I want to start by asking you a few questions:
- Are you proud of your career?
- Would you want to be famous?
- Are you an honest person?
They may seem like random questions but bear with me. I’ve considered writing a blog for some time during the Covid-19 pandemic. The events of the last few days have pushed me into feeling that now is as good a time as any to share my thoughts and feelings. Whether anyone will agree with me, or even read this is another matter. I have taken the decision to remain anonymous in the hope that as you read this, the stories discussed become your stories, resonate with your experiences and support you to make the right decisions for you, your children, your families and your communities.
The last few weeks have shaken the world, nothing is as it once was. We as individuals, as humans and as humanity as a whole, are being tested to our very core. As we move forward, and the stories are passed down through history, no one will judge us more than the millions of children around the world. The children who look to us as adults, for love, safety, security, reassurance, guidance and honesty. There is a saying that it takes a village to raise a child, and never has that been truer than now.
I have worked in this wonderful world we call early childhood for many years. Like many others out there, I have had an interesting and varied career. I know from speaking to colleagues that there are some children we carry with us in our consciousness for many, many years. There are some children we just never forget. We all have those images in our thoughts, faces of some of the three-year-olds we worked with, families we supported and that one child we always felt we let down. It may well be that some of them are now the very parents having sleepless nights about whether to send their children back to settings/school.
I could litter this article with academic references, but I’m not going to. (Though I will probably not be able to resist suggesting a few names that you may want to explore.) I do not want this to be an academic article, journal worthy and full of referencing. This is different, this is from the heart. More than anything I need to talk from my heart, more than anything I want you to listen to your heart. I am going to talk about my experiences over the last few weeks, my thoughts for the future and the stories we are creating that will be told for generations.
As we headed into lockdown, every part of my world held many stories. I saw the anxiety of mothers, fathers, grandparents, aunts, uncles, friends, all unsure when they would meet again. I saw the year six children, parents and staff sobbing in school playgrounds, not having had chance to fully say goodbye. I heard from friends worried about elderly relatives. I heard about ‘long awaited’ operations being cancelled. I heard about holidays, parties, celebrations and so on being put on hold. I am sure you did too. We must remember that behind every person who shares a story, is not just a personal story, but a tale complete with a cast of supporting actors, and a narrative that ripples on to infinity.
As lockdown progressed, the stories became virtual, but they were there in their thousands. Babies being born, but not cuddled by grandma. Video calls to keep in touch with people we usually see in person. Workloads intensified, as people tried to move their worlds online. Workloads decimated, or altogether lost. We watched daily as the horrifying numbers climbed, but we couldn’t offer hugs of comfort.
As virtual meetings became the norm, there were moments of light and laughter. The online work calls now regularly and hilariously interrupted by animals and children. The comical stories shared of helping grandpa to use new technology. Family quizzes, girls (or boys) nights out (in), cinema nights, family cooking classes, music nights and many, many more all became virtual, as we creative humans looked for ever more inventive ways to stay connected.
Then, as the weeks progressed, the reality started to set in, and yet more personal stories emerged. Some very important life events had to be virtual. The graduations, the engagement proposals, meeting the new baby, the job interviews… and I know you have guessed what is coming next. We started to hear the stories of the true horrors of Covid-19. The isolation of loved ones as they fought to breathe. Stories of heart wrenching compassion of health workers being there for our loved ones when we could not…. and we clapped, as the only way we could show our thanks.
Meanwhile, outside the ‘real world’ had changed beyond recognition too, and more stories emerged. Stories of queues for food and essentials, silent roads, and no vapour trails in the skies. Stories of human kindness, of help and compassion. And yes, the opposite is also true….
There are also many stories of children. Children sending cards and letters. Children making people smile with videos and songs. Children raising money to help others out. Children baking, gardening and learning at home. And oh, the rainbows, the wonderful colourful rainbows, loving created by millions of children around the world.
But there are other stories of children too…Children pulled away, so they don’t walk too close. Children with dry, chapped skin from so much hand washing. Children unable to make eye contact, who look away if someone outside speaks to them. Children who miss their family and friends, but maybe do not have the words to articulate their feelings. Frightened children, anxious children, worried children.
