Take it Personally
So, as I write, we are currently 4 weeks into an unusual Autumn term that has already brought so many challenges and anxieties due to the Coronavirus outbreak. Following several months of lockdown and a break from education, many young children have returned to their setting in highly unusual circumstances. They have faced changes to their daily lives and routines, and many will not have seen their friends or family members in person for a long time, missing out on vital opportunities for social interaction. The work of Barry Carpenter, Professor of Mental Health at Oxford Brookes University and creator of the Recovery Curriculum, further identifies 5 losses experienced during the pandemic as a:-
1. Loss of routine
2. Loss of structure
3. Loss of friendship
4. Loss of opportunity
5. Loss of freedom
He notes that “Our children are vulnerable at this time and their mental health fragile” and in addition “they are witnessing a sea of adult anxiety, which they unwittingly are absorbing” (Carpenter and Carpenter 2020). Therefore, the mental well-being of our youngest children should be the highest priority and it should not be assumed that they have not been affected as every child’s experience will have been different.
As always, in Nursery, our curriculum is focused on the Prime areas (Personal, Social and Emotional Development, Communication and Language, and Physical Development), which are considered essential to school readiness and lay firm foundations for future learning. It is argued that if children do not have strong foundations and are not developmentally ready for the learning challenges so often faced, essential qualities such as independence, confidence and curiosity may be hindered, causing obstructions to learning of any form. Furthermore, the Prime areas are described in the Statutory Framework as “crucial for igniting children’s curiosity and enthusiasm for learning and to form relationships and thrive”. As such, in these strange and turbulent times, it is becoming more apparent of the essential need to heavily promote one particular aspect of the Prime areas – Personal, Social and Emotional Development (PSED)……
Personal – As young children actively explore their world, they begin to learn more about themselves and their abilities, developing a sense of self.
Social – They then learn about themselves in relation to others, realising that they are all different and unique. Through their interactions they begin to understand how to behave towards others and learn the importance of rules and boundaries.
Emotional – They learn to recognise and express a wide range of feelings and emotions, their own and others’, and how to manage them effectively. They develop a sense of empathy.
PSED, under normal everyday circumstances, involves supporting children in developing and sustaining important relationships, making friends, sharing and taking turns, expressing and managing their feelings and behaviour, and developing a sense of self-esteem and confidence. Influential adults can encourage and assist them with their interaction skills to enable them to develop a positive attitude to themselves and others.
So bearing this in mind, along with the 5 losses identified by Professor Barry Carpenter, how can we, as Early Years Practitioners, help and support our children in the current climate?
Be there – Provide a warm and welcoming environment with nurturing and responsive adult interactions. Prepare for increased separation anxiety and varied emotions.
Give them time – Children are adjusting and reacclimatising to the normality of the setting, reconnecting with friends and making new friends.
Play – Provide opportunities for children to express their worries and feelings. Be present to identify misunderstandings and address them.
Talk and Listen – Encourage children to talk about the situation and share their experiences. Acknowledge their reactions. Look for the positives in spending time at home with their family and share your own experiences.
Keep a routine – Creating new routines or maintaining existing ones can help children feel safe and know what to expect.
Plan carefully and thoughtfully – Considering the additional needs of all children. Encourage autonomy and independence by involving the children in the planning and giving them ownership.
Finally, and this is easier said than done, somehow make time for you – look after your own wellbeing and accept that this is not an easy task. There is no right and wrong here, none of us have been in this situation before. Look for the support that is around you and remember that you are great at what you do. You need to take care of your own PSED in order to take care of theirs. Little people look up to you and you make a difference in their lives every single day (even on the toughest of days)! I need to take my own advice here, but I guess at the end of the day, the children are back in education and are cared for, and that is all down to you!
Carpenter, B. and Carpenter, P. (2020) A recovery curriculum: loss and life for our children and schools post pandemic. Oxford Brooks University.
Department for Education (2014) Statutory framework for the early years foundation stage: setting the standards for learning, development and care for children from birth to five. Runcorn, Department for Education.