Early childhood learning through lockdown

| August 11, 2021

Each lockdown gets a little harder, and a little more exhausting. During COVID-19 lockdowns, children rely more on the care and support of those within their home environment.

Whilst most school-age children are able to attend classes and interact with friends via Zoom during lockdowns, there are far less comparable virtual connections available for children under the age of 5 years. Juggling the education and care of children with the rigours of working from home has become the pandemic parenting challenge!

Educators and researchers at Early Start (University of Wollongong) have documented the ongoing impact of 18-months of pandemic uncertainty. Through engagement with early childhood education services across NSW, research projects exploring parental stress and family wellbeing, and liaison with families at the Early Start children’s museum, the Discovery Space, it is clear that life in lockdown presents complex challenges that require innovative solutions.

Early Start Discovery Space online learning program

Recognising that the family environment is the first and most important for young children’s learning, development and wellbeing, the Early Start Discovery Space team launched an online program to provide high-quality, evidence based early childhood education activities to be delivered direct to the family home via zoom.

Launched during the 2020 NSW lockdown, the Early Start Discovery to You sessions were established to provide 30-minute, one-on-one online educational workshops designed to engage children 3 years and up in learning-through-play experiences, as well as to provide welcome respite for parents and carers.

Developed with support from the Fritz Family Foundation and conducted by educators at the Early Start Discovery Space, Discovery To You workshop themes have included Lego, Pirates, Rhymes and Robots to name a few, and feature creative use of household items that children can continue to explore long after the session has ended.

In this way, play sessions– universally accessible to families in metropolitan, regional and remote communities – provide a range of educational experiences and interactions for the home that empower families to help support children’s learning, development and wellbeing.

The new release of Discovery to You 2021 sessions, in week one of lockdown, booked out in the first hour. Parent feedback highlights the positive impact of sessions that break up the monotony of lockdown life, and establish hands-on strategies to engage and educate young children at home, without dramatically increasing screen time:

“..these classes are incredible… breaks up the day … inspires further activities after the session and has been especially good for a pre-schooler whose sister is on Zoom for school to have her special time..”

“The pirate session was really fun and engaging. The songs and craft activity were easy to follow and age appropriate.”

“As always, a resounding success. Thank you so much for providing a patient, calm and personal experience during this latest lockdown.”

The Early Start Discovery Space will continue to provide Discovery to You during lockdowns, with new workshop themes released periodically to keep children’s interest, as well as an expanded format including group workshops to enable children to have virtual play and interaction with friends and/or extended family. Click here to find out more.

Supporting parents, caregivers, and early childhood educators

Leading learning and development during lockdown is no small undertaking, and has its various pitfalls and challenges. We know that parents, caregivers, and educators are already stressed, and bearing the responsibility of maintaining consistency in early childhood education requires significant support.

Continuing to pivot their services to help parents and caregivers, as well as support professional development in the early education sector, Early Start moved their face-to-face Speaker Series to an online format. Expert Insights is a series of research-based interviews designed to share the expertise of Early Start researchers on areas of child development and education and help address issues causing fear, anxiety and uncertainty in families.

Conducted by Early Start’s Senior Manager of Engagement and Translation, Dr Leanne Gibbs, the interviews provide wisdom and warmth in an accessible, conversational format useful for parents and educators alike.

Filmed in 2020, Expert Insights maintain their relevance today, as seen in an interview with Early Start Research Director Professor Lisa Kervin, a specialist in children’s language and literacy with a particular interest in children’s digital literacy, on how to balance working from home and home schooling.

Also pertinent is an interview with prominent Early Start early childhood researchers Cathrine Neilsen-Hewett, Director of The Early Years program and Marc de Rosnay, Professor of Child Development and Academic Director, exploring how children are understanding the current and ongoing health crisis.

Promisingly, engagement with evidence-based online content is being recognised as a means to maintain consistency for young children in the face of an ever-changing pandemic. Parents, caregivers, and educators alike recognise the importance of supporting children’s emotions and education in a dynamic world, as well as preparing them for the all-important transition to primary school.

Looking ahead: launch of a learning hub for parents, families and educators

There is nothing like a pandemic to bring new ideas to life! Identifying the need for a research-informed, play-based online learning hub for parents, families and educators, Early Start partnered with Early Childhood Australia and Playgroup Australia to develop an online platform containing a rich array of play experiences and blogs written by academic experts.

Incorporating research and developmental outcomes, this accessible resource will be mapped to The Early Years Learning Framework and is set to launch in 2021.  We thank the Ian Potter Foundation for their support of this huge undertaking.