Positive relationships

How early education can grow after the pandemic

The pandemic has been grim, but we can still draw some good from it.
August 4, 2021
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In a rush? Here's the quick run-down.

• This story explores the concept of post-traumatic growth within the world of early education. It's about how we can grow, and learn, after the pandemic.

• We're not looking for silver linings here — the pandemic is hard. But as we move forward, it can help to know that we're able to turn these pressures into a source of growth later down the line.

• Early education consultant Angèle Sancho Passe looks at how post-traumatic growth might play a part on the road ahead.

Like everyone else across the globe, early childhood educators are stumbling out of  the COVID-19 pandemic with a mixture of eagerness and apprehension. 

You’ve probably heard talk about PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder), a well-known term that describes the negative effects of traumatic events. There’s some worry that we might have experienced some form of collective trauma as a result  of the past year. But today, we’ll talk about an alternative way of responding to stress, and how it might work in early education: PTG, or post-traumatic growth.

This isn’t an attempt to look for a silver lining to the pandemic — our suffering has been real. Post-traumatic growth simply suggests that adversity can produce changes in understanding ourselves, others and the world. And from those understandings, we’ve got the opportunity for personal growth and increased self-confidence.

Viewing our pandemic recovery through the PTG lens is reassuring, and especially within early education. After all, young children are optimistic little creatures — by nature, they have the built-in energy necessary to move on. Early educators can use this mindset to plan our steps forward, and to turn the past year and a half’s stresses into a source of growth. 

So let’s look at how we can use post-traumatic growth to nurture children’s development, and find some boosts for our own wellbeing.

Finding positives within the pandemic

Some days, the pandemic’s consequences feel immediate and obvious. But when we can, it’s worthwhile to reflect on what we’ve learned, and take pride in how we’ve stayed afloat. 

Recently, I attended a Zoom meeting of international early education colleagues who started a discussion focused on “positives from the pandemic”. While recounting the challenges, the participants wanted to name the good things too. 

Here are some examples of what they shared: 

  • A slowed down daily schedule, resulting in calmer classrooms. 
  • Less separation anxiety when parents dropped off their children at the door of the building, rather than accompanying children into their classroom. 
  • Less incidence of childhood illnesses, with everyone being very conscientious about sanitizing and hand washing. 
  • Learning flexibility: children adapted to wearing masks, washing hands more often, waiting for toys to be cleaned. 
  • More time spent outdoors, given the mandates for social distancing. 

Looking at this list, the center directors from this discussion felt that the pandemic has given us a few things to carry with us, even after COVID-19 is long gone. Their reactions match what the research says about  reflection: When we reflect on a tough situation we have experienced, and we see what we have learned, we begin to see life with new lenses of accomplishment. It is an intentional way to leverage the benefits of stress.

We can see  our own strengths in the way we’ve dealt with the many adversities of this past year and a half. We realize we worked with others, we identify the new opportunities, the “things- to-continue”, and we take pride in our abilities.  This exercise is valuable for everyone in the Early Years, leaders, educators, and children. 

Post-traumatic growth in progress: Part 1

To look at how post-traumatic growth might look in our everyday early education curriculum, let’s think on how we could do simple activities in the  main areas of child development. We’ll start by looking at the areas of language and literacy development, as well as physical development.

Language and literacy development

Let’s look at the activities that focus on talking, reading, and writing skills.

Physical development 

The pandemic pushed us to find new ways to keep active — and we can bring some of those with us in our everyday practice.

  • Continue to schedule a large amount of time outdoors for active as well as quiet activities.  It may be for large motor development such as free play running or jumping, or for small motor such as drawing flowers or examining bugs with  magnifying glasses.
  • Do simple yoga exercises in your yard or at the park. 

Post-traumatic growth in progress: Part 2

Within early education, we can find opportunities for PTG just about wherever we look. Now, we’ll explore children’s social, emotional and cognitive development. 

Social development

Especially for young children, we’ve picked up some new ways to support one another.

  • Continue to develop the skills of empathy we practiced  during the pandemic, learning to protect each other by wearing masks and washing hands often.  
  • Affirm children when you observe empathy: “Adam, you noticed that William wanted a turn with the red truck. And you shared it with him”. 
  • Point out empathy and caring in the stories you read, and have conversations about caring for our fellow humans at all times.

Emotional development

This past year and a half has also given us new ways to talk about our feelings.

  • Be a positive role model for self-confidence: “I don’t like to wait for the toys to be sanitized all the time. But I’m learning to be patient!” 
  • Name and discuss children’s skill development: “You learned to find your cubby! Now you can put your backpack away all by yourself.” 
  • Give children space and time to explore on their own with safe activities. Affirm their self-direction. 

Cognitive development

As we move forward, we’ve got some new focuses for putting our brains to work.

A more confident look at the road ahead

If we take this beyond the pandemic, the point of post-traumatic growth is to built up a toolkit that goes with the flow of children’s experiences and gives educators teachable moments. 

Through the COVID health crisis, children have seen their families struggle with job changes and illness. They’ve had to adjust to stressed parents working from home, and occupy themselves during Zoom business meetings. They’ve carefully followed all the new hygiene and distancing rules, and they’ve learned new ways to be creative and active in trying times. And they’ve also seen how strong the grown-up caregivers in their lives can be, as we’ve continued to protect and nurture children.

Adults have learned that children are adaptable, that life can change dramatically, slow down to a halt,  and still be effective. In recovery, it will be important to maintain a calm pace and celebrate our growth. Early Years educators and children have new skills that might not have happened without the upheaval of the pandemic. But since we have coped with it and have learned from it, we can take pride in our resiliency and move confidently to the future.

Angèle Sancho Passe is an early education consultant and writer based in Minneapolis, Minnesota. You can learn more at www.angelesanchopasse.com.

The big ideas

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Official Danish Government Reopening Advice

Guidance from the Danish Health Ministry, translated in full to English.

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UK Nursery Covid-19 Response Group Recommendations

The full recommendations from a working group of over 70 nursery chains in the UK.

Please note: here at Famly we love sharing creative activities for you to try with the children at your setting, but you know them best. Take the time to consider adaptions you might need to make so these activities are accessible and developmentally appropriate for the children you work with. Just as you ordinarily would, conduct risk assessments for your children and your setting before undertaking new activities, and ensure you and your staff are following your own health and safety guidelines.

Learn more about Famly

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