Finding the child - Written with Jan Dubiel
Finding the child
Supporting children’s needs in the retransition to EYFS provision
In previous blogs, the focus has been, understandably, on how we manage our response to retransition thorough the structures and approaches that we need to establish. Part of this was exploring the logistics and rationale for the creation of ‘bubbles’ http://assure.education/blog/i-don-t-want-to-burst-your-bubble and also the need to adapt the physical environment to support the challenges of the retransition http://assure.education/blog/a-safe-space-for-learning.
At the heart of all the difficult decisions that EYFS educators and managers will need to take is reconciling the need to keep children safe with ensuring that they have access to a responsive, supportive and appropriate curriculum.
So in the midst of facilitating extreme personal hygiene, organising staggered drop-offs and pick-ups and the necessarily extensive policies and procedures for ensuring that ‘bubbles’ remain separate, it is increasingly urgent to consider the impact, and indeed the perspective of the children themselves.
The cohort of EYFS children that will retransition to schools and settings from June onwards will be a unique and atypical group. Although we will need to acknowledge the fact that they will have had a range of different experiences during the lockdown period, there will be key aspects that will need to be the main drivers of how we support and shape the curriculum and pedagogy they experience.
It is not an exaggeration to state that children will have experienced different levels and types of trauma during the lockdown period. The impact of extended confinement will have inevitably frayed tempers and patience, nurtured frustration and bitten deeply into existing personal dynamics and relationships. In addition to this, children will have inevitably picked up on the nervousness and stress of the adults as Covid-19 has developed, and fuelled by the endless media coverage, they will have created their own interpretations and related sets of worries about the immense changes to the world around them and the very real dangers that this brings. There is also a strong likelihood that they will know, or know of, someone who has contracted the virus, maybe been hospitalised or possibly even died. All of this will have created a sense of deeply felt anxiety.
During the lockdown, children will not have had access to their friends and their peers. In some cases, they will have shared this time with siblings, but in other cases not. Either way, the usual experiences of being with friends, interacting, and playing will have been denied to them and they will have inevitably readjusted to this as a result. This lack of opportunities for everyday social experience, especially for children who may have just started to engage fully with this in the school or setting they attended, will have impacted their understanding of it and their ability to participate in it as they had done previously.
Another consequence of the lockdown that needs to be considered is the profound disruption this will have had on their routines and the rhythm of their everyday lives. Familiar activities such as going to the shops, visiting friends and relatives, bike rides or trips to the local park or Indoor Play area will have been denied to them. While some children may have had access to a garden and siblings to play with, even this will not have entirely replicated the range of experiences they will have had previously. Social interaction with family may have been replaced by digital media but, again, as young children forming their view of the world and how things are, the impact of this cannot be underestimated.
Equally, we also need to acknowledge that the routines, expectations, and the enculturation required for attending a school or setting will now be an increasingly distant memory. The disconnection from this experience, which for some children may still have been novel in the middle of March, will now have been filed behind the resulting events of lockdown. Children returning to a school class or setting, notwithstanding the unfamiliarity of the environment, possibly some of the other children (or their absence) and maybe even the adult, will need to relearn and readjust to the necessary requirements of carefully functioning EYFS provision.
Most importantly of all, in addition to all of this, children will be re-entering a world that has radically changed – albeit (hopefully) temporarily – and they will be transitioning into a very different interpretation of EYFS provision from the one that was halted so abruptly in March. This will reflect a different world where personal hygiene and cleaning have justifiably gained a prevalent and dominant status. More significantly it is also a world where physical proximity and contact is now considered to be potentially dangerous; children will be aware and familiar with the concept of Social Distancing in public and the importance of abiding by this.
The concern this raises is the impact that both the experience of lockdown and the challenges of retransition may end up having on the long term emotional and psychological health and development of children – particularly those in the EYFS. Over the last few months, they will have been processing and re-forming their world view and accommodating messages about ‘how to be’ that could be potentially damaging. Proportionately this will be a large part of their lives, and school or nursery may feel like a very distant memory. This is particularly pertinent to children in the EYFS who may not have extensive experience of what was previously considered to be ‘normal’ and will be adapting to this new reality uncritically and without significant comparison. Fear of even simple bodily contact, an apprehension about personal proximity and potential anxieties about hygiene may inadvertently become enduring features of their consciousness. Equally, they will be wrestling with the emotional consequences of lockdown and transitioning to a provision that will be unfamiliar in significant ways. Both these critical aspects will need careful support and understanding to fully ameliorate and addressing them will need to be at the heart of curricular, pedagogical, and assessment considerations.
Government guidance is clear:
“Schools (and EC Settings)… continue to be best placed to make decisions about how to support and educate all their pupils during this period, based on the local context and staff capacity”
Additionally, it identifies the priorities that need to be considered in doing this:
- “consider their pupils’ mental health and wellbeing and identify any pupil who may need additional support so they are ready to learn
- assess where pupils are in their learning and agree on what adjustments may be needed to the school curriculum over the coming weeks
- identify and plan how best to support the education of high needs groups, including disadvantaged pupils, and SEND and vulnerable pupils”
A recently published document from the British Psychological Society examines how their perspective can support the transition to schools and settings. The document is available here: https://www.bps.org.uk/sites/www.bps.org.uk/files/Policy/Policy - Files/Back to school - using psychological perspectives to support re-engagement and recovery.pdf
This provides specific advice for the Retransition to EYFS provision and identifies key aspects from a psychological perspective:
- Remember that behaviour is often a form of communication. Young children may be unable to express how they feel about the current circumstances verbally.
