Nurseries can be noisy places. A gang of three-year-olds are gathered around a book and scream with excitement. Across the room, a group of young children are chatting. Outdoors, some encourage young children to do gymnastics, some sing children’s songs, and overall all of the hustle and bustle is helping children develop their use of language. The agitation of daycare always reassures parents who come to pick up their children. Even more so in this pandemic period when children have another day to play and learn, with protective measures.
Corona affected the development of children
Parents are deeply concerned about how the pandemic has affected their preschool development. More than half of the 570 parents surveyed for the Sutton Trust report recently estimated that the social and emotional development of their two to four year old children had been negatively affected during the pandemic. A quarter of these parents felt that their child’s language development was particularly affected. One in five people had similar concerns about their physical development.
In a recent study on the effects of participation in childcare on children’s expression, comprehension and thinking skills, we found that a child who attended a nursery or childminder regularly one day per day. week during the pandemic includes an average of 24 new words more than its peers during the research period.
impact of covid restrictions
As the lockdown was first announced in England in March 2020, nurseries, childminders and other day care centers have been closed to all children except those of serious workers or vulnerable groups. Over the next four months, nursery attendance in England fell 5-10% from the normal rate. The nursery staff worked hard to keep in touch with the families. Many offered free and easy online activities such as stories and songs, puppet shows, and creative contests.
Despite these enormous efforts, we do not yet know what impact this disruption will have on children in the long run. Are those who were able to attend the nursery receiving the normal pre-Covid benefits, as many of their classmates and teachers were at home and their normal play environment was completely different? While the benefits of educating and caring for young children are particularly evident in children from disadvantaged backgrounds, those from more advantaged backgrounds will also be affected by the closure of nurseries, as families have to look after children. young children, the education of other children and work. an environment conducive to children at home, by sharing their time between them.
Research carried out on 200 families in Great Britain
To understand how this disruption affected families and young children, we contacted nearly 200 UK families through our research labs. Between March and June 2020, we asked them about their use of formal (such as nurseries and childminders) and informal (family and friends) childcare services, before, during and between the first and second confinement in England. We also collected information on income, education level, occupation and neighborhood.
To examine early thinking skills (called executive functions – attention, behavioral and emotional control), we asked parents how well their child learned to follow directions, recognize, and express emotions. Parents and caregivers told us how many words their children said and understood from categories such as animals, vehicles, and food. And we asked them to play games designed to learn skills like waiting, searching, and sorting with their child, and then we analyzed their observations.
In November and December 2020, we again explored their children’s abilities in the same areas with families, and between the time spent by children in nursery or with a childminder, their growth in language and thinking skills, and their socio-economic relationships explored. We found that a child who participated regularly for two days understood 48 more new words than their peers during the same period. This effect was greater in children from less affluent backgrounds. Children who continued to attend nursery or nanny also showed massive increases in cognitive control, flexibility and memory, regardless of their socio-economic background.
we must eliminate inequalities
Our data clearly shows that time spent in a nursery or with a childminder helps children strengthen their language and cognitive skills. This is in line with research which has shown that, along with a supportive home learning environment, high quality child care is equally important for early language and literacy development. Child care can support the social, cognitive, physical and linguistic development that children need to start school. And children who start their education with a solid foundation have better opportunities in school and better economic success as adults.
(Katherine Davies, Associate Professor of Language Development, University of Leeds, Alexandra Hendry Jr. Researcher, Nayeli González-Gomez Senior Lecturer in Psychology, University of Oxford)