We know that continuity of learning is crucial for optimising improved learning and wellbeing outcomes for children and that children, families and early childhood educators all contribute to successful transitions between learning settings. In the midst of a pandemic and no end in sight for lockdowns in some areas, continuity of learning may not be possible for many children.
What we can learn from the northern hemisphere
According to research conducted by The Sutton Trust on the UK lockdown, 69% of parents of children aged 2-4 years old indicated that their child being unable to play with other children during lockdowns had a negative impact on their child.
- 52% recognised a negative effect on their children’s social and emotional wellbeing/development
- 25% recognised a negative effect on language development, while
- 20% recognised a negative impact on physical development
In the USA, the effect of having children at home for extended periods led to a reduction in separation anxiety, with a corresponding concern that starting school may trigger increased separation anxiety. Helen Shwe Hadani, Fellow in the Center for Universal Education, expressed concern for “children living in low-resourced communities that have been disproportionately affected by the abrupt shift to remote schooling” but also said there are “harder-to-predict developmental effects of ongoing social deprivation, both in and out of school, for children.” (Source: The Brookings Institution)
And in Germany, a transition to school study reported that the COVID-19 shutdown had medium to strong negative effects on the development of basic school skills for children in socially marginalised areas, which “increased the number of children with special needs”. Moreover, qualitative data indicated that “many children are looking fearfully at their school future,” which has the potential to exacerbate the gap over the next few years.
When we explored the topic of transition to school in Australia after last year’s lockdown, we found that many children who were isolated at home missed out on developing their social skills – this was played back to us by members who indicated that many children returned to the classroom after the 2020 lock-down with lower emotional maturity, decreased capacity to engage in large groups and cope with saying good-bye to care-givers.
What to expect for this year’s cohort
CELA early education specialist Kate Damo says the early learning milestones that preschoolers are likely to miss are the social and emotional skills that form the pre-academic foundation. These skills include listening to others, taking turns, conversational skills, following directions, and emotional self-regulation.
The biggest impacts, however, are likely to be felt by children of families for whom English is a second language, and those with additional needs, for example children on the autism spectrum. Those groups benefit greatly from the support of an early education and care environment, and access to specialist educators, and it stands to reason that time out of ECEC may result in children losing that support.
Also be aware that children may express fear about the environment outside the house. The presence of COVID-19 and the response by governments to lock down, with corresponding caution taken by many families and news reports, have not gone unnoticed by children.
A focus on fundamental skills and independence
Kate says carers should worry less about academic skills such as knowing the alphabet or recognising numbers and instead concentrate on developing language and self help skills.
Reading to children everyday is a pleasurable way to develop their vocabulary, comprehension and the awareness of letters and sounds, which are the foundational skills for learning to read and write.
She also recommends activities where children are able to develop their listening skills, for example podcasts, and playing games with rules and instructions the children need to follow.
Teaching children to be independent is key to giving them the confidence to transition to school, from getting dressed (and undressed – for toileting) and looking after their belongings, to preparing and eating lunch.
“I've seen parents who are well-meaning and pack a lunchbox which children can’t open without assistance,” explains Kate. “Teaching them how to open lunchboxes and packets is a simple step towards helping them achieve greater independence and school readiness.
Reaching out to local schools
Wahroonga Public School has an initiative where it connects with local preschools to make transition smoother. “Understanding children’s journey before they enter kindergarten gives teachers a greater window into continuity of learning,” says principal Alison Filipic.
ECEC services may be interested in initiating the relationship by reaching out to local primary schools in the area to develop a similar program, giving students and families an opportunity to find out about their future learning environment remotely.
Setting a routine
Finally, setting a routine is the number one recommendation to help preschoolers transition to kindergarten. Routine gives children structure and sets up expectations for the school day, starting with wake-up time and getting ready for school followed by lessons, play and eating periods.
“Even children with poor language skills can follow a routine. If they know the routine, that gives them a sense of security and support when things are very open-ended,” adds Kate.
Educators who may not be seeing children in person can help by keeping connected to families and strengthening the routine. Kate suggests having a regular dial-in time on Zoom or similar. It could be 11am every day it’s story time, or an opportunity to join in the daily Acknowledgment to Country.
Department of Education NSW: Transition to School (includes case studies)
How missing out on nursery due to COVID has affected children’s development
COVID-19 and education: how Australian schools are responding and what happens next
Helping children transition back to school in the COVID-19 era
COVID-19 pandemic: Helping young children and parents transition back to school
Community Early Learning Australia is a not for profit organisation with a focus on amplifying the value of early learning for every child across Australia - representing our members and uniting our sector as a force for quality education and care.