even if they do not understand what it all means. Information gained from parents will aid you in the setting to build on children’s experiences and ensure you are offering new ones.

Outdoor learning opportunities

As settings were forced to spend more time outside, outdoor provision has been enhanced and this has aided children’s attention and concentration. The outdoors has a positive impact on our health and well-being so what better way to try to target the areas of learning and development that need support.

Changes in routine

Doorstep drop off and collection has also had a positive impact for some. Although it differs from prior importance on settling children in slowly and carrying this out with parents/carers involvement, this was not possible yet remarkably, children have responded well. Some children seem to have settled faster, are less distraught at saying goodbye and there is less disruption for them at the end of the day. Not every child has found this easy, and some children have found separating from their parents extremely difficult. Overall, doorstep drop off and collection will remain for many settings.

Making it all achievable 

Settings have already made big changes over the past two years to work within the ever-changing government guidelines. The implementations required to aid children’s development and to fill in the gaps in their learning are nothing new. It is what we have been doing for years, but now with a definitive focus. Although it will take time it is achievable. Think carefully about your intentions, implementation and monitor the impact of them. Reflect, adapt and differentiate your teaching and environment for children to benefit with maximum effect.

Article written by Philippa Hines

With thanks to Philippa Hines, an Early Years Consultant and trainer, for writing this article. Philippa has past experience of working as a practitioner and nursery manager and also works with Rutland Early Years Agency who regulate childminders across much of England.

Loved this article?

Read Philippa’s next blog on ‘Creating an enabling environment post pandemic’.

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