There is no doubt that children born just before or into the pandemic have had a very different start to their Early Years education. Emma Fleckney from Nordic Star highlights some of the ways that children have been affected by the pandemic and shares how they are helping to bridge these developmental gaps.
Speech and language development
One of the areas most affected is a child’s speech and language development. Some reasons behind this could include children not socialising as much as they would have done beforehand. In some cases, this interaction may have been limited to as little as one or two people if family & friends weren’t living close by. There is evidence that children learn the rules of language and communication through observing interactions and singing songs. In some households, this may not have been the case and therefore experienced even less social contact.
A loss of face-to-face interaction
Another barrier to a child’s interaction was the lack of baby and toddler classes running over lockdown. Any classes that took place were carried out online, limiting children’s ability to interact with others.
Having spoken to several professionals in this field, it appears that face coverings impacted young children’s speech. Pre-covid, a young child going to the supermarket would have interacted with individuals in various ways. For example, a smile in the aisle, the cashier saying hello, or the interaction between the cashier and their parent. By adults wearing masks, children haven’t been able to look at mouth movements and how words are formed. There has been a lack of facial expressions that a young child has been able to witness.
Supporting communication and language
To support children with their communication and language, our teachers spend a lot of time during activities interacting with the children, talking to them, modelling language, and asking open-ended questions. We also spend a lot of time reading and singing to and with the children. Our curriculum encourages partnerships between children and staff members. Our cross-curricular format means communication and language opportunities are in all activities, engaging in circle time songs and story times.
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 any ideas can be shared.
Personal, social and emotional development
Not only does the limited social contact impact children’s communication, but it also affects children’s personal, social, and emotional development. This has been observed in children who have not had an opportunity to play with other children. Skills such as sharing and turn-taking have been slower to develop, particularly in those without siblings. Being surrounded by other children in a setting allows these skills to develop.
Staff need to be aware of the challenges that young children have faced and continue to face. Children mustn’t be compared to what a child of a similar age should be able to do pre-pandemic. Instead, staff should support children who have yet to develop these skills and correctly guide them. 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. We must provide children with activities encouraging collaboration, idea sharing, and working together.
It is evident, not only where children are concerned, but for adults too, experiences of lockdowns and the pandemic have varied considerably. Some parents may have lost jobs, been impacted financially, or felt lonely or depressed – all these factors will affect children. Staff must support families and recognise where further support may be needed in a child’s development without judgement. We provide children with extracurricular classes to help children with their PSED.
The importance of outdoor learning
We understand that the pandemic may have affected a child’s physical development, especially during lockdown periods. For example, in cities, children are known to live in flats and apartments with no outdoor area. Children were also restricted from visiting parks and soft play centres. This has meant children have had fewer opportunities to develop their gross motor skills.
This is an essential aspect of our curriculum to ensure the children get a reasonable amount of time outside. As we are a London Nursery setting, we use the park across the road to give children that opportunity. During their time outside, there is a mixture of free play. Children can run around and play with different outdoor resources such as hula hoops, walking stilts and park equipment.
We want children to follow their natural curiosity whilst outside. We always observe children’s interests in anything they see and find. Again, extra-curricular lessons, such as sports, will be held outdoors to provide children with different opportunities.