Blog: The Social and Emotional Impact of School and ECEC Closures on Young Children
Over a billion children globally have missed out on school and early childhood education and care (ECEC) due to closures during the COVID-19 crisis. In Ireland, these settings closed abruptly in March 2020 causing major disruption for children and parents. During the first lockdown researchers in the Cognition, Development and Learning Lab, MIC, asked parents about their child’s play, learning and development during this time. Over 500 parents of children aged 1-10 years completed the online Play and Learning in the Early Years (PLEY) Survey in May and June 2020. As families again face into the situation of closed schools and crèches in the coming weeks, the findings from the PLEY study give us insight into their experiences.
Parents in the study reported that their children missed the routine, the structure and the activities provided by early childhood settings and schools, as well as missing the interaction with friends and other children. Parents also described the negative impact of these closures their children’s social and emotional well-being, which resulted in tantrums, anxiety, clinginess, boredom and under-stimulation. A parent of a 7 year old girl mentioned her daughter’s ‘Lack of energy’ and said ‘all the down time has brought her interest and mood down’, while the parent of a 7 year old boy said ‘He has become very moody and lazy’. Another parent of a 2 year old boy described him as “very spaced out, not the same child at all’.
Some parents also made reference to their own emotional state and the challenges of balancing work and home life during this period of closures. One mother of a 3 year old outlined how difficult it has been during the COVID19 lockdown: “Being taken away from friends in creche/playschool and staying away from cousins has been very difficult. Both parents working full time from home has been extremely hard. It is truly a desperate situation and I feel the pressure on working parents and impact on kids has been down played and not sufficiently acknowledged". The majority of parents in the PLEY study were mothers and the findings are consistent with those from a study in Italy which found that Italian mothers had similar difficulties in juggling work and family responsibilities, particularly with young children (Lagomarsino et al., 2020).
However, the findings of the PLEY study also revealed that some parents viewed the lack of structure or routine during lockdown as having a positive effect on their child’s socio-emotional development. They described the increased opportunities and time to play with siblings, as well as playing alone and playing outdoors. One parent of a five-year-old, described lockdown as ‘a break from the daily grind’, while another parent of an 8-year-old said their child had ‘More freedom - being allowed to just be. We have not placed a huge emphasis on structured learning allowing them to explore for themselves’.
As families prepare for the coming weeks of school and crèche closures, the PLEY study provides insights into the experiences of children and their parents during the initial COVID-19 crisis lockdown in Ireland. The findings highlight the consistency and routine that ECEC and school settings provide for young children, and indicate that these closures have a substantial impact on children’s socio-emotional well-being during this time.
Dr. Suzanne Egan
If you would like to read more about this research a preprint is available here.