Addressing the impact of COVID-19 on early child development


15th March 2021

Addressing the impact of COVID-19 on early child development

What impact is the pandemic having on early child development? Early years specialist, Gill Quantrell, identifies the main concerns and offers her advice on how busy practitioners can address them.  

Addressing the impact of COVID-19 on early child development

Early years and lockdown

Almost a year has passed since schools and early years settings in England and Wales closed their doors due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Data shows that only 7% of children aged between two and four attended formal early years provision during the national lockdown. When the lockdown eased in June this only increased to 13%. So, what has been the impact of this on early child development, and why does it matter?  

Let’s start with why it matters.  


The importance of the early years

High quality childcare and early years provision play a crucial role in child development and education. It supports children’s communication and language skills, as well as their social and emotional wellbeing. Attending formal early years provision is especially important for children from disadvantaged backgrounds, where it can decrease educational inequalities.  


What has been the impact of COVID-19 so far? 

As with other age groups, we won’t know the full impact of the pandemic on early child development for some time. This report by the Sutton Trust describes some of the initial challenges that children, families and educators have already faced. Many parents were thrown into the role of educators with relatively little preparation or support. Some relished the time together and had positive experiences, but many felt stressed and anxious. The biggest concerns have been around children’s social and emotional wellbeing as daily routines changed and social interactions reduced.  


Challenges for practitioners

The government has made it clear that keeping children in education is a priority. However, our hardworking early years practitioners are facing ongoing challenges and need support. Where schools and nurseries remain open, stringent cleaning regimes and blended learning provision have added immense pressure. There is the continued threat of temporary closure with confirmed cases of COVID-19, further disrupting children’s routines, learning and development. According to Ofsted’s Annual Report 2019/20, four in five providers expressed concerns that ‘children had not progressed, or their progression had declined, in communication and language, physical development, literacy and mathematics’. Recent research from the Education Endowment Fundalso shows how crucial it is to focus on the prime areas of learning.  

So, how can practitioners manageably support children in these key areas? 


Focusing on the prime areas of learning

Early years settings will have spent over a term with their children and gained a good understanding of their learning gaps. The three prime areas of learning will remain a focus throughout this year: communication and language, physical development and personal, social and emotional development. 

Here’s how you can address them.  


1. Communication and language

Communication and language approaches have made the most significant impact on children, with some strategies increasing development by up to six months. You can use specific interventions, but just having communication and language as a top priority in your setting will be invaluable.  

Tips: Work alongside the children and shartheir play experiences. Model vocabulary and add a narrative to children’s play. Make time to talk with children and have natural conversations with them. Regular storytime and book discussion will support children to develop their spoken vocabulary and learn new words in context. For more on how to support early reading, check out my blog. 

2. Physical development

There has also been a negative impact on children’s physical development, where families have had little or no access to green spaces. In 2018 and 2019, the National Child Measurement Programme for England found that 9.7% of Reception children were obese, but this figure was doubled in the most deprived areas. The link between poverty and childhood obesity, coupled with inactivity during lockdown, has vast implications for children’s future health and wellbeing. 

Young children are learning about the world around them and what their bodies can do. They are primed to explore their environment and need time to run in large open spaces, jump, hop and skip. It is crucial for their future health that children develop healthy hearts and bones by being active.  

Tips: Have your children experienced sustained periods of inactivity during lockdown? Now is the time to give them opportunities to be in wide, open spaces to develop their stamina and gross motor skills. It is important tspend time with the children outdoors, having fun, modelling activities and being there to challenge and support them.  

3. Social and emotional wellbeing

Many children have spent time away from friends and family members. Six months is a long time in a young child’s life. Children who have spent long periods in isolation are even at risk of developing issues, such as post-traumatic stress or attachment disorders. Children’s behaviour has also been an issue in many settings, but we should remember that behaviour is a form of communication. When talking about self-regulation, behaviour and psychology expert, Dr Stuart Shanker wrote,‘Treating behaviour like it is misbehaviour means we punish. Treating behaviour as stress behaviour means we help.’ Children need time to rebuild relationships with the adults and other children in their setting. They will also need time to explore and name their emotions, and for adults to help them when things go wrong. This builds emotional literacy, a vital skill for the recovery period and beyond 

Tips: Provide clear and consistent structures and routines with lots of visual images to support children with their understanding of expectations. However, one of the most effective strategies to support children with selfregulation is through scaffolding and modelling experiences as you play alongside them. 


