PlayFirstUK, a group which includes 15 child psychologists and education specialists, has written to the Secretary of State for Education, the Rt Hon Gavin Williamson MP, making key recommendations to support children’s social and emotional well-being. Among these, is for the Government to make children exempt from the rule of two as soon as it is safe enough to do so and for schools to be given resources and support to prioritise children’s mental health.

The group of academics from the Universities of Reading, Sussex, Cambridge, Bath and Gloucester, led by Helen Dodd, Professor of Child Psychology at the University of Reading, warn that plans for intensive ‘catch up’ activity may worsen children’s mental health and well-being. They say that filling the spring and summer term with additional lessons could lead to increased pressure on mental health services while the pressure would have a negative effect on children’s learning in the long term. Instead, the group is calling for children’s ability to socialise and play with their friends to be prioritised as restrictions are reviewed. They argue that in the long-term this will be more beneficial for resilience and educational outcomes.

Professor Dodd said: “We are really concerned about the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on children; research shows clear increases in mental health problems and loneliness. As part of the recovery process, children need time to reconnect and play with their friends, they need to be reminded how good it feels to be outdoors after so long inside and they need to get physically active again. There is understandable concern about children’s education but the impact of mental health problems in childhood can be lifelong.”

Dr Kathryn Lester, senior lecturer in Developmental Psychology at the University of Sussex said: “It is now more important than ever that the government stands by its commitment to children’s mental health. While there is an understandable focus on children catching up academically, we know that children cannot learn effectively when they are struggling emotionally. For schools and parents, the pressure to ensure that children ‘catch up’ academically should be eased and instead schools must be given the resources and guidance to focus on putting children’s social and emotional well-being first.”

Anita Grant, chair of Play England said: ‘This has been a time of massive anxiety, fear and stress for us all and children have been among the hardest hit. Children who feel anxious do not feel safe. As we move forward we need to think long and hard about how to support children to play freely, reconnect with their world and feel happy in their communities.

‘Everything that we do in the recovery needs to support children to build resilience, work through trauma, make friends and enjoy themselves. Play is the way that children do all those things so giving them the space, time and permission to play is the best thing that we can do.’ 

Source Early Years Educator

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