For many of us in Early Years, we are no longer in settings, working as we usually would, due to the ongoing Coronavirus pandemic. Our new normal has taken us away from our routines, the children we teach and care for, their families and our colleagues. This massive shift in our working lives will be tremendously difficult for some of us to manage, in a time when we are also anxious and stressed about our own health and that of friends and family. Practitioners and teachers will be experiencing a time of immense pressure. How are we meant to verbalise how we are feeling when we’ve not experienced anything similar before?
Our working days are usually consumed by one thing – the children. Everything we do, all our plans, ideas, motivation and drive is for them. In Early Years, our attachments with the children are particularly important, hence the Key Person approach. We are known for being committed and dedicated in our sector, doing all we can to ensure the children in our care can thrive. Being unable to carry out our usual roles will have left many of us experiencing feelings of sadness, worry and disconnection. This is perfectly normal – in such exceptional circumstances, we need to acknowledge these feelings and attribute them to the caring nature of our sector.
These challenging times are bound to stir up many emotions around the children in our care. This is fuelled by the uncertainty surrounding the pandemic and the timescales involved in school closures. Not knowing when our usual routines will resume means it’s difficult to plan for our return and the transition of the children back into setting. Will some of them even return or will they go straight to school? This is one of the many, many concerns of Early Years staff at present.
As we face the coming weeks, or possibly even months at home, it’s important to voice our concerns, understanding that we are not alone. We’re facing a period where we are not a physical part of the lives of children we ordinarily spend most, or every day with. Missing their milestones and achievements whilst they’re at home is a big part of this. Thankfully, we have technology such as online learning journeys, social media groups and video conferencing apps such as Zoom which enable some level of communication and contact. Even so, some of us are still craving the physical connection. As time passes, we question the resilience of ourselves and the children. When children thrive on predictable routines, it’s difficult to imagine the impact of social isolation on them and their families.
Being able to remain connected, not physically but through technology, can be a lifeline for children, families and practitioners and teachers. In this digital age, we are fortunate to still be able to communicate virtually, enabling children to see us and hear our voices. It’s a balancing act when setting activities and challenges though – we need to value the time children have with their families, not putting pressure on them to home school. However, we can offer ideas for play and learning at home, giving families suggestions to promote development, such as fine motor skills, sharing recipes for playdough, book recommendations, maths games etc.
Unfortunately, some children will be exposed to adverse experiences in their time away from the setting. Although we build strong, trusting connections with the families at our setting, we need to accept that we don’t know everything about their home lives. Some of us will be worrying about the possibility of children witnessing domestic violence, substance misuse or being affected by poverty. Particularly in the current situation, some families will be feeling the effects of furlough, being laid off or, for those self employed, not having any income. How will families cope with less money coming into the house? Early Years settings can be a protective factor for children and families, so in these times of crisis, some of us are feeling very uneasy that we aren’t there in times of need.
At a time when we are all experiencing the extraordinary effects of lockdown, our thoughts wander to the physical impact on the children. With NHS guidelines stating that children aged 3 and 4 should be experiencing at least 3 hours of active play a day, we really must question the impact of more sedentary lifestyles on children. We know this will be temporary…but for how long? In Early Years, we get to know the children well, recognising those who thrive in an outdoor environment, relishing the time and space to run and be free. It is these children we’ll be thinking of during the lockdown.
Whether we’ll ever know the impact on children of the Coronavirus pandemic is difficult to predict. The lack of social contact with extended family, friends and Early Years settings could impact on PSED and Communication and Language development. During this intense period of stress, are children picking up on parental anxiety? How can we understand the emotions of children who can’t verbalise their feelings? What we do know is that we can learn from this experience, however traumatic it might be at present. When we return to normality, perhaps we will see more value placed on personal, social and emotional develop over more ‘academic’ skills such as reading and writing. In the future, how we manage the transition back to normality will be a hot topic of conversation.
Fortunately, our sector is resilient, with dedicated practitioners and teachers who value the children and their capabilities. Our capacity to tune in to the children will undoubtedly be a positive as we help them adjust back to normality, minimising the impact of the Coronavirus on their future learning and holistic development.