Counting the emotional cost of Covid

Written by Early Years Lecturer Ian Currie.

Children returning to early childhood settings after a sudden and unplanned exposure to a less predictable world are noticeably different from those who left to enter lockdown almost three months ago. The settings they are returning to are also substantially changed. With human contact significantly reduced and, in some settings, discouraged altogether, we find much of our existing ‘best practice’ eviscerated. The ‘human’ element of social and emotional care reduced to a distanced form of (literally) sanitised interaction that jeapardises the emotional literacy of a generation.

Children frequently need emotional comfort, the simple expression of which combines an appropriate choice of words with some kind of physical contact – a hug, holding a hand, stroking a bruised cheek. They have spent their first few months and years of life learning this and benefitting socially and emotionally from such consistent expressions of care. We know that such patterns of interaction between children and care-givers are amongst the crucial foundations of the attachment bond and the trust that underpins such early relationships.

We even understand the neuroscience of how the brain develops structurally in response to the predictability and security of one’s environment but in three short months we have pulled the predictability rug from under a generation of children. Of course we have not done so intentionally. We as adult carers and parents have been wrestling with our own uncertainties and insecurities about the pandemic. Our world too has become much less predictable and as we have tried to make sense of hearsay, gossip, official advice and data, our vocabularies have changed. We have conversations about ‘lockdown’, ‘Covid 19’, ‘R-rates’, ‘Corona virus’, ‘hospitals’, ‘death’ and ‘fear’. We forget that children hear these conversations, whether amongst ourselves and our families and friends, whether on the 5pm televised Government briefing, whether between siblings or peers. Children’s worries and insecurities are emerging in play. We are seeing ‘lockdown’ games and Covid monsters, we are hearing conversations about death and dying and we are seeing fear and aggression exhibited in play activities. Literature on childhood trauma recognises such behaviour but in a world-wide pandemic where our own knowledge and understanding is incomplete how should we respond to these expressions of insecurity amongst our children? How do we manage emotions amongst children who are trying to understand new boundaries? How do we support children to articulate their concerns? How do we create stability in the new and unpredictable normality? How do we manage our own mental health and resilience?

Working and Teaching in the Early Years

Elle Gentle

Hi I am Elle Gentle I am a second-year student studying a BA (Hons) Working and Teaching in the Early Years, currently researching the benefits of children being allowed to take risks. Has health and safety gone too far and are we restricting their development if we wrap them up in cotton wool?

Kids Club on a beach

Over the years I have spent a lot of time working abroad in places such as Egypt and Malaysia looking after children as a Kid’s Club representative, providing various activities and a range of arts and crafts for all different ages. However, for this article I wanted to focus my attention on the work that I did in Malaysia on a small island resort called Sea Gypsy Village Resort. The island where the resort is located is called Pulau Sibu Besar and I have worked there on and off for about three years. As described on their website, the place is “A resort surrounded by jungle with a beautiful, safe, secluded, virtually private sandy beach. Perfect for families and couples who are looking to escape the stress of the city. Transport yourself back to a time before phones and email, engage in a digital detox to rediscover the value of time spent together”. https://www.siburesort.com/

People crossing a foot bridge

I think one of the reasons why I have fallen in love with this place is this last point, the digital detox. I have been able to see families coming together, children playing outside, running around and exploring both jungle and ocean. As for the parents, they are able to relax as they know that their children are safe on this secluded island. This is something so often lost to the industrialised world as our children become increasingly surrounded by technology. Whilst there are many benefits to this technology, are our younger generations playing outside like we used to do? The benefits of outside play are endless, as stated by Greenfield (2004, cited in Little and Wyver, 2008: 36) ‘the risks and challenges of being outdoors provide rich opportunities for learning, problem-solving and developing social competence’.

Building a shelter on a beach

The resort also provides educational school trips several times a year. From the minute the children set foot on the island, they take part in games and tasks that promote teamwork, leadership skills, problem solving and survival skills. The activities can include anything from making bandanas to creating team chants, from gutting fish to making shelters and from orienteering to beach competitions. The children are constantly surprised by what they are capable of and go home exhausted and elated. The necessary risks assessments are completed by the resort and standard operating procedures are put in place to ensure the safety of all children. One of the main activities which could be described as risky, is the Survivor game. The children are taught basic survival skills such as making fires with flints, building shelters from natural materials and even how to gut fish. Once these skills are taught, we take them to a small deserted island and make out as if they will be staying there overnight. The children must work as a team, gather the resources needed, put together a shelter and make a fire. The skills that the children develop from this are incredible and include resourcefulness, team-work, perseverance, problem solving. So much learning happens from such a hands-on experience. According to Craig (2007, cited in McArdle et al, 2013: 249) ‘Confidence to face up to new and challenging situations is a condition that, we suggest, encourages resilience’. Could we be doing more in the UK to facilitate these types of experiences?

References

LITTLE, H. and WYER, S., 2008. Outdoor play. Australian Journal of Early Childhood. 33 (2), pp. 33-40. Available from: https://doi.org/10.1177/183693910803300206 [Accessed 31 January 2020].

