15th March 2021
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.
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.
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.
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.
The government has made it clear that keeping children in education is a priority. However, our hard–working 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 Fund also shows how crucial it is to focus on the prime areas of learning.
So, how can practitioners manageably support children in these key areas?
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.
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 share their 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.
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 to spend time with the children outdoors, having fun, modelling activities and being there to challenge and support them.
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 self–regulation is through scaffolding and modelling experiences as you play alongside them.
The role of the adult is crucial to all areas of child development. Research from Early Education shows that having a balance of adult–initiated and child-led learning activities is the most effective way of supporting children with their learning. It is important to understand that ‘adult–initiated’ 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.
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 approach in this blog, but here are the main ways that it can help your setting to address the current issues.
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, please email us at firstname.lastname@example.org or book a demo with a curriculum adviser.