What if children had time to spend with their family? What if there was no one else to play with, and they had to turn to whoever lived in their house – parent, carer, uncle, aunt, brother, sister? Do you think they would learn to be nicer, more adaptable, recognise their emotions more easily, or just be kind because they have to? What happens when we remove their social network and give them their family? Do family bonds become stronger or does it all just fall apart?
What if children were given the time to play, to stop when something intrigues them, like a moth or a butterfly? To get involved with mud on a wet day, or splash in puddles? Do you think they would start to create worlds of mud, or make chocolate cake and coffee out of sand and water? Do you think they would make potions or perfume out of crushed flower petals, just to give to mummy if they were provided with a few old rusty pans and kettles?
What if children were allowed to get bored, not to resort to tablets or TV but to get genuinely bored? Would they read books, and pretend they were Dick Whittington off on an adventure? Or Indiana Jones hacking his way through long grass to find treasure?
Would they have fun? And I don’t mean playing tig on a playground made of tarmac with lines for hopscotch. I mean getting their old clothes on and going down a slide that is soaking with rain. I mean running around the garden butt naked, jumping through a sprinkler. I mean splashing so hard that the mud reaches their face. I mean putting the music up so loud and dancing in the kitchen like no one is watching. Because no one is. I mean experimenting with flour and water and blue colouring, just to see what happens. I mean climbing a tree or balancing on a log or eating marshmallows over a fire in the woods.
What if children were given the chance to see what has to happen in a house? All the chores, the tidying, the cleaning, the washing, the cooking. What if they were enlisted to help, and they learned those all important life skills that, dare I say it, may be more important than learning French (and I’m a French teacher!).
Lockdown due to Covid-19 has not only given us a chance to develop our relationships with our families, to play, have fun and help, but also for children to be children. It has given us opportunities to mix age groups, to explore the outdoors, to get creative, to get bored.
Our daughter has Down’s Syndrome and has thrived in lockdown because the pressure is off her to learn in the traditional way, sat down in front of a teacher, looking at a board she can’t see and listening to language she doesn’t understand. Our daughter is learning through play, through seeing her big brother attempt things she didn’t know she could do, like crawl through a tunnel or into a bush, or climb a ladder into a treehouse. She has been given the time to learn how to dress herself, to get in and out of a bath and to use a knife and fork because we have sat at a table and eaten with her 3 times a day.
We recognise that this has not been the case for many families in the UK and beyond. In fact, we are likely to be the exception rather than the rule. The very definition of ‘additional support needs (ASN)’ is that our children need more support and parents can’t leave their children alone to work independently without the support and sometime specialist support of an adult or health professional. Many of our families have not had access to this because of public health measures and the risk to their own children’s health.
Nevertheless, we would hope that some good has come out of this and that our schools can adapt to what we have learned in lockdown. They can see the benefits of spending time outside in a natural environment and how this can improve a child’s health and well-being. They can see the advantages of focusing on life skills within the curriculum so that every child knows how to handle flour and water or knows the shape of an egg. They can see how they could adapt their teaching to genuinely include children with additional support needs by giving them time to play and develop social skills and for other children to develop empathy and kindness.
According to Angela Morgan’s review in Scotland this year, children with ASN now make up 30% of the population in Scottish schools. Support for Learning teachers should be sat at meetings and given due consideration in decision making when we return to school. It is time that we start understanding how we can adapt to our children’s individual needs and not how they should adapt to us, particularly when every household in the UK and beyond will have had their own, unique experience of lockdown depending on their circumstances, fears, achievements, losses and gains. It is more important than ever that education is responsive, child-led and focused on health and well-being rather than league tables and numbers.