This week, the term ‘catching up’ in relation to children’s learning has been thrown around countless times by the Government and Education ministers.What exactly are they referring to? Why do they feel that as the country begins to exit the lockdown, that the main priority for children is to ‘catch up’ academically?
As we’ve touched upon in previous blogs relating to Covid-19; children’s academic progress and achievements over the pandemic period are essentially irrelevant.
Whilst the Government focuses on attainment, scores and data; as Early Childhood educators we must over-ride this frankly ludicrous idea that children have ‘missed out’ on a detrimental level due to their inability to access formal education/learning. Whilst of course some children need and continue to need and access this formal level of learning, but it’s important to note, and always focus on that for many children who haven’t had access to formal education or childcare during this period; this has provided opportunities for hands-on, real-life learning and much needed family time with their loved ones; from which children would have benefitted from significantly in terms of their emotional wellbeing and development, and this is what we should be focusing on for the next few months.
For so many children, the sudden change in routine, the uncertainty, the scary concept of a virus and being isolated from loved ones will have had far more of a negative impact on their emotional development than through the lack of formal education or childcare.
And so for those children who have returned to our setting and those continuing to return next week, the focus isn’t and won’t be on their academic skills and learning – to us, ensuring that we minimise the long-term effects of potential emotional trauma caused by the Covid-19 pandemic, is far more important to us than whether these children can count to 10 or write their name.
We have children who leave us for school this September, many of which are term-time only and so our time with them is limited as it is, particularly after such a significant gap in attendance – but will we spend our final few weeks rushing to ensure they can hold their pencil, write their name, focus on phonics and name 2d shapes?
No. No we won’t; we will spend time with these children; settling them back into our setting, watching them play and build relationships and friendships with each other, get their confidence back, and ultimately ensure that they are as happy and as confident as they can be about their next transition and find child-centred ways to ensure we are supporting each child and their journey, suitable to their individual needs and transition.
For us, the most important thing to ‘catch up’ on with all of our children is time. We must not underestimate the emotional impact that the lockdown may have had on some of our children and in particularly for the September Reception cohort, ‘catching up’ with any academic skills they may have ‘missed out on’ over this period should be overlooked until we as practitioners and teachers can confidently say that these children are happy, confident and settled enough to learn those academic skills. If children aren’t emotionally ready to learn, introducing and ‘catching up’ on academic skills are irrelevant and meaningless.
In our opinion, there needs to be a shift in focus in light of the pandemic and as practitioners and educators we need to take a stand against the constant data-based progression and assessment that underpins our sector and our children’s education system and focus on what really matters; the children, their happiness and their wellbeing, because without any of that in place, they will not be ready to learn, regardless of how much ‘catching up’ we try to do with them and their academic learning.
In our setting, it is more about making up than catching up; making up for lost time, experiences and opportunities that will support and nurture our children in overcoming the trauma of the last few months, whilst preparing them for the next phase in their adventures, and supporting their learning and development on a developmental and emotionally applicable basis.