MCARDLE, K., HARRISON, T. and HARRISON, D., 2013. Does a nurturing approach that uses an outdoor play environment build resilience in children from a challenge background? Journal of Adventure Education and Outdoor Learning. 13 (3), pp 238-254. Available from: https://doi.org/10.1080/14729679.2013.776862 [Accessed 31 January 2020].

Welcome to Early Years Education 2019-20 academic year

A very warm welcome to The Early Years Education Department for all our new students joining us in 2019 and of course, all our returning students – welcome back!

The Department offers a suite of programmes that provide high quality learning and training experiences to those who wish to work with young children in a variety of roles across the EYE sector. We are really pleased that you have decided to study with us at Edge Hill University and particularly in the EYE Department.

The Early Years Education Department has some key strengths identified by a variety of quality procedures and our own students’ comments (NSS/SSCF 2018/19 meetings):

Strengths of the Department include

  • Quality of overall student experience (strong ISS/NSS scores and highly positive Bristol Online Survey End of programme responses and Student Staff Consultative Forum Minutes). For the past 3 years now, our students are 100% satisfied with our programmes overall.
  • Successful academic achievement across all programmes – you will get there and do really well in your chosen career!
  • Strong retention across all programmes – we have good support mechanisms in place for all students, so please talk to your tutor team if there is anything you are concerned about, so that we can signpost you and help, where possible.
  • Consistent high quality and complimentary partner feedback and a strong collaborative working relationship (Partnership BOS feedback and PQO Reports).
  • Consistent highly positive External Examiner feedback – all our programmes are reviewed by an External Examiner.
  • Partnership Training and Development Opportunities across the partnership, with future plans to enhance and develop as an area of enterprise – we offer free CPD, so please do look out for this opportunity alongside your studies.
  • ‘Forest Edge’ and outdoor learning developments – we are early years, so you will be outside often!
  • Cross-Faculty collaborations to support teaching and research – your tutor team are researchers, so ask them about their work and read their publications in journals, books etc.
  • An investment in Paediatric First Aid Training for all Final Year and PGCE students to comply with DfE ‘Millie’s Mark’ with Millie’s Trust Foundation at no extra cost to you. You will be thoroughly ‘employable’.
  • Distinctive Department for Early Years Education, which we are very proud of and you will benefit greatly from being immersed in early years ‘ness’
  • Our students tell us that we are welcoming, supportive, engaging, knowledgeable, inspiring and fun. I do hope you will also think this, but if not – tell us. Do look out for our ‘Meet the Team’ events and come along.

I would also like to share with your the ‘Vision for Early Years Education Department’ as you are an essential part of this vision and ethos.

The Early Years Education overarching vision is to raise the status and quality of the early years workforce (ECEC workforce) and to work in partnership with employers and early years settings/schools across England, to ensure high quality teaching and learning, reflective practice, leadership and research is at the heart of our early years training and professional development programmes.

This vision is based on our aspiration to lead early years research, learning and teaching on both national and international levels through providing a dynamic student-focused learning environment, offering our students (both undergraduate and postgraduate) high quality learning experiences that are inextricably linked to the needs and interests of young children, who are at the heart of our early years provision. We aim to provide an outstanding, sustainable and inclusive learning environment through continuous enhancement of our provision by responding to identified learners’ needs, developments in the fields of research, wider community interests, including those of employers, while ensuring a thoughtful, process of reflection and evaluation”.

We hope that you thoroughly enjoy your studies with us and that you engage with the ‘student voice’ opportunities offered to you to get the very best from your teaching and learning experiences – if I have not shared this with you during induction, I will talk to you when I teach you!

Please do feel free to pop in and see me at any point in your studies and let me know the good things you are doing and if any issues arise for you. My office is in the Faculty of Education, second floor FoEL 2.50, with my name on the door. Alternatively, do feel free to email me or tweet.

Dr Karen Boardman

Karen.boardman@edgehill.ac.uk

Twitter @KarenMBoardman

Get Involved! a note from Freddie Berry, EHU Education Society:

Edge Hill University (EHU) Education Society 

The EHU Education Society is set up by students for students! We are sponsored by the National Education Union and have opportunities for students on education based courses or those who are interested in education to join. We offer training sessions based on your interests and have a number planned for the academic year to come focusing on:

  • Supporting children with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD)
  • Behaviour Management
  • Children’s Learning Outside the Classroom (LOtC)
  • Supporting Children’s Mental Health
  • Inequality in Education
  • Racism in Education
  • Supporting Looked After Children (LAC).

Every time you attend a session you come away with a certificate to demonstrate your attendance and commitment to your personal and professional development which can help your CV to stand out. Alongside this members are able to meet like minded individuals who are also interested in education and get involved with campaigns that the NEU runs to support teachers, schools and learners. If you are interested in joining the society and receiving news about how to sign up for these events please feel free to contact and follow us on:

  • Email: ehueducationsociety@outlook.com email the President of the society, Freddie Berry, on 23552239@edgehill.ac.uk 
  • Facebook: @ehueducationsociety to follow our page / if you would like to join our group chat then please email or message us on our page
  • Twitter: @EHUEducationSoc 

We look forward to you joining our society!