But parenting experts stress two things: that although the report suggests children’s experience of lockdown was determined in large part by how much quality family time they were able to have, parents should not blame themselves for their child regressing; and, crucially, that the damage is not irreparable.
So what can parents do to help their child catch up in any areas in which they may have regressed?
In terms of learning, parents of younger children can make up for lost time by focusing on “really high quality play experiences,” says Anita Cleare, parenting expert and author of The Work/Parent Switch. “That means turning off the tech as much as possible and providing some variety in play. It might mean being a bit creative, finding interesting objects children can play with and making sure they get outside to as many different environments as you can access.”
As germaphobic as we may have become, we should not be afraid to let them get messy and dirty, she argues.
Richard Evans, an education expert and founder of The Profs, a private tutoring agency, says the key is to create a home environment conducive to learning. For younger children, this should include designated reading time each day.
“They need to see their parents are invested and assigning importance to reading,” he says. “It’s showing ‘this is fun, this is a nice time with mum or dad.’”
Fostering learning doesn’t have to mean a rigid academic focus, however. Parents can lean on educational games, for instance to help them learn coding. Even playing with Lego can be beneficial for helping them problem-solve and engage their brain.
Structure is important, Evans stresses. We need to set aside the time for learning so children understand “whether they like it or not, there’s going to be education.” But there’s plenty we can do to help them like it. “If they’re not enjoying it, is it because we’re trying to do a workbook on divisional fractions? We need to be creative. Find out what they do enjoy if they’re showing resistance. [If they] enjoy cooking, show them how to weigh and measure. Use that to get the child excited. We’re giving them practical skills that make the workbook more relevant.”
Children have also missed out on many opportunities to socialise this year, both inside and outside of school. Playdates and birthday parties have been struck from the diary, often replaced by more time indoors and on screens. Once this latest lockdown has been lifted, parents should prioritise their children’s social experiences with their peers, Cleare argues, by helping them find ways of playing with others safely, especially outdoors.
“There are lots of games children can play together where they stay distant and safe,” says Cleare. “Things like ‘follow my leader’ or running around games that don’t involve being close together.”