You are here

Guest blog by Professor Cathy Nutbrown: What have we learned from the pandemic?

Image (multiple): 
Monday, 5 July, 2021

Our conference in June 2021 focussed on what has been learned as a result of adaptations to the Covid-19 pandemic in different parts of the UK, and for different types of settings and roles.

This is an important question, which is being asked in relation to many aspects of life.  As I listened to the many and varied presentations  I heard many positive accounts. These brief thoughts are my attempt to synthesise, from the rich and varied contributions, some "lessons".

The outdoors became reaffirmed and rediscovered a vital space for learning and well-being, and a source of learning opportunities.  Whilst outdoors was safer, being outdoors opened up many opportunities for children, parents and staff.  Moving to outdoor provision provides opportunities to be energetic or slow, to observe closely and quietly, in a relaxed way, and to take every opportunity to engage with nature – be it clouds, snails, ice or mud!  As Froebel noted: "The child should experience nature in all its aspects – form, energy, substance, sound and colour."

Relationships are essential and must be nurtured and prized. Ways of keeping relationships going when children were not in their usual settings were found – using gardens and technology. And a reminder that relationships with animals instil a calmness and teach children about the importance of taking care and attachment.

Caring is vital for adults as well as children.   Kindness, nurturing and taking care of each other emerged as a key message as a result of the pandemic.

Play is essential. Stories are affirming. Many children played out their understandings and fears of Covid experiences, and their familiarities with loss, fear, masks wearing and missing their friends and extended families.  They remembered and retold their own stories of their experiences as they began to try to make sense of their view of the changed world.

Flexibility and reassurance were vital as regulations, legislation and circumstances changed frequently. Practitioners around the country were responsive to children’s circumstances, adaptable to changing needs and regulations, shifting practices to new challenges and needs.

Finding ways of staying connected was never more important and here technology provided ways of connecting with families and well as between staff.  As family needs changed, as staff needed support, as children faced fears and showed resilience, there was a sharing and appreciation of the parts everyone was playing. And this was the case for professional communication and online professional learning as much as for maintaining incidental human contact.

Slowing down, and eliminating the need to rush, came out of finding different and adapted ways of working. The suspension of government and regional curriculum guidance, inspections and assessments  meant that practitioners were freer to draw on their professional knowledge  and use their own judgement to work creatively with children and their families.

The rediscovery of principles has been a thread running through the experiences of many, as settings focused on the moments they were in.

Small groups and better adult child ratios make a difference to children.  The need to keep "bubbles" small for the sake of safety, became a reminder that young children thrive best in smaller groupings.

The contributors to our conference gave important detail on a variety of perspectives, and if you missed any of them do take the opportunity to view the presentations, which are still online.   However, as I think through this summary I find myself wanting to say that all these things we know, or knew, already. What has happened is that the enforced changes with which Covid-19 confronted us, brought out some of the best of practice. We will all have our own perspectives on what we might have learned during these past 18 months. What is important that we take the things that have been hard, as well as those things that we feel were good, to create positive resolutions – personal and professional – private and public - for the future. Moving forward, it will be crucial to keep hold of things that have emerged as new reminders of what helps children, their families and their early years practitioners, thrive.