‘Early Learning Matters’ in the time of a pandemic

This blog was originally published in 2020 in the lead-up to Early Learning Matters Week, however, it is still a timely piece to think about what early learning means for children who are experiencing the hardships, disruptions and possible opportunities associated with the COVID-19 pandemic.

Many of you who are raising or working with children and those of you whose work is supporting others to do this important work, are concerned about the impact of the pandemic on children’s learning and wellbeing-two inseparably linked aspects of childhood. There are many questions to ask such as: ‘What happens to children’s wellbeing when they are not socialising and playing with friends?’ ‘Why might children be learning more or learning less during the lockdown?’

Child development research and practical experience tell us that children are aware of what is happening in their homes and communities. We see this awareness as children play and talk about their family and community experiences with other children and adults. Children and families are tuning into the ‘messages’ we are sending about the pandemic.

Children living with significant social disadvantages may be experiencing heightened levels of stress with an increase in risk factors that will impact on their learning and wellbeing. Educators’ sensitivity and response to these difficult contexts makes a positive difference to children’s learning and wellbeing. Being intentional about gentle transitions, continuity, children’s attachment to an educator, and their rights to play, nutrition and rest, for example, are positive, ethical pedagogies for children who are stressed.

The need for ‘remote learning’ and ‘home schooling’ during the pandemic has placed an incredible burden on families as they try to manage work, children and home life in the one space each day. Educators may also be facing these additional family stresses while remaining at work.

Some families have genuine concerns that their child might not be ready for school next year or that their child with a disability is not getting the specialised support they need. Educators’ professional experience and specialised knowledge, means they are able to reassure families and to work with them and with other professionals in ensuring children are continuing to progress in learning. Schools will be ready for and responsive to children starting school in 2021.

Children are learning new things about themselves, their families and their communities during this pandemic. My hope is that children are learning with their educators, families and peers about:

  • communities as supportive places for families and children
  • adults as caring, available, and resourceful people
  • kindness and respect for others
  • patience and the value of a slower pace to each day
  • the enjoyment to be found in everyday things and experiences.

Early Learning Matters week provided educators, families, children and communities with a unique opportunity to think about learning in the time of a pandemic.

  • A time to acknowledge the remarkable contribution of educators, who despite their own stress and high levels of uncertainty in the sector, remained focused on children’s learning and wellbeing.
  • A time to think about what children have learnt about themselves, their families, their educators and their communities.
  • A time to think about what we have learnt about ourselves as professional educators, and our role as teachers and learners with children and families.
  • A time to acknowledge the support for children’s learning that was provided by governments, departments, agencies, consultancies and peak bodies such as Early Childhood Australia.

Reflecting together on what educators, children and families have learnt during this time and the challenges we have faced will help to support wise decisions and informed practices now and in the future.

ECA Recommends

Children’s rights: Every day and everywhere (Book 1)
Everyday Learning Series title
By Dr Anne Kennedy

Children’s rights: Every day and everywhere is focused on the concept of children’s rights and how these rights are promoted and protected, with a particular focus on the United Nations (UN) Convention on the Rights of the Child (1989) and the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (2006). As parents/carers and educators, becoming more familiar with these UN Conventions is a suitable beginning for increasing understanding about the nature of children’s rights and their practical implications. Purchase your copy on the ECA Shop here.

Anne Kennedy

Dr Anne Kennedy works as a consultant, trainer, writer and researcher in early childhood education. She was a member of the small writing team led by Charles Sturt University which developed Belonging, Being and Becoming, The Early Years Learning Framework for Australia. Since the launch of the Early Years Learning Framework she has provided training for early childhood educators across the country.

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