Coronavirus Pandemic - Unique times
Tuesday, June 2, 2020
How can we best prepare for children – and ourselves – returning to normality, asks Phil Armstrong
There can be no doubt that for years to come, people will be talking about their experiences and memories of this unique time. Few of us could have imagined just a few months ago that our lives and those of the children we work with would change so dramatically. So enormous is the change that we are probably only just beginning to realise fully the impact it is having on the present, let alone the long-term future.
We are all experiencing a time of deep and profound memories. These will be built on experiences that for some of us have been shared with those physically closest to us, but also with those connecting with us in different ways. For some, they will be very much alone. However, as we move forward, we need to recognise that no matter how much experiences have been shared, the personal impact of these experiences will be unique for us and unique for children.
Therefore when considering our next steps, the core principles of the EYFS – Positive Relationships, Enabling Environments and A Unique Child – perhaps offer us a valuable and familiar set of tools to help us to reflect on how we can best support and prepare for the children and adults we work with in the coming days, weeks and months.
During this time, I suspect the thing that many of us are missing the most is relationships. For children, we know this is the same, with frequent comments from them across various media platforms about how they miss their friends, their relatives and their teachers.
Technology has certainly helped alleviate some of this, bringing people together like never before. However, let’s consider some of our youngest children, who are just developing the social and emotional skills to step beyond the familiarity of their own home. For them, the new relationships that they had just started to build suddenly stopped with the lockdown. What support are they going to need when we reopen?
We know that relationships require time and trust. So, for some of our children returning to our settings, it will probably feel like starting again. Similarly, we need to consider those children and families who were just about to join us. They had begun those first tentative steps towards a new stage in their lives, only to have it stopped abruptly. How do we sensitively restart these processes so that we can reassure children and adults?
If we are to make this period of transition from lockdown to the new normal as successful as possible for all children, it is relationships, between us as teams, with the children and with families that will hold the key.
Over the past few months many children, like us, will have been spending an unprecedented amount of time in their own homes. They have been exploring, playing, filling time with things they previously may never have imagined doing and realising both the possibilities, and limitations, of what our home environments can offer.
For some of our children this may have been a joyous time spent discovering new playgrounds in their own garden and having wonderful adventures in rooms they rarely use. For others, though, we know that the home environment may have offered limited and possibly congested space, with little in the way of the resources they have been used to at school and nursery, never mind access to the outdoors.
Settings and schools have worked tirelessly and imaginatively to create resource packs and online ideas for children to take part in and for learning to continue. Despite this, it is essential that we recognise and are respectful that levels of engagement within each child’s unique environment will have varied significantly and for a myriad of reasons.
We know from our own circumstances and conversations that everyone’s experiences and priorities during this time have been so different. Some children will have found themselves settling quickly into a new routine of online community activities, taking part in PE classes, baking cakes via Zoom with a distant grandparent, hearing a story read to them every day or painting rainbows to celebrate the work of the NHS. For others, including ourselves, the novelty of such a way life may have soon worn off.
Therefore we need to manage our expectations carefully as to what kind of learning has been taking place when our children return, and to collectively celebrate the less obvious, arguably the less simple to assess. Perhaps we need to consider how children have drawn deeply on the Characteristics of Effective Learning, their prior experiences and those around them to create their own enabling environments that have worked specially for them during this time.
A UNIQUE CHILD
When we describe the children we work with and our hopes and aspirations for them, some of the words that usually spring to mind are ‘independent’, ‘resilient’, ‘creative’, ‘risk takers’, ‘active’, ‘imaginative’, ‘curious’, ‘thoughtful’. These are all personal attributes that each of us have probably found ourselves having to turn to in our own lives during this time and hope that each child has continued to have nurtured while spending time away from us. Those Characteristics of Effective Learning we know will support them as they grow, but have possibly been tested in ways we could never have planned for.
Tragically, we hear that incidents of domestic violence have increased during this time and there is much concern that many children have been at higher risk of harm. Sadly, despite the mechanisms in place to support vulnerable children, we know that take-up of this offer has been low.
Therefore we need to be prepared to support them as they return to us having been frightened, in danger and feeing lost. It will never have been more essential for us to ensure we support every child’s level of emotional well-being and work closely with professional colleagues to support these children.
Similarly, there are likely to be many children for whom these past few months have become the best ‘school holiday’ imaginable; a time to try new things on their own or as a family, a time, perhaps to really enjoy being a child. For some of these children, returning to previous routines may prove to be extremely challenging. There will be some who will want to talk positively about all that they have done and to proudly share their new talents and expertise with us. We therefore need to acknowledge that, for them, despite all going on around them and us, this may have been a very happy time.
In whatever way we return to a more familiar way of life, as we start our preparations we need to remember that each child, like us, will have their own story to tell when they return; as will those children who have continued to attend provision in some form.
None of us is likely to go back fully to being the person we were before lockdown. Above all, we will need to ensure we allow children our most precious resource – time – so that each story can be properly heard, valued and understood, allowing us to then consider how best we can support each unique child as they continue on their own learning journey.
Phil Armstrong is head of regional development, south and international, at training and resource company Early Excellence