Sarah Watkins: Individualised Support – It’s What We Do!

Face-to-face communication is integral to teaching. From September, it was fascinating to see children from different Nursery settings adapt to each other and accommodate each other. They’ve grown around each other like vines. Now that we are in lockdown, I am experiencing a type of grief. I have invested so much in these children and I miss being in the classroom desperately.

Finding different ways to continue to connect has eased the sadness a little. I am grateful that we signed up to Tapestry in September because our Nursery and Reception families are accustomed to posting pictures of learning at home and receiving information from us. Suddenly, this online assessment tool has become a vital lifeline for us. All staff involved with EYFS, from the TAs to the Headteacher, appreciate seeing photos and videos of the children that we miss so much. We have been able to virtually share many special moments with our families: learning to ride a bike without stabilisers; finding a bird’s nest; clapping every week for mummy who is a nurse. I have been posting phonics videos each day, featuring Freddie the Fox and the children relish seeing his naughty antics! It was heartwarming to see a video of a child joining in with my video and saying to dad: “Mrs. Watkins said well done to ME!”

However, online support is completely ineffective if parents do not have access to the appropriate technology or the internet. Moreover, some families really need a more personalised level of support. Families benefit from a wide range of different methods of contact and support. For example, my TA and I arranged to walk past a pupil’s living room window this week, as he was really missing us. It was emotional to see him waiting for us to arrive. Obviously we have some pupils still in school and it’s important to support their key worker parents by checking in with them at the school gate.

Phone calls have helped us to reassure families at a time when some are facing loss of income, illness and bereavement. Our pastoral team have been incredible throughout this crisis, supporting families through phone calls, socially distant visits and also online. We recognise that families need us to be supportive without being intrusive or critical. We may all be going through the same pandemic but our personal circumstances are all very different.

This is at the forefront of my mind as we consider re-opening schools. Our children and families are unique. They will all have had a unique experience during this pandemic. Early Years staff are skilled at really listening to the children in their care and at picking up the cues indicating what the children need to flourish and succeed. We will be drawing on these skills when settings eventually reopen, and we will give more time to those children who need to recover.

Those who work with young children tend to care deeply about their work and rarely put themselves first. We need to remember that if we don’t stay fit and well, mentally and physically, we can’t truly be there for the children we support. Twitter has always been an extremely supportive platform for me and the EYMatters twitter account links up Early Years professionals but also provides a place to rant, be sad or celebrate! If you need confidential and professional help, Education Support is the only UK charity dedicated to supporting the mental health and wellbeing of education staff.

The pandemic is a time of unknowns. We need to trust that we are doing the right thing for our children but also be kind to ourselves and try to keep ourselves healthy in body and mind.

About Sarah
Sarah Watkins has taught every year group at primary level and was previously Head of School. She now teaches Reception. She regularly writes for Teach Early Years
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