I don’t know about you, but with everything that has happened so far in 2021 I’ve missed the opportunity to do that start-of-the-year reflection. A new year is usually the perfect moment to pause and consider the year that’s gone, and the months which lie ahead. Having been working flat out to fight fires up until now, let’s take a moment together now to try and step back and consider the bigger picture.
The Covid Generation
I think we often forget that as early years professionals, we are the part of society which gets to meet each new generation first. Now that the pandemic is entering its second year, we must all ready ourselves for a generation of children who are growing up only ever knowing a world in lockdown. I found this short video clip startling when it appeared in my social feed this week:
Whilst this little girl role playing hand sanitiser while out and about is unquestionably very sweet, it highlights an important truth. The children coming into our settings are having their understanding of the world, their experience of adults outside their household, and their general breadth of life experience fundamentally shaped by coronavirus.
How then, faced with this enormous and growing scale of impact from the pandemic, do we respond? In my opinion, a crisis of this magnitude requires a radical and bold response. First, we have to prioritise the areas of learning and development which have been most badly hit, and which if left unsupported have the potential to cause the longest term harm to the child.
For me, that means focussing first and foremost on children’s personal, social and emotional development. For a child to learn anything at all, they must be able to engage confidently with their peers and to build trust-based, fruitful relationships with adults in their life. The course of the pandemic so far will have impacted different children in different ways, but in almost every case these foundational emotional and relational building blocks have taken a substantial blow:
- A child born during 2020 will not know their grandparents, let alone wider family or friends of their parents. For them, the world barely extends beyond the home which has accounted for 90%+ of their life experience to date.
- Children in the middle of their early years, at that stage when they are just starting to learn the art of reading non-verbal cues from those around them, are doing so in a world full of masked-covered faces, and all-pervading tension and anxiety.
- Pre-school aged children, many of whom may have spent months in an early years setting followed by prolonged absence since the first lockdown, should be learning how their firmly established sense of self interacts healthily with all the other “selfs” around them, something which hard to do from the isolation of lockdown.
Absolutely, supporting the early steps in reading, writing, mathematical language and understanding the world are important. But in the face of such profound interruptions to the ordinary course of life as humans, our principle focus must be on supporting the children in our care to learn how to be part of a community.
As we look back on the year that was, and consider how to react to the damage which has already been done, we mustn’t forget to consider the future and the new and as-yet unseen challenges to come.
Optimistically, the end may well be in sight for the likes of “stay home orders” and the blanket closure of cafes, shops and restaurants. With luck and the continued dedication of public servants nationwide, vaccination offers the promise of a return to near-normal during the first half of this year. But the legacy of this pandemic will last much longer, and will require a great deal of skill and dedication from early years professionals in particular.
Perhaps the most daunting of the challenges to come is the increased prevalence of death in the lives of young children. As I write, the UK is on the verge of 100,000 deaths from coronavirus. There are also tens of thousands more indirect fatalities to come from delayed cancer screening and treatment, and a host of other conditions. It is a sobering reality that over the months ahead, many more young children will experience a bereavement in their close family. Naturally, such an experience will prompt questions from children about the person they’ve lost, the way the other adults in their life have reacted, and what it means for the person to have died.
Talking about death is something few of us find comfortable or easy, and the prospect of tackling these natural, healthy questions is a daunting one. As much as we all want and should look to the future with positivity and hope, it is also important that we ready ourselves to support the children in our settings to understand and process the ongoing consequences of an extraordinary period in human history.
What do you think?
All that I’ve written here is my opinion - nothing more, nothing less. Opinions are there to be challenged and discussed, and mine is no different! I’d love to hear your feedback and reaction to my views on the impact of Covid on the early years children you care for - share your thoughts and opinions on social media via the hashtag #ournurserylife, and join the conversation.