Article written by Community and Family Learning Tutor, Mary.
We all know that the pandemic had a detrimental effect on young children. An Education Endowment Foundation of schools and parents found that children who started school in autumn 2020 needed more support than in previous years.
And last year Ofsted said that the lockdowns had delayed social skills with rising numbers unable to understand facial expressions (a legacy of mask wearing) and with delays in communication and self-care. Its survey of 70 providers in the spring of 2022 found that the pandemic and lockdowns had resulted in delays in learning speech and language; problems with social interaction and confidence, such as not knowing how to take turns and struggling to make friends; and delays in walking and crawling, with more obesity as a result. Self-care skills like potty-training also suffered.
Amanda Spielman, Ofsted’s chief inspector, said the worst affected were the most vulnerable children, with those living in smaller homes without gardens typically spending more time on screens during successive lockdowns, which also resulted in delays in learning to walk and crawl. Children had even started talking like the cartoon characters they had been watching, she said.
Meanwhile, data from schools across England have shown an increased number of four- and five-year-olds needing help with language. Poor speech development can have long-term effects on learning.
So what can parents do to help?
Exercise and activities
Get your children out and about and give them lots of opportunities for physical exercise. Babies should not be confined in a car seat for long periods. Letting them roll and stretch on a mat begins to develop the muscle control they will need when potty training. And older children will need the gross motor skills to support posture when they start to write. Throwing soft balls into a bin, walking, jumping or hopping along a chalk line, painting the wall outside with a big paintbrush and water, or simply climbing at the park will all help. Fine motor skills will develop with craft, lego and threading games. Get your youngsters to make balls out of playdough and flick them into a cup using their index finger to strengthen the muscles needed for the pincer grip in writing.
Interactions & Conversations
Talking to your children is key so put down the phone and give them your attention. Babies learn language through interaction with their caregivers, so eye contact and a tennis match of conversation is really important. The singsong nature of the way we speak to babies helps them to learn the sounds of our language. They also need lots of repetition to learn new words – and you should keep your sentences simple for toddlers. When they can say a word, simply repeat it, adding one or two more words eg ‘yes it’s a big bus’.
When your child gets to school they will have to discriminate between phonic sounds like ‘t’ and ‘p’ – something which has been made more difficult by the requisite wearing of masks during the pandemic. Playing games like ‘I hear with my little ear’ to isolate the beginning sounds of words can be really helpful for youngsters. And there are lots of games to play which can help them listen and follow instructions: ‘Teddy Bear, Teddy Bear’ for one. Try to teach turn-taking when playing, by saying ‘my turn, your turn’ as you build a tower.
Reading together can help build vocabulary. Remember to make it fun with lots of funny voices and talk about the pictures together. You can even make some props to go with a favourite story.
Speech and language tips to support your child’s development
- Take your child to the park, the shops and elsewhere.
- Talk to your child whenever you can.
- Have fun with nursery rhymes and songs, especially those with actions.
- Encourage your child to listen to different sounds
- Get your child’s attention when you want to talk.
- Talk about things as they happen.
- Listen carefully and give your child time. Take turns to speak.
- Always respond in some way when your child says something.
- Make special time with your child each day to play and look at books.
- Limit TV time. Watch together and talk about what happens.
You can find lots of ideas to help on websites like www.tlc-essex.info and the National Literacy Trust’s parent portal.
And you can find online and face to face workshops and courses on early years, phonics and speech and language here.