When looking through the eyes of a child, is putting life as we know it on hold really so bad? They are missing grandparents and friends but many appear to be happy and flourishing during lockdown. A new world of play has opened up for lots of children as they spend time reconnecting with their parents and siblings at home away from the rush of normal life.
‘While children play, they are protected from harm from the outside world. Play is their sanctuary,’ says early years trainer and consultant Kathryn Solly. ‘There is the paranoia that children will get behind – but get behind in what? Play is really important. Some children may lose the art of being a pupil but they will relearn.’
A recurring comment made by parents of children at Everton Nursery School and Family Centre in Liverpool is how valuable they are finding the time spent with their children during the closure period.
‘We’re having daily conversations about gardening and baking techniques. I didn’t even know he knew what this type of equipment was or what these ingredients were,’ said one parent during a phone call to their child’s teacher. Another reported that number and letter recognition had become a focus of their daily family walk and that their child was now reading numbers on buses and signs.
‘A lovely example of how our children are coping in these exceptional circumstances is one young girl who has English as an additional language and is usually very quiet in class and doesn’t really talk in English at all,’ says NQT Selma Kesedzic at Everton Nursery School. ‘She was happy to speak to me on the phone in short simple sentences. She said, “Hello Selma, are you OK? I am OK.” I was so happy to hear this!’
Another mum said that her young boy is now able to put together short simple sentences and express his needs such as ‘I want a banana’ and ‘I want to play’ which is a big leap from early March when he could only say single words.
FAMILIES IN NEED
Support that the families have needed has been ‘multi-layered’ says Lesley Curtis, head teacher of Everton Nursery School and Family Centre. While some have welcomed the home learning packs but needed no further help, others have had concerns about their child’s development or said they were struggling because of a new baby in the household or not being able to work. The Centre has provided food hampers to families in financial difficulty, self-isolating or single parent households where it has been difficult to go to the shops.
‘Families in need continue to struggle and now it can be more difficult,’ says Dr Curtis. ‘One mum is so frightened to go out that she has gone inwards and that is not helping her child at all. If parents are not frightened to go out, then they are going to the local park or for a walk on the streets which has provided physicality but especially for parents in apartment blocks or if they are frightened or self-isolating, it has been more of a challenge because they have not been going out for daily exercise.’
Limited time outdoors
She is expecting that they will have to work on some children’s physical and gross motor development when they return to school if they have had limited time outdoors, although some may have been jumping on the bed or doing Joe Wick’s workouts.
‘Some children will have been revelling in the freedom of the every day, such as playing in the stream in a park, but they are the lucky ones who have a semblance of normality,’ says Ms Solly. ‘Other children may not have been going outside and will be frightened of going outdoors and need to be encouraged out.’
Rediscovering themselves and others
She also expresses concern for children who live in homes with domestic abuse or child protection issues. ‘They will have lost the love, kindness or food and access to friends that they will have got in their early years settings and schools which would have acted as a buffer to their self-esteem. Their resilience to survive is lost without these quality relationships,’ she says.
Ms Solly believes children will need transition time as they return to nursery so that they can ‘rebuild’ through common experiences and play.
‘Children co-constructing together, being consulted and asking questions that they may not have asked or had answered at home, for example if they have had a bereavement and need an explanation in a way they understand,’ she says. ‘Children will need space and time to rediscover themselves.’
But she adds that some children will be finding the current situation far less stressful than if they were at nursery or school because they are having more beneficial routines and more holistic, experiential learning. This is the case for a child at Everton Nursery School who has Downs.
‘He is coping better at home with his mum, dad and brother as opposed to rushed routines. He is calm in himself and coping with the slower routines and pace of life,’ says Dr Curtis.
FIRST STEPS AND BIG MILESTONES
‘Like everyone, our families have up days and down days, it is a roller coaster,’ says Kellyann Spellman, deputy manager at Dunky’s Day Nursery in Runcorn, Cheshire. ‘But that it’s mainly been nice weather has helped because children have been able to play outside which is some normality for them.’
Parents, especially those who have been furloughed, have commented that they have got to know their children better because they are spending more time with them.
‘They have been able to go through big milestones with their children,’ says Ms Spellman. ‘We’ve had excited messages about seeing their child’s first steps or that they have started to write their name. These are things that usually happen at nursery so for the parents to be able to experience them at home has been fantastic and made them really proud.’
HABITS OLD AND NEW
Staff at Yorkshire Montessori Nursery group, which has now started reopening its settings to key workers, have found that many parents have taken the opportunity to do new things with their children, particularly cooking and gardening, despite the stress of juggling work and family life. ‘Skills that have previously been nursery based are now being learnt at home as well,’ says owner Helen Gration.
‘Family relationships have also developed in a strong way. Despite this, it has not proved a problem when the children have been coming back in to settle, maybe because they are coming from a stronger base.
‘It has been almost two months, which does create new habits and has given families a chance to reschedule their daily lives. I hope it might make parents do different things in the future, such as not going to the shopping centre as a pastime at the weekend because they are now confident that they can bake with their children and the mess doesn’t matter, or that they can have fun splashing in puddles. It may have created some positive new habits.’
Dr Curtis agrees, ‘We’ll never get this opportunity again, so we need to welcome and embrace it. It’s been beautiful to see lots of young children on bikes and walking rather than in cars. Even the air that children are breathing in the cities is less polluted. I hope there will be many positive memories and lifestyle changes from this time.’
Case study: chatting and listening
Siobhan and Sander Rensen live in Harrow, Middlesex, with their four children – Sam, who turned seven during lockdown, four-year-old Liam and two-year-old twins Rose and Ruby.
‘Normally we’re lucky to have a fantastic live-out nanny and my parents to look after the children while we’re working but now Sander and I are working in shifts from home. One of us works from 6.30am to 2pm and then we swap. This morning all the children were in tears because I was upstairs working and they hadn’t seen me,’ says Siobhan.
‘It’s Liam that I worry about the most. At the start of lockdown, he seemed so lost and withdrawn, perhaps because we were giving a lot of attention to Sam and his school work, plus the twins are all over the place and into everything. He’s now more used to the new routine and we’ve spoken to Sam’s school and relaxed on his work which has helped.
‘We’d been concerned about Liam’s speech and language development and anxious about him starting Reception but suddenly he’s talking more because we’re actually present to chat and listen. I was looking at a book with him and he started counting which kicked off guilt because I didn’t realise he knew his numbers. Another bonus is that Sam has started reading by himself for enjoyment.
‘The girls are developing in leaps and bounds and it’s lovely that they now really play with Liam while Sam is enjoying the big brother role. All the children find it very sad that they only see their grandparents from a distance. They’re normally so hands on. The twins are desperate to go to them and have a cuddle and Sam wants to tell them random things. We have tried Zoom to link up with family and friends but the twins especially find it weird and disconcerting.
‘Sometimes we feel so harrassed but all the kids love that they’re seeing more of us. I know we worked too hard before and even in this chaos we’re more present and tangible. Seeing them together playing and being silly is heartwarming.’