How comparing my twins exposed the fault in our lockdown learning
Updated: Dec 6, 2020
I have two sets of twins, aged 10 years and four years. My youngest set started reception year this September, while we didn’t notice developmental regressions I was acutely aware that they were not as confident in terms of basic numeracy as my eldest twins were when they started school. Of course, always taking into account individual strengths and weaknesses there will be a spectrum of ability within my children, but I certainly felt they had missed out on the benefit of the nursery run-up to starting school where some things can be bedded in to help that transition and school start.
Our four year old twins did not specifically regress in the areas detailed by Ofsted – returning to nappies or pacifiers for example, but I have huge sympathy for families dealing with those sorts of scenarios. As parents sometimes you have to make a short-cut decision to cope with the immediate challenge ahead of you, in the case of parents working form home - and suddenly without childcare - I imagine nappies and pacifiers may have been deemed necessary to get that work done or deadline hit. Of course what made that short-term objective achievable has now become a prolonged challenge in another area – but that ‘lose lose’ parenting climate is (in my view!) not specific to lockdown!
Though it added to the chaos of lock down I was grateful to have so many children at home so that socially they were still able to engage in play. I recognise it is quite unique to have two sets of twins and I am not sure that each pair of brothers would agree that they were lucky to have a same-age playmate in lock down - but it meant someone their age was always around. That would obviously not be the experience of single children for whom loneliness and lack of peer interaction would have been challenging.
I was very fortunate to find employed work during lock down, a home based role as Communications Manager for BJS Home Delivery. The financial stability this brought to our household was hugely welcome, though it amplified the challenges of finding time to meet everyone’s needs and rise to the home-learning objectives placed so unexpectedly on all families.
I prioritised well-being over academic attainment and play-oriented/ creative tasks were more frequent than attempts to strictly try to instil academic progress or targets. I imagine that the areas parents focussed on will have largely reflected their own skills set and preferences so perhaps my children would be more on-track with their number-confidence had their mother been a maths teacher!
A few weeks back I was called over to speak to my youngest son’s teacher as she gently cautioned that he was falling behind the class. We are lucky that our young sons attend a wonderful school with small class sizes and the capacity to offer additional support on site. That, coupled with some pointers as to specific resources we can utilise at home, meant even just a week later we were seeing progress.
The overwhelming pressure on us all to cope and normalise some extraordinary circumstances with most of the support and outlets no longer there has felt very heavy.
I feel sad that children are returning to school environments aware that they are ‘behind’. It is important to recognise that the unprecedented events of 2020 have knocked many of us off our progress goals in some areas – but hopefully ahead in others.
Perhaps we should remind our children – and ourselves - of the compassion, patience, kindness and resilience we have learnt and actively ensure none of us feel the weight of a ‘failure burden’ that is levelled through absolutely no fault of our own.
Parenting seems to move seamlessly from one worry to the next – COVID or no COVID! I hope that if anything the pandemic has made us re-evaluate our priorities and measures of success. Maybe we collectively need to look at different success measures rather than catching up with the old ones?
When it comes to academic developments, I believe our children can catch up – I just think the pace with which they are asked to run at, be compassionately and realistically set.
As a household we try to always make sure books and pens and paper are readily available – and one lock-down project of painting a chalkboard in the kitchen has proved particularly popular as a space for practicing writing. We have also added more number and letter fridge magnets to radiators in every room, so I suppose we favoured the introduction of more ‘covert’ learn through play opportunities rather than explicitly enforcing more lesson time - which I think would result in more shared frustrations which I am keen to avoid!
I think all parents were concerned about the impact lock down would have on their children – specific age related concerns - but also our own emotional wellbeing. I think everyone went into survival mode; some days felt like a gift, family time and memory making togetherness, and others that felt full of frustrations and panic that we were failing them academically.
As a household we did our best, and as ever sometimes you just have to accept that is enough. As long as – with the support of the school – we can help get the foundations in place before they move into year 1 – then I don’t think there will be a lasting legacy of this less than ideal start to school life.
I think the most important thing for children to understand is that any ‘criticism’ they feel levelled at them for being ‘behind’ is not a personal attack on them - and is the result of circumstances entirely beyond their control.
Maybe the events of 2020 – pandemics, politics and environmental concerns – will catalyse the need for new ways of learning with an emphasis on different skills. Children are more adaptable than adults and I am hopeful that they will teach us.