How lockdown affected children in Early Years

Early Year students sitting in class

On Monday 21 November 2022, Autsera co-founder Dr. Inas Ismail attended The Early Years Conference hosted by the British International Education Society. The conference focused on the effects of Covid-19 and the subsequent lockdown on early years education and children’s development.

The pandemic and the challenges that came after have affected children’s social and emotional skills, and their speech and language development among other areas of growth. Children with special needs were greatly affected compared to other children due to the lack of support they received during that period.

What areas of development were most affected and why?

According to a briefing published by Ofsted in the spring of 2022, children’s communication and language skills and personal, social and emotional development have all been adversely impacted by the pandemic.

Personal, social and emotional development

Due to having spent too much time inside their homes with limited interactions with others and in many cases excessive use of screens, many children in early years settings now struggle with their social skills and their abilities to recognise their emotions and the emotions of others.

Some children even struggle with understanding facial expressions due to mainly seeing people with masks on for such a long time. Teachers have also noted that many children deal with separation anxiety in schools and nurseries and have a hard time letting go of their parents.

Communication skills

Due to limited interaction during the lockdown, many children now struggle with their communication skills. They can also have difficulties recognising facial expressions and responding to them. The limited exposure to other children in their age group has also affected the children’s ability to interact with each other, play, take turns or share.

Speech and language development

Many children and especially children who come from disadvantaged communities have had their speech and language development hindered during the pandemic. The lack of social communication with others and spending long hours on their own, absorbed in their screen devices, have negatively affected their language development.

Special Education Needs

According to a study conducted by the University of Liverpool, Liverpool John Moores University and Edge Hill University, children with special education needs were greatly affected by the pandemic and associated lockdowns. Their access to education, healthcare and social and emotional and mental support was withdrawn or significantly decreased. 

Early years children with SEN already faced many challenges to get the support they need before the lockdown and the limited access caused by the pandemic had a significant impact on their development.

How to support children in Early Years overcome these struggles? 

It’s not too late to help children in Early Years settings overcome the challenges they’re facing post-Covid. Helping them face their struggles whether with social, emotional, communication or language skills now, will eliminate the possibility of having to face this same problem in primary settings later on.

Here is some advice for Early Years teachers from our SEN advisor on how to help their students overcome the daily challenges caused by the covid lockdown.

Help children feel safe

For many children, their nursery or school can feel like an unfamiliar place where they are not sure they are safe. Allowing them to bring a transition object from home, like something their carer owns, and keep it safe during the day then take it back home, can help them feel safe and reassure them that their carer will pick them up at the end of the day.

Build up their resilience

Most children did not face many challenges during lockdown that can help build their resilience. This is where the teacher can help. Teaching them coping strategies such as breathing, stretching and self-soothing can be very helpful. Also teaching them to turn negative thoughts into positive ones. For example: Turn ‘’This is too hard, I can’t do it’’ to ‘’I will keep trying until I get better’’.

Use games to build social and communication skills

Doing group activities and playing board games with two or more people can help children in early years settings grow their social and communication skills. Games can teach them to listen to each other, take turns and share their belongings. Using a talking object can also help the children to wait for their turn to speak and not interrupt others.

Raise their emotional intelligence

Being able to understand their emotions and regulate them is a key factor in children’s healthy development. The pandemic has stripped many children of the chance to learn how emotions affect them physically and socially. Games like QuadEmo can be a valuable resource for teachers to use to help early years children learn about emotions, how they affect their body and behaviour and how to regulate them.

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