The Aftermath of Covid
A couple weeks ago, I witnessed firsthand the effect of Covid's social isolation on preschool children. I was running an outdoor mini-camp for 4-6 year olds. Having run many outdoor programs, I was looking forward to offering the children an opportunity to connect with each other, and through shared experiences, love nature as much as I did. Once the program began, I soon discovered that the children weren't able to relate to each other, and this inability to connect limited their ability to connect with nature.
When we see the other as whole and capable, we practice caring as a conversation - a reciprocal exchange .... this kind of care requires us to listen, to observe, and to meet the child with respect. ~ Carol Garboden Murray
My first challenge was to remain neutral. There can be a tendency to judge children's capabilities and lay blame. The children seemed to be lost outside, unable to get their bearings, unable to play together. I knew the temptation to judge would limit my ability to see what was really going on for the children. I knew they were showing me something, but what was it? They were overly focused on what others were doing, and on what materials the other person had in their possession. They so often felt that there was inequity, that someone else had or was doing something that they didn't have access to. Their individual needs were high and they were vocal about it. Parallel play, and even solitary play at times was difficult for them due to this external focus. Because both of the groups were exhibiting the same types of behaviours, I began to wonder if I was seeing the effect of social isolation due to Covid. For some of the children, half their life had been in a Covid environment. They hadn't had the same consistent opportunities to develop socially and emotionally through play.
Ensuring that every child feels a sense of security and belonging ..... enables each child to accept and participate actively in transforming situations that are part of learning experiences ~ Loris Malaguzzi
Finding Connection Points
I needed to find a way to help the children find a connection point with each other. The sit spot turned out to be the answer. Choosing a spot by the lake, together we quietly watched the ducks. The children were fascinated by the ducks' movements and behaviours, and they watched them intently. Having the ducks as their focus, they began to share their observations. This sparked conversations and wonderings, and they soon began to look forward to this time together, asking me when we were going to our 'secret spot'.
I continued to hold the space for observing the ducks and having conversations. I began to extend our conversations, sharing some of my personal experiences with nature. This opened a new space, a space of life outside the class, and the children began to talk about their nature experiences with their family and friends. We learned that some could climb trees, while others had never climbed a tree. As the conversation progressed, one child offered to teach the others how to climb a tree. As they demonstrated, I stood by quietly, available to bridge any safety gaps that might occur - there were none, the children were watching out for each other, working cooperatively, keeping each other safe. It was an honour to witness the growth of this group, how caring and supportive they could be towards a classmate who was overcoming fear, stepping into the unknown, and climbing a tree - literally reaching new heights for the first time! They were empowered by their own sense of connectedness and belonging.
Connection with others is empowering; it leads to confidence, creativity, community, and lays the foundation for academic learning. ~ Cathy Belgrave
By the end of the week, I could see that the children had grown socially and emotionally together. Through my neutrality and observations, I was able to find a way for the children to connect, build relationships and share experiences. We need to be aware that children may still be recovering from the isolation of Covid; we need to be sensitive to where the children are at socially and emotionally, and approach their learning from a place of care. Through our awareness, neutrality and presence, we can hold a space for connection, relationship and belonging, laying the foundation for academic learning.