The importance of adults

The role of the adult is crucial to all areas of child development. Research from Early Education shows that having a balance of adultinitiated and child-led learning activities is the most effective way of supporting children with their learning. It is important to understand that ‘adultinitiated’ doesn’t just mean formal carpet sessions. It can be the resources that adults provide for the children to use, and the experiences and activities that they plan for the children. Planned activities can be a way to teach individuals, groups, or the class, specific skills or knowledge and provide a springboard for independent learning.  can be a way to teach individuals, groups or the class, specific skills or knowledge and provide a springboard for independent learning.  

If high quality early years provision plays a crucial role in a child’s education, then it is dependent on the expertise and experience of the adults working with the children. 


How the Cornerstones early years approach can help

We have developed a new, engaging, balanced and focused early years curriculum with busy practitioners in mind. You can read more about the projects and pedagogical approachin this blog, but here are the main ways that it can help your setting to address the current issues.

  • All projects are communication and language focused. Each week has a key text to explore, and vocabulary is taught and developed through the projects. 
  • Each project scaffolds learning and teaches specific skills. 
  • All projects are fully editable, to allow teachers to meet the needs of the children. 
  • All projects are fully resourced to reduce unnecessary workload. 
  • The activities are practical, and the emphasis is for teachers to work with the children to develop their skills and knowledge. 
  • The ‘lesson taught’ tool allows teachers to see gaps in the children’s learning without filling in tick sheets and doing lots of observations. This frees up time to work with the children. 
  • They provide adultinitiated activities to teach specific skills and knowledge with linked enhanced continuous provision for children to use the new skills and knowledge with a focus on play.  
  • The adultinitiated activities are playful, to engage and motivate the children.  
  • The activities can be taught in small groups, so that teachers can tailor the language and experience for the developmental stage of the children. 
  • Each activity includes lots of promptsquestions and challenges to extend learning and develop language. 


‘The children at Castle Mead have immersed themselves into the project as well as the staff! In particular, the children’s use of project-based language and their curiosity has stood out. Thank you.’
Gaby Simons, Deputy Headteacher


Find out more about the early years curriculum

The new curriculum is available on Maestro, an online platform that has everything you need to plan, teach and assess your curriculum. To view the projects and discuss your needs, pleasemail us at or book a demo with a curriculum adviser. 


Helpful links

Early Years curriculum projects 

Curriculum Maestro 

Sutton Trust 

Education Endowment Fund (EEF) 

Curriculum Maestro book a demo

  • Expert advice
  • Tailored to you
  • At a time to suit you

Helping schools to transform the lives of children through powerful curriculum and meaningful assessment

Book a demo
Request A demo with our staff

Enter your details to download

    Download your file below

    You can download your file by clicking the button below.

    Download file
    Reviews Book a Demo Reviews

    We are in a much better place with CM than with our old curriculum. We will be making it more bespoke in the second year.

    Conrad Fox – Headteacher, Hunmanby Primary School, England


    I have used Cornerstones from its first launch. The product has been refined over time as it is driven by feedback from schools and teachers delivering the content. The company is also responsive to a school's needs.

    Lindsey Wain – Deputy headteacher, Hartburn Primary School, England


    Maestro is a real time saver, particularly for leadership teams and subject leaders. There is a wealth of information and resources which can be used and adapted by creative skills teachers. The way the curriculum is mapped is excellent and was commented on in a very recent Ofsted inspection.

    Charlotte Gibbins – Thurlstone Primary School, England


    I have recommended and told many other schools and school staff about it. I would always though suggest that they need to ensure it is right for their school setting and the needs of their staff and pupils.

    Kathryn – Teacher, Langton Primary School


    It has been a revelation. Staff are finding their way through it and if we have any questions, the support from Cornerstones is amazing. We always get answers to our questions. It is now our one-stop-shop for curriculum with linked up thinking and approach through an intuitive and user-friendly system.

    Moira Cross – Executive head, Dordon Primary School