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

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Identifying Missed Opportunities for Learning Post-pandemic

There is no doubt that children born just before or into the pandemic have had a very different start to their Early Years education. In this article, Emma Fleckney from Nordic Star highlights some of the ways that children have been most affected by the pandemic and shares with us how they are helping to bridge these developmental gaps.

Speech and language development

One of the areas that has been most affected is a child’s speech and language development. Some of the reasons behind this could include children not socialising as much as they would have done beforehand. This interaction could have been limited to as little as one or two people in some children’s cases if friends and family weren’t living close by. There is evidence that children learn the rules of language and communication through observing interactions, through having someone talk to the child directly, singing songs and engaging in dialogue with the child. In some households, this may not have been the case and therefore experienced even less social contact.

A loss of face-to-face interaction

In addition to not being able to see friends and family as frequent to pre-pandemic times, another barrier to a child’s interaction was the lack of baby and toddler classes that were running over lockdown. Any baby classes taking place were usually carried out online and this further limited children’s ability to interact with others, follow instructions of group leaders, and have set time with their adult to engage in an activity together. Having spoken to several professionals in this field, it appears that the use of face coverings – particularly the wearing of masks impacted young children’s speech. Pre-covid, a young child going out to the supermarket would have interacted with individuals in various ways. For example, a smile in the aisle or the cashier saying hello – they would have also witnessed different conversations e.g., interaction between the cashier and their parent. By adults wearing masks, children haven’t been able to look at mouth movements, how words are formed and there has been a lack of facial expressions that a young child has been able to witness.

Supporting communication and language

In order to support children with their communication and language whilst at our nursery, our teachers spend a lot of time during activities interacting with the children, talking to them, modelling language, asking open-ended questions and we also spend a lot of time reading and singing to and with the children. Our curriculum really encourages that partnership between child and staff member to work together, as well as children working in groups. Our cross curricular format means that there are communication and language opportunities in all activities as well as engaging in circle time songs and story times etc.

We have also partnered up with a speech and language specialist, who can not only support individual children who require it but is also a tool for parents who want to work with their children on their speech and language. They can give ‘at home’ tips and suggestions of activities a parent can do with their child to enhance this area. To encourage this collaboration between our parents and the speech and language therapist, we run parent classes with them where ideas can be shared.

Personal, social and emotional development

Not only does the limited social contact impact children’s communication and language, but it also has a huge effect on children’s personal, social, emotional development. This has been observed in children who have not had an opportunity to play with other children of a similar age and skills such as sharing, turn taking, playing alongside have been slower to develop, particularly those without siblings. By being surrounded by other children in a setting, it gives opportunity for these skills to develop. Staff need to be aware of the challenges that young children have faced and continue to face, and it is important that children aren’t compared to what a child of a similar age should be able to do pre-pandemic. Instead, staff are supportive of children who have yet to develop these skills and guide them in the correct way. Throughout the Early Years, it is important to establish ground rules and set boundaries for the children- this supports their self-regulation: an area that has been identified in the new Early Years Foundation Stage framework. It is important that we provide children with the activities that encourage collaboration, idea sharing, group work and working together as well as plenty of opportunity for role play.

It is very clear, not only where children are concerned, but for adults too, experiences of lockdowns and the pandemic have varied greatly. Some parents may have lost jobs, been impacted financially, may have suffered a more volatile relationship at home, felt lonely or depressed – all these factors are going to have an impact on children. It is important that staff support children and families and recognise without judgement where further support may be needed in a child’s development. We provide children with extracurricular classes such as yoga, drama, music and sports to support children with their PSED.

The importance of outdoor learning

We understand that a child’s physical development may have been affected by the pandemic, especially during lockdown periods. For example, in a city such as London, more children are known to live in flats and apartments with no garden area at all or a small courtyard. This has meant children have had fewer opportunities to develop their gross motor skills as they may not have been able to visit parks as regularly or go to soft play centres and have had very limited opportunity to run around outside due to lack of space at home to do this.

More than ever, we see it as an important aspect of our curriculum to ensure the children get a good amount of time outside to learn and to play. As we are a London Nursery setting, we too haven’t got an outside space that is solely ours, so we are going to use the park that is across the road to give children that opportunity. During their time outside there is a mixture of free play, where children can run around and play with different outdoor resources such as hula hoops, walking stilts and park equipment but also structured outdoor activities. We want children to follow their natural curiosity whilst outside and we will follow children’s interests in anything they see and find. Again, some of our extra-curricular lessons such as sports will be held outside to provide children with opportunities, for example with football games that they may not have experienced outside of the nursery environment.

Article written by Emma Fleckney from Nordic Star

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