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Guest blog: the Unique Child in a Unique Time, by Leslie Patterson

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Thursday, 23 April, 2020

I consider myself to be one of the fortunate during this period of  lockdown because I live in the countryside and have a garden. I have benefitted greatly from the exercise and sense of wellbeing that has come from spending hours outdoors. However, this is tinged with guilt as I am so very aware that not everyone has this level of access to the natural world. There has been much discussion about the emerging inequalities during this national crisis and it has made me start to reflect on just how very different the experiences will have been for the children who come back into our settings.

It is quite right to say that children’s wellbeing is going to have to be the priority but there is not going to be a simple one-size fits all approach to this.  It can also be assumed that all children will have been through some form of traumatic experience but this is not necessarily true.  Although children will be sensing some of the nations’ anxieties and stresses, for many children this will have been a very positive time spent with loving and attentive families.  At the other extreme, there will be children who have witnessed and experienced harrowing things, such as abuse and bereavement. It will also be important to be aware of how we respond to the experiences children have had.  It would be all too easy to let children sense that we disapprove of the choices their families have made during the time they were away from nursery.  They quickly pick up on a disapproving glance across the room to a colleague when they are telling us about their numerous outings or visits to their elderly grandparents.

At the same time, we will be relying on a workforce who have had their own very individual experiences to deal with this vast range of issues. Some will have had time away from work and may be chomping at the bit to get going and provide stimulating learning environments.  Others may be exhausted from trying to keep their settings running under extremely difficult circumstances.  Those who have had personal and direct experience of the horrors that coronavirus can bring will probably not be the same colleagues that we remember from before the pandemic started. There will be a great need for compassion and understanding on teams.  Management will have to allow for periods of readjustment.

There is also likely to be a significantly widened gap in children’s attainment.  There will be children for whom development has stood fairly still from lack of stimulation. There will be those for whom development has suffered and attainment may appear to have gone backwards from negative experiences or lack of appropriate resources and equipment. There will also children for whom learning has come on leaps and bounds because of they have benefitted from the one-to-one attention of interested parents and guardians. Key persons will find themselves needing to reassess where they think their children are and what needs to be done to best support them.

Some children will come running back into nursery and school with smiles on their faces, eager to play with their friends and re-explore the magic of the learning environments. Conversely, others will experience real separation anxieties and these children are likely to come from both ends of the experience spectrum.  Some will be very reluctant to leave the warmth of loving and interested adults at home, while others will be very worried about what could be going on at home in their absence and concerned for the safety of their loved ones.

It is, no doubt, going to be a difficult time trying to re-establish our early years settings and find the best way to deal with the needs of the children in our care. One of the strengths of our current EYFS is the themes and principles that underpin it.  It is so apt that one of these is the Unique Child and that practitioners have always been advised to recognise the importance of respecting each child’s own experience.  The principles of observing each child and planning accordingly have been long established as good practice. The Unique Child is at the centre of guidance on developing the Characteristics of Effective Learning and promoting these is what will take each child forward and raise attainment. It is truly a unique time in the world’s history and I think this is going to be a period when attention to the Unique Child in the Early Years has never been more important.

Leslie Patterson is an Early Education Associate

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