Throughout all of this, many settings/schools have stayed open for vulnerable children, and those of designated key workers. Opened with love and care for the children who needed it most. Opened as places of consistency and safety. Opened so that many, many of those most vital of jobs and industries could continue to function. In the last few days, we have been informed that all settings/schools should open, but let’s not go into the details here. There is space elsewhere for that. Let us instead, consider some of the new stories emerging.
The stories of early years settings stripped bare. The stories of schools with tables, now islands in a sea of 2-metre-wide floor markings. The stories of countless families, leaders, managers and staff unable to sleep as they try to do what is best for children. The stories of worries about ratios, toilet breaks, playtimes, and personal hygiene games. The stories discussing how we ‘teach’ children not to hug, share or to only play with certain friends. The stories of anguish, from staff desperate to see their children again, but worried sick as to the consequences of our actions. The stories of anxiety and stress, as staff battle every increasing opinions from all fronts. The stories of fear, confusion and heartbreak as thousands of dedicated people try their very best to make sense of an incompatible, incomplete, and inadequate information in an ever changing landscape. And, the stories of genuine emotion as staff are forced to make decisions that go against everything they believe.
And, the hundreds, if not thousands of stories of bravery and courage of people who have said no.
That last line has been written with great care and deliberation, but also with great certainty. At this moment in time our children need adults who are brave and courageous. I said at the beginning I would not be able to resist some name dropping, so here it is.
Our children need adults who understand the importance of play. Adults who understand the importance of freedom to explore. Adults who understand about the importance of the environment both indoors and out. Adults who understand how children learn. (Montessori, Sylva et al, Isaacs, Moylett, Katz, Laevers, Solly, McMillan, White). Our children need adults who understand the importance of transitional objects, continuous provision and routines, (Winnicott, Zeedyk, Lindon, Fortuna et al).
Our children need adults who understand attachment. Adults who understand the importance of cuddles and hugs. (Bowlby, Robertson, Schaffer & Emerson, Geddes, Page). Adults who understand about separation and the role we play as adults, (Rickman, Christakis, Ainsworth, Barke et al). Adults who understand about behaviour and the impact of stress on children. Adults who understand resilience is built on loving, caring, stable relationships. (Bronfenbrenner, Schore, Perry, Shonkoff, Pascal & Bertram).
Our children need adults who understand about PSED, empathy, emotional intelligence, transitions, partnerships with other key adults and brain development/ neuroscience (Goleman, Gerhardt, Conkbayir, Palmer, Gopnik, Del Salla & Anderson, LeDoux, Wheeler & Connor). Adults who understand about the importance of supervision, reflection, teamwork and wellbeing (Nutbrown, Garvey, Campbell-Barr).
And… above all else, adults who understand how all of this links to wellbeing and mental health in young children. Regardless of the countless names mentioned above, and many more we could add, we know our children. Regardless of whether we have read one, ten or all of them, we know our families. Regardless of the multitude of advice, guidance and opinions, we know our communities.
I have tried very hard not to be political. I have tried very hard not to weigh in with yet more conflicting guidance and evidence. I have tried very hard not to assign blame. I have tried very hard to give us the confidence to believe in our own knowledge. If we know all of this, or at least some of this, or if we are curious to go and look up some of this, then we need to be brave, we need to be courageous and do what is best for our children. I want to go back to the three questions I asked at the beginning:
- Are you proud of your career?
- Would you want to be famous?
- Are you an honest person?
If, in 20 or 30 years time, the children of now come back and ask us these 3 questions what will we say? Will we in all honesty be able to say that we are proud of our actions? Will we in all honesty be able to say we were honest with ourselves? As for being famous? We are writing history now. We are writing our own history, but also the histories of our children, our families, our teams and our communities. We are creating the stories, the narratives and tales that our children will tell their children and grandchildren. Perhaps, therefore, like generations before us some of our names will be written into the history books. Perhaps, like generations before us, some of us will become famous for our actions. Perhaps, we will be proud of the part we played?
By Maggie Smith (Author would like to stay anonymous)