- Be watchful for changes in behaviour that may indicate anxiety, stress, or frustration.
- Provide parents with materials to support children’s transition into early years settings or reception e.g. visuals, storybooks, visual timetables, pictures of key staff.
- Home school communication may be even more important at this time. Families and EY settings/Reception teachers should collaborate to determine how this will work best. Asking parents to complete a ‘one-page profile’ and share it with the setting can be helpful.
- Prioritise play. Play is essential to children’s holistic wellbeing and development and its value cannot be underestimated.
- Support children to develop their awareness of routines and the physical environment, which may have changed recently.
- Follow the child’s lead, strengths, and interests. This is about helping children feel safe. From here they can begin to develop strong relationships and be more interested in learning activities.
- Explicitly teach routines that are about hygiene and infection control. Use cartoons, social stories, modelling and role play”
Another useful resource is this interview with Mine Conkbayir discussing the importance of Trauma-Informed Practice. She explores how this interfaces with an understanding of neuroscience and the critical role of co-regulation and self-regulation when considering the practical implications of retransition https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QTwYynVwyvs
So, in practice, how can we ensure that within the demands and challenges that the current situation brings, and balancing the need to ensure safety by reducing the risk of cross-infection, we provide experiences and opportunities that will fully support children’s needs?
- Despite what will be an unfamiliar context, different procedures for entering and exiting the provision, and a different type of learning environment, children will find reassurance and security in a familiar routine and schedule of the day or session. While this needs to be flexible and responsive to the children as they retransition and reacquaint themselves with the expectation and culture of the EYFS setting, a predictable routine with clear reference points will enable confidence in what to expect. Building this routine will assist children’s security and confidence and will begin to reduce some of the anxieties and apprehensions they will inevitably have been feeling
- Routines will need to be carefully considered to accommodate different aspects of learning and teaching, albeit more flexible, they will replicate existing EYFS practice. Built-in opportunities for whole group sessions where thoughts are shared and the shape of the day is explored will be important in recreating a sense of identity and community, as well as facilitating and supporting the social nature of the provision. Equally important is the need to provide sustained periods of Child-led activity, both independently and sensitively supported by an adult. Again, although this is, and has always been a critical feature of effective EYFS practice, more than ever, children will need time to immerse themselves in their own ideas, reflecting experiences and creating their own goals.
- A critical activity, both independently and adult supported is the need for children to be able to tell their stories. The learning environment and the resources within in need to contain opportunities and materials with which children can act out and create scenarios, plots, and characters. All children will have experiences from the lockdown period that they will want to explore, process, and understand. Using storytelling materials such as small world figures, or even natural objects is a typical way in which children will do this. Equally, resources that enable children to draw, write, and mark make will be vital in allowing them opportunities to explore experiences.
- The role of the ‘Key Person’ “..to help ensure that every child’s care is tailored to meet their individual needs…to help the child become familiar with the setting, offer a settled relationship for the child, and build a relationship with their parents” is a significant aspect of the statutory EYFS framework. It is vital in ensuring that all children have a sense of attachment and security in the provision they attend, and this role has never been more important than now. Faced with the plethora of challenges that children will face as part of retransition, the solid security that this provides will ease children into the changes they face. It is highly recommended that all EYFS educators reacquaint themselves with the principles and purpose of the Key Person approach and the theories that underpin it.
- Although some children will want to share everything with you immediately, other children will not. Some children will need a period of time to feel secure enough to talk, others may not want to – or need to – at all. Sensitivity, and respect for each child’s individual way of approaching this, will be vital during this period of time and an acknowledgment that it is not possible – nor desirable – to try and accelerate this kind of healing.
- Children will be aware of what is happening and has happened and will be familiar with the tensions and challenges of the beginnings of this attempt to return to ‘normal’. They will also be aware that there will have been significant changes in the way that the provision looks and is organised and managed. Taking through, explaining, and ensuring that the children are aware of why this is so will be a big step in enabling them to accommodate this and be provided with the necessary reassurance. The need for ‘bubbles’, an adapted learning environment, the newly rigorous approaches to cleaning and handwashing, and the changes in routines will all need to be discussed and reaffirmed.
Finally, it is probably best not to put a set time frame on your own expectations. If ever there was a time for starting with the unique child and their unique experience it is now. Having a structure that is flexible and adaptable is important, having a set date by which you will be providing guided reading sessions and maths mastery is not.
You may find that children return on Monday and quickly settle back into routines, but if you try to impose too much, too soon, you may all end up becoming very frustrated and do damage which is difficult to undo. The balance between safety and children’s needs is difficult. Be kind to yourself and to them and take some time to get used to the way the classroom needs to run without putting the added pressure of daily “catch up” sessions. Wellbeing needs to be at the heart of every decision you make.