We often talk about the impact of the pandemic, lockdowns and social distancing on our children in the Early Years, the over-arching outcomes of these discussions always tend to lean towards the impact of the pandemic on our children as a negative one; delayed speech, attachment issues, a lack of social skills and countless other noticeable implications on children’s development.
As we all know, every child is unique and different and their learning journeys are far from linear; so is it fair to say that this negative impact as a result of the pandemic is unanimous across all children?
Whilst there is no denying that so many, if not all children have missed out on those early learning experiences, social interactions and essentially ‘normal’ life, if they were born in or raised during lockdown, but are there only negatives to take from this?
Almost two years on from the start of the pandemic and the very first lockdown, have these gaps we initially identified in these children been bridged? Are there longer term impacts? Or are we seeing new skills emerging and developing as a result of the time spent at home with their families, and the added value and emphasis on play and learning when they all returned to their settings?
Whilst the lockdown generation of children may have missed out on a significant chunk of formal childcare and education, and lacked the social experiences of their siblings/peers – perhaps they gained other skills instead? Skills that cohorts of children before them, didn’t have the same opportunity to experience.
Yes children spent a significant period of their Early Years at home with their families, but we mustn’t overlook the value and quality that this time provided them with, whilst children may have missed social skills, they were instead developing life skills; helping with chores, sorting and categorising with household items as they tidied and helped sort washing and clothes, quality time with their family, conversational skills as they all sat down to eat together – a rarity often saved for the weekend or meals out, cooking together and ‘just’ playing, with no time restraints or rush.
What if these children actually learned skills that us adults often lack; how to slow down and just ‘be’, to find the joy in the simple things; just being at home with their family and siblings with nowhere to be and uninterrupted time to play. What if these children have already learned to appreciate the world around them and see the beauty in nature and being outdoors, whatever the weather; one daily walk a day, appreciating every single moment, come rain or shine.
These children witnessed (and tasted!) first-hand the benefits of home-cooked food and offerings (think banana bread and sourdough starters by the dozen!) and for many, were involved in the processes throughout.
These types of quality experiences are invaluable and so many of our children returned to the setting confident, incredibly resilient, loving and affectionate and with a newly developed sense of independence; whilst there were (and continue to be!) some conflicts and sharing debates, we must remember that this isn’t because these are ‘lockdown children’ and they’ve missed out on a vital period of socialisation, but instead, that this is developmentally appropriate for children in the Early Years, and something we’d expect to see from children of the same age, who didn’t grow up in a pandemic.
Whilst we must not overlook the impact that the lockdowns and pandemic have had on some children’s learning and development and overall life chances, just as we must not forget and overlook the catastrophic stories of children like Arthur Hughes and Star Hobson, who were so so badly failed by countless agencies and professionals during lockdown, resulting in the most harrowing ordeals and outcomes, these are the stories that we all must learn from, and do better – years on from the Victoria Cilimbie and Baby P, our systems are still failing children in the most horrific ways, and if we take anything from the pandemic, it must be to protect, second guess, question and do better for our vulnerable children, we cannot afford for more children to be failed so devastatingly.
These are of course extreme and harrowing examples of the catastrophic impact of lockdown on children, but we must not make the assumption that all children were affected negatively by this period in their early years, instead, adopt the essential stance in our sector, that every child is unique and acknowledge that this type of unprecedented life experience may not have a universal impact on all of the children of this generation.
And as we head into a brand new year, with hopefully significantly less disruption, that we continue to support our children’s learning and development, and taking a more holistic and positive approach on the skills that can’t be measured by our usual assessments as a result of their life-changing experiences of living through a pandemic, because whilst it’s easy for us to notice the difficulties, it’s our job to ensure we notice the positive aspects of these times too, as these are the skills, behaviours and experiences the children will remember for years to come.