2020—the year that wasn’t…

Has 2020 had an impact on children’s learning? Catherine Beckingham, an early childhood teacher from Melbourne talks about the interruption of children’s learning this year, what they’ve learned from spending time at home and what’s next. Catherine also mentions early childhood learning theories by Vygotsky and Bronfenbrenner, specifically broad learning such as social and cultural.

Many parents of preschool children are concerned that with 2020 having been a disrupted year in their child’s education that they may have ‘missed out’ on important learning. We know there is an abundance of research which emphasises the importance of early years education. However, we also know that a parent is a child’s first teacher, and the input of family is invaluable in learning. We do know that despite the disrupted year, children have continued to learn, as they do inherently, as they play and engage in day-to-day family life.

The Early Years Learning Framework which guides early childhood education does not dictate specific academic outcomes such as, ‘children should be able to count to 100’, or ‘to recognise the letters of the alphabet and their sounds’. The outcomes are far broader, and really go to the heart of what every parent really wants for their child. So, what is it that we are wanting children to achieve, and how much have they ‘missed’ by having a disrupted year at kindergarten?

A bit of background

To really understand this, we first need a bit of early childhood learning theory. Researcher Lev Vygotsky was a Soviet Psychologist working in the early 1900s. Despite the age of his research, his theories greatly influence contemporary teaching practice. One of his key ideas was around children learning from the social and cultural world in which they live. This emphasises the significance of the varied cultures that we see, which is especially so in Australia in the 21st Century. Another Russian-born psychologist Urie Bronfenbrenner (b. 1917), who lived and worked in the US, and was an influential voice in developmental psychology in the 1960s and 70s, theorised that a child’s learning did not exist in a vacuum. Rather, it is embedded in broader social and cultural ‘systems’. Examples of these systems include the child’s family, school (or educational setting), local community including businesses and governments, and then the broader community and cultures—national and international.

But what do these theories have to do with a child’s kindergarten education in 2020?

What these theories tell us, is that two things are at the centre of a child’s learning. First, the child. Second, the child’s family. Outside that are ‘layers’ of exposure to ideas, other cultures, alternative ways of being and thinking, and so on. Now those layers are important, no doubt; they are in fact what a child learns beyond the family that creates an appreciation for diversity, and richer, deeper, more meaningful ways of thinking. But at the very centre of it all is the child, and the child’s family.

So what have children learned?

With this in mind, consider the outcomes sought in early childhood learning.

For children to:

  • Have a strong sense of identity: From birth, children identify with the people closest to them. They build their own sense of identity based on the people they are connected within most cases, their family.  Time spent with family over this lockdown period will have influenced how children view themselves, and supports their identity as a valuable member of your family.
  • Be connected with and contribute to their world: The habits and values children have learned about how a family unit functions can later be extended to contribute to other communities, such as kinder, school and beyond.
  • Have a strong sense of wellbeing: The UN Convention on the Rights of the Child emphasises the importance of children feeling safe and secure. During this time when the world has felt like a very unsafe place, your home has given your child security, stability and a safe place to be.
  • Be confident and involved learners: In the home environment, day-to-day life has supported children in learning values, routines, positive habits and communications. Again, it’s not about the alphabet and counting—these things are important, and children will learn them when they are ready. Rather, in the family unit they are learning how to listen, how to share their ideas, and how to respect the ideas of others.
  • Be effective communicators: Family conversations, sharing of ideas and stories, songs, even talking about TV shows; these are all ways in which your child is sharing and extending ideas and ways of thinking. Hearing people talking on the phone, Zoom calls with Grandma, drawing with chalk on the driveway—these are all meaningful and rich communications which have supported your child in developing skills in this area.

Where to from here?

Rather than thinking about what children may have missed out on, let’s think about what they have gained. For children who have missed out on parts of their education this year, teachers and educators will not be focusing on ‘making up for lost time’, but rather, giving them the opportunity to continue their learning journey: to play with other children, share ideas, and continue to grow and develop in that next ‘system’ outside of their family. Likewise, we will prepare them for success in the next year/s of their education, working collaboratively with their next teachers to ensure a smooth transition, no matter what level of education they are progressing to.

And with school holidays now upon us for some states and approaching for others, as boredom sets in, remember this:

‘In this modern world where activity is stressed to the point of mania, quietness as a childhood need is too often overlooked.’—Margaret Wise Brown.

Perhaps 2020 has actually just restored the balance in childhood.


  • Brown, Margaret (n.d.).  Retrieved from https://www.inspiringquotes.us/author/7477-margaret-wise-brown
  • Ashiabi G.S. & O’Neal K.K. (2015). Child Social Development in Context: An Examination of Some Propositions in Bronfenbrenner’s Bioecological Theory. SAGE Open.
  • McLeod, S. A. (2014). Lev Vygotsky. Retrieved from www.simplypsychology.org/vygotsky.html

ECA Recommends

By Linda Pound

The How Children Learn series provides a comprehensive yet accessible account of the educational theorising that has shaped and is continuing to shape teaching and learning in the early years. It explores educational thinking from ancient times to the present day, breaks complex ideas down into understandable ones, helps educators relate theory to their experience of children, makes clear how each theory translates into practice and offers guidance on working with and including children with additional special educational needs. Purchase a copy on the ECA Shop here.

Catherine Beckingham

Catherine Beckingham is an Early Childhood Teacher at a community kindergarten in Melbourne. She completed a Bachelor of Education (Early Childhood) with Swinburne University, and is a member of the Golden Key Honours Society. Recognising the importance of partnerships with families, Catherine regularly writes critical reflections in an endeavour to support and inform the families of children in her centre. Catherine is especially passionate about nature-based education, and music education.

One thought on “2020—the year that wasn’t…”

    Beautiful article, and I totally agree, children can also learn while spending time at home with their parents to fulfil their learning progress. In our Centre even though there was a lockdown our Centre in Barton was still able to connect with children and their families. Weekly we sent learning packs with lots of activity for children to learn and keep them busy while at home, plus zoom lessons twice a week so children doesn’t missed out much on their learning and development.

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