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Preparing 4 year olds for school in a COVID-19 environment

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Across Australia, hundreds of thousands of children are attending their final year of early childhood education and care, before starting primary school.

This is an important year for four-year-olds, where they continue to develop skills that will assist them in transitioning to school. These skills include playing with other children, regulating emotions and participating in group activities.

CELA research and policy manager Megan O’Connell shares advice from our recent survey (which asked services to tell us about their views on early learning during the year before school in light of COVID), the Murdoch Children’s Research Institute’s ‘Parenting in the age of Coronavirus’ podcast, and from new research on the importance of parent engagement for school readiness.


This year’s four-year-olds have had an experience like no other cohort. Many of these children have missed at least four weeks of preschool due to COVID-19 so far. This means around a month of learning at early childhood education and care has been lost.

Some of these children would have experienced a good home learning experience.For others, time in isolation may have been highly stressful, with families worried about falling ill or losing work, and the added challenge of parents balancing work and care at home.

We don’t know yet if many children will again miss out on early learning – indications from Victoria are that families are again keeping children at home in response to a second period of isolation for much of the state.

 

What can educators do to help children catch up, and to prepare in case of a second wave of lockdowns?

The following advice comes from our recent survey (which asked services to tell us about their views on early learning during the year before school in light of COVID), advice from the Murdoch Children’s Research Institute and new research on the importance of parent engagement for school readiness.

Routines and safety
A key to ensuring a good transition back to early childhood education is to focus on ensuring children feel safe. Whilst the temptation might be to try and cover ground lost in the last few months, educators should primarily focus on providing a predictable, stable environment for children to return to.
Returning to a routine will help children to settle back in. This includes routines supporting children to build their independence, such as opening lunchboxes and unpacking bags, which will be important skills at school.

Focus on social and emotional learning
Acknowledge children may be affected differently. Some children may not appear to be stressed, whilst others may exhibit visible signs of anxiety such as withdrawal or clinginess.
Focusing on social and emotional learning will be important for many children who have missed the opportunity to build relationships with educators and other children for a period of time. Some children will require extra nurturing and one on one support.

Maintain strong connections with families
Work with families to support access to other services if they need help. The effects of COVID-19 will affect families in different ways and at different times.
COVID-19 is likely to increase childhood disadvantage, with more families needing to access financial, health and social support. Maintaining strong connections with families is vital.

Think about what you can do differently
Be realistic – don’t expect to do it all. Think about which aspects of your program can be changed to respond to the current circumstances. Can you do things differently?
As an example, the drop at the gate routine, instituted in many centres, has enabled children to grow in independence and be more settled entering a service.

Support the home learning environment
Recent research highlights the importance of quality home-based learning activities rather than quantity alone. Parents need help to understand how to effectively support children’s learning. A small activity completed effectively can be more worthwhile than multiple activities completed less well. For example, reading one book a day with a child, stopping and discussing words and encouraging children to predict what might happen next, can be more effective than reading multiple books without the interaction.

Work with primary schools on transition
Schools understand the impact of COVID-19 on children’s learning.
Educators have a key role in supporting children’s transition to school, including preparing transition statements that can help schools to understand where children may require extra support.

 

Our survey of educators revealed the tremendous range of activities educators have put together to engage families and children during times of remote learning, including a strong focus on keeping in touch with children and families during periods of isolation. We will share more information from this research in our next edition of member news.

Children have another six months before they transition to school. The next six months will be important for children’s development, with lots that can be done in services and at home to support children’s learning.

Despite the uncertain circumstances services and families are in, the strong partnerships educators have developed with families will serve children well as they transition from early learning to school.

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