Posted on: 11/03/2021
The topic of catch up and recovery is very much on our minds at the moment. We believe that for all children, we need to create points from which they can begin to regroup as learners, both within themselves as well as with others. We also know that the evidence emerging from research conducted into the impact that lockdowns have had on our children is compelling: it might not come as a surprise that for our older children it is the lack of social contact that has had the biggest negative impact. However, our very youngest children in the primary school have been identified as a group most negatively impacted in terms of academic development. In a report published by Juniper Education on the 12th of February of this year, The largest report into the impact of the disruption caused by the pandemic on primary school children, it is stated that children in Year 1 have experienced the greatest drop in their learning. Younger children also took longer to recover lost learning when they returned to school in September 2020. And being that this research was conducted after the first return to school following lockdown 1, there will likely be a greater deficit seen emerging in the coming weeks.
Now, this more pronounced deficit in Year 1 perhaps stands to reason: children in early years and year one have never really had the opportunity to find their feet as readers and writers. The foundations of learning will at the very least have become a little bit wobbly and things such as writing are less likely to have become entrenched in muscle memory. Lack of opportunity for physical development caused difficulty for a great many children following the first lockdown in March 2020 where weakened core strength, due to the lack of outdoor play opportunities and other reduced physical activity opportunities, led to physical weaknesses around handwriting. Due to the very nature of remote learning, it is hard to support the youngest children in engaging within a context without being able to provide those meaningful and purposeful play opportunities. Of course, many children will have engaged in learning through play within the home during lockdown but these children will still need support to access what they need. So, how might we help the very youngest children in our schools to recover from what has surely been the most trying of times?
Play. Play in the morning, play after break and play after lunch. Try to guide play where possible as many children will benefit from having play modelled. They might need to be re-familiarised with materials and resources available and whilst we will want them to have an element of choice still in what they access, we might need to lead these children by the hand to engage in purposeful and contextualised play. Think about how you and other practitioners in the classroom can support the children in accessing developmental play. When planning, think about how engagement in text could be facilitated through a starting point such as creating a micro-setting of the story. For example, if using a text such as Julian is a Mermaid by Jessica Love, set up a rockpool in a tough tray along with pebbles, sand and shells and even plastic sea-creatures and then let the children discover a waterproofed letter. If the children are creating their own version of a story, then use playdough or plasticine so that they can make a new character. To really help everyone regroup at this juncture, it’s important for everyone to get ‘stuck in’!
Foster togetherness and regrouping through the medium of music, rhythm and rhyme. Singing promotes better posture, reduces anxiety, supports voice-development and auditory discrimination and can be the ultimate mood and confidence booster. It’s also a brilliant way of looking at a different narrative form or poetry whilst supporting muscle development which helps phonics development. If you are using a book such as The Night Pirates by Peter Harris and Deborah Allwright, then sing a pirate song set to a familiar tune and sing like pirates. Make up songs around a theme. Get the children to ‘sing’ a story. Revel in the musicality of language and -even better – include actions as these can ultimately support fine-motor development through increased core-strength, balance and general movement-control. No time singing is wasted time!
It may sound obvious but don’t be afraid to actually instruct. Own this and do not make apologies! This isn’t the time for us to see what children can do completely independently. There will be time to do that later but, for now, consider the benefits of modelling play, and language and also using direct and explicit instruction where there is no mystery around learning intentions. Rather than launching into a line of questioning such as Who can tell me where we might find mini-beasts? it can sometimes even more effective (and inclusive) to state, Remember when we explored the garden and found woodlice under the big chunk of bark and also worms in the freshly dug patch? Where else might we find mini-beasts? In giving information first and then asking a question, we are naturally modelling vocabulary for response as well as providing children with an instant bit of context. It should be said that by ‘instruct’ this doesn't necessarily mean talking too much either, it might also include ‘silent modelling’: allowing the children to become absorbed in watching what you do rather than perhaps being distracted by a running commentary can be as just as powerful when done effectively and at the right moment as giving a commentary can.
Adapt and resource
Resources at this point in time need to be carefully thought-out. Too much too quickly can overwhelm; but too simple and of the wrong kind could further compound difficulties. Some children might have had an unprecedented amount of screen- time in recent months. We know that this can adversely affect behaviour and concentration levels and so we would suggest that the visuals used around stories, writing and phonics be presented in the form of tangible objects with large labels to match; an as engaging and exciting book-corner as possible. Adapt planning too: even though it might be tempting to try and pick up where things left off before Christmas, you might be better to step back in order to then come forward. If planning you usually use with a class at this time of year seems no longer relevant (either due to content or context) then re-think. A different text may work or you may well want to engage in a whole-school exploration of one, new shared text.
Whilst commonplace in Reception, the idea that we let the children ‘play’ at writing, is sometimes something we feel we can't do as much of in Year 1. Try to think like a runner here. Just as with the ‘couch to 5K’ running programme, we need to approach getting children into the swing of writing and building stamina like we would interval training: little and often with a sense of purpose and a meaningful context which acts as a handy incentive (like a 20 minute jog to a coffee shop). Have clipboards outside; let the children write standing up. Let the children lie on their bellies with felt tips and big sheets of sugar paper to do their writing. Let the children stand and write vertically where paper is bulldog clipped to a fence or stuck to the wall. Provide special paper that reflects the audience and purpose (and ensure audience and purpose is reinforced as much as possible!) We need to start small, not going too hard or fast. Get the pleasure into reading and writing and then the progress will follow. Weave readiness for writing activities into your PE sessions or through playground resources: ribbon sticks are great for this and who doesn't enjoy swirling a ribbon stick?
Above all, recognise that this will all take time to ‘right’ BUT focus on what has been gained rather than what might have been lost during these tricky times!