ILast week, while watching an outdated “growing and changing” DVD with my 2nd grade class, a child in the program blew out his birthday candles and shared slices of cake with his friends. Outrage in the class ensued. “Mademoiselle, was that before the corona? It’s disgusting!”
Birthday parties are just a small part of what young children have been missing out on over the past couple of years. Since the start of the first lockdown, children have missed months of classroom learning, play dates, theater groups and football practice. Recent findings from Ofsted show that the pandemic has delayed young children’s social skills – with some unable to understand facial expressions. These will not surprise any teacher. There have been no nationwide shutdowns or two-week “bubble” shutdowns this academic year, and that relative consistency has been wonderful. But the return to school has also given staff a better understanding of how the pandemic has affected children’s development.
Recent reports from Ofsted Chief Inspector Amanda Spielman resonate with what I have seen in young children at my school. the non-compulsory curriculum for early childhood is based on the principle that all areas of learning are linked. It places more emphasis on communication and social and physical development than the older age group program, where progress is defined in a more traditionally academic sense. It is therefore not surprising that children who have missed months of crèche and childcare – school years that teach them to play cooperatively with others and to express their needs or ideas – now show deficiencies in these fundamental skills.
In my school, some children now find it difficult to express what they need or want, to answer simple questions or to follow short instructions. This has a ripple effect on their social skills. Those who have not practiced taking turns talking or sharing with others find it difficult to play and use school resources. Many children have missed opportunities for physical development; It was eye-opening to see four- and five-year-olds choosing to crawl down the hall to the toilet rather than walk.
My school emphasizes a relational approach to education, which recognizes that children learn best when they feel secure and stable. I see anxiety in the students I teach, which manifests itself in different ways – aches and pains, reluctance to come to class in the morning, reluctance to try new things – all of which affect their ability to function in the classroom. Classroom teachers and teacher aides play such an important role in promoting a sense of safety in young children. Every time one of us is sick with Covid-19, it has a ripple effect on the children we teach.
I often wonder if the abrupt school closures during the past two years of shutdowns, which gave school staff or families little time to emotionally prepare children for dramatic changes, have left a lasting impression on the feelings of children that they can count on school as a constant. in their lives. It is truly sad to think of these children who lack stability in their family life and the impact these sudden closures would have had on them.
Teachers identified many of the issues raised in recent Ofsted findings at the start of the pandemic. Education experts have called for a “Summer of Play” in 2021, and UNE’s Kevin Courtney spoke of the need to give schools the flexibility to organize the curriculum to meet the emotional needs of children in 2020. It therefore seems wrong that the Ministry of Education has chosen to focus more on lost school learning than on the lack of social, physical, communicational and emotional development of children. Neither the National tutoring programassessing children through SATs after a two-year hiatus or enforcing minimum class hours will address these issues.
Children are resilient by nature. In addition to the anxiety and fear that surrounded Covid-19, they faced the pandemic with humor and creativity. It has been interesting to see how my students have portrayed the pandemic in their games, stories and drawings. Many have adapted better to living through a pandemic than some of the adults I know. While this school year has been tiring for the kids (my 2 years have never had such a long period of uninterrupted education as this), I can already see the powerful role that time and consistency will play in the development of children after confinement.
All school staff want the best for the children they serve, although their view of what “the best” looks like will be different. I’m lucky that my school didn’t impose some of the guidelines I’ve heard others have received, such as setting up after-school “catch-up” sessions for kids as early as age six, or SAT simulations for the first week back in September 2021. At the school where I teach, leaders have accepted that closing learning gaps is an ongoing, long-term project that will require collaboration and communication between staff working in different age groups for years to come.
Last school year, working in first grade, I dedicated more time to the school day for play and inquiry, and enabled children to develop social, physical, communication and emotional skills. they had missed after a year of interrupted reception. Although we endured more lockdowns and classroom bubble closures that year, I now work with the same kids in grade 2 and think the extra time spent on these fundamental learning skills and behaviors had a long-term impact I don’t think. additional class hours or statutory assessments would have reached. Perhaps one of the key lessons of the pandemic is that government and primary schools should draw more from the early childhood curriculum – which emphasizes communication and social and physical learning – and value these fundamental areas of development alongside academic success.