Maria Reraki (PhD) is a Senior Lecturer in Early Years Education at Edge Hill University, UK. She teaches across a number of early years programmes and supports students becoming qualified teachers in Early Years settings. Before undertaking this post, Maria was a lecturer on Special Needs at the University of Birmingham. Maria’s research and teaching interests are on Special Educational Needs (SEN) with a particular focus on the inclusion of learners who have SEN and English as an Additional Language in Early Years settings. She has been involved in a number of projects on inclusive education and has specifically focused on the identification and support of multi/bilingual learners with language and literacy difficulties. She has supervised studies in the UK, Greece, Algeria and Kenya focusing on disability, language development and teaching in Higher Education (HE). At this stage in her career, Maria wishes to explore further SEN support in Early Years settings and the training of Early Years professionals on SEN.

How it started

I lead a module for second year students, guiding them through research on what parents/carers and professionals can do to support the language and communication development of children.  One of the first things that came to mind during the sessions, was some discussions I had with parents/carers and early years professionals about the struggles some children face as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic (March 2020 – September 2021). During these discussions we would always come to the conclusion that the limited interactions with adults and other children (because of the lockdowns) have adversely impacted the language and social skills of children- particularly those who are now (2024) in Early Years and Key Stage 1 (KS1).

As the nature of the Module encouraged me and the students to look at language and communication practices within the early years context, I became more curious; hence, I started looking at studies that focused on the topic of language and communication during and after the Covid-19 pandemic to explore what is known so far. I shared my interest with the students in the sessions. This led us to a series of conversations on how the Covid-19 pandemic might have influenced children that were between the ages of 0-5 at the time.

What we found

The TEY2000 Module includes teaching and learning resources on topics such as: family practices that support language development, early years settings and the practices employed for communication and language development, low-socioeconomic areas and links to language practices, and so on. As the Covid-19 pandemic was unprecedented, we started linking such topics with what we thought was happening during the pandemic to later confirm or disconfirm our assumptions by looking at relevant literature. As expected, we found an extensive amount of research on family practices (see Pascal et al., 2020) and more specifically studies that showed that:

During the pandemic:

  1. parent/carer-child interactions increased- in most cases (see Saunders & Hogg, 2020);
  2. passive screen time increased towards the end of the pandemic (see Kartushina et al., 2022);
  3. parents/carers felt increased anxiety as they were trying to support their children and manage other commitments (see Costa et al., 2020);
  4. children who continued to attend Early Childhood Education and Care (ECEC) settings showed significant vocabulary gains (Davies et al., 2021).

Our thoughts

The above are only a few of the themes that emerged from our readings, but they provoked several interesting discussions and questions such as:

  • Which groups of children had increased language parent/carer interactions, and which had less opportunities to interact?
  • Why did the use of passive screen-time increase over time?
  • How did parents/carers deal with stress and how did this affect their interactions with their children?
  • Are there any studies that compare the vocabulary growth of children who attended ECEC settings to children who stayed at home?

And many more…

Our question and the Ecological Systems Theory

After finding myself reflecting on such discussions and the readings, the ages of these children now (2024) and even thinking about what I was doing for my children’s speech and language development during the pandemic, I decided to use a framework that would help me navigate through the findings. I won’t impress you; I selected Bronfebrenner’s Ecological Systems Theory – EST (Bronfebrenner, 1977; 1979;2001) (see Figure 1).  Although commonly used- I believe EST can frame well (and maybe answer) the general question the students and I ended up with:

  • What do we know so far about the support practices for the speech and language development skills of children during the pandemic?

Figure 1 

Adapted from:    

The arrows in the above Figure only summarise a few of the pieces of the puzzle the students and I have started to put together to answer our question. It is also a starting point for a literature review that I intend to conduct which will probably support me in approaching this quest as a ‘lessons learnt’ approach from the Covid-19 pandemic. More specifically, the review might bring to light new factors that improve or hinder the language and communication skills of children, suggesting potential areas for further research in the field of language and communication in early years- and beyond (see also Boardman et al., 2023).

‘Food for thought’

So, based on my readings so far, I am making the three points below that will hopefully give you as readers some food for thought:

  1. Point a: Parents/caregivers mental health

How can we support parents/caregivers with mental health issues to create language rich environments for their children? What interventions can be put in place?

  • Point b: parent-child interactions

How can we use the data from parent-child interactions that took place during the Covid-19 pandemic to design practices early years professionals and caregivers can employ to support the language and communication skills of children? How are these different to what we know from research so far?

  • Point c: access to ECEC

What makes ECEC important in supporting the communication and language skills of children? What are the benefits of accessing ECEC in language and communicative skills development?

Drop me an email at: [email protected] if you have any answers/comments/ideas!

A big thank you to the Working and Teaching in the Early Years second year students for the interesting discussions we had which supported the writing of this blog post.


  • Boardman, K., Hindley, C., & Cont, S. (2023). Supporting under-fives and their families with communication, language and literacy development: A collaborative research circle project. Impact (19), pp. 57-59.
    Available at: (accessed: 02/02/2024)
  • Bronfenbrenner, U. (1977). Toward an experimental ecology of human development. American Psychologist, 32(7), pp. 513–531.
  • Bronfenbrenner, U. (1979). The ecology of human development: Experiments by nature and design. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.
  • Bronfenbrenner, U. (2001). “The biological theory of human development,” in International encyclopedia of the social and behavioral sciences, Vol. 10, eds N. J. Smelser and P. B. Baltes (Amsterdam: Elsevier), pp. 6963–6970.
  • Costa, P., Cruz, A. C., Alves, A.A., Rodrigues , M.C. & Ferguson, R. (2022) The impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on young children and their caregivers, Child: Health, Care and Development, Vol. 48 (6), pp. 10001-1007
  • Davies, C., Hendry, A., Gibson, S. P., Gliga, T., McGillion, M., & Gonzalez-Gomez, N. (2021). Early childhood education and care (ECEC) during COVID-19 boosts growth in language and executive function. Infant and Child Development, Volume 30 (4)
  • Kartushina, N., Mani, N., Aktan-Erciyes, A., Alaslani, K., Aldrich, N. J., Almohammadi, A., … & Mayor. J. (2022). COVID-19 first lockdown as a window into language acquisition: associations between caregiver-child activities and vocabulary gains. Language Development Research, 2(1), 1—36. https://doi.og/10.34842/abym-xv34
  • Pascal, C., Bertram, T., Cullinane, C., and Holt-White, E. (2020) COVID-19 and social mobility impact brief: early year. Available at: Early-Years-Impact-Brief.pdf ( (accessed: 02/02/2024)

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