My youngest daughter started Reception earlier this week. As I dropped her off I thought back to her older sister's first year of school two years ago; a good part of which was spent at home watching phonics videos on the kitchen table during the national school closures.
Our children won't ever get back those lost school or nursery days, but what impact has that period had on them?
Since 2021, organisations around the world have been studying the impact of the pandemic on children’s learning. Ofsted, the body responsible for inspecting schools and nurseries, have specifically reported:
Delays in learning speech and language,
Lower resilience and confidence,
Problems with social interactions, like pupils not knowing how to take turns.
It turns out that some of the biggest impacts of those missed school days were around:
Missed opportunities for group work,
Not needing to independently follow instructions, and
Fewer chances to work outside their comfort zones.
And worst of all, the biggest setbacks were seen in the youngest pupils.
As schools and nurseries struggle to try to close these critical skills gaps in their children, perhaps we can all help at home too.
How can STEM help?
A report by the Wellcome Trust into science education found two-thirds of teachers reported gaps in pupils’ science knowledge and investigation skills following school closures. It’s not really surprising when over half of teachers said they were able to teach fewer hours of science during the pandemic.
Most schools are now scrabbling to shoehorn the missed topics into higher year groups, but science learning doesn't stop at the school gate.
STEM learning and investigation naturally brings lots of opportunities for addressing the lost critical skills listed above. As an advocate of STEM myself, I wanted to share how you can use engineering activities at home to help encourage these critical skills.
Engineering activities can be really simple and fun to try out. I’ve included some simple and practical ideas below you can use yourself at home.
1. Practice collaboration and communication:
Engineering type activities lend themselves well to team work. Why not set up a building challenge to do together and encourage and model communication as you build? Even if your child might not usually gravitate towards construction activities, could you build a den out of sofa cushions or a fort out of bedsheets?
If they're more into drawing, sit down together and say you're going to come up with a brand new invention to solve a problem faced by a character in a story they know. Maybe you're going to work together to design a contraption to help Humpty Dumpty or a wolf detector for Little Red Riding Hood. Talk about how the invention will work and add details to your drawings working together and maybe taking it in turns.
If you have siblings, you could even try to get them to work together - if you dare! :)
2. Develop resilience:
Engineering style projects tend to go wrong, requiring problem solving and then resilience as children try different methods or approaches.
Engineering isn't only building structures, it might be making things move too. For example you might try making a slope for racing cars down at different speeds or a marble run or a pulley with string and a coat hanger to lift teddies up.
Have an idea of what children could make and then set them their challenge (e.g. how can we use these blocks and books to make a downwards race track for our cars?). That way if they're struggling to come up ideas and losing motivation, you can make suggestions and keep them moving forward.
The more that children struggle and still succeed, the more their resilience will build.
3. Build confidence:
Children who may not excel at the more academic subjects in school can often participate successfully in these more practical engineering activities. This means it's vital to give children the chance to succeed at different activities at home and in school.
As you set more challenges and develop resilience and children see success in what they've achieved, their confidence will also grow to try things outside of their comfort zones.
For your child that doesn't like Lego, what about setting a very simple Lego challenge linked to something they do like? Perhaps they could build a tower for Rapunzel or a home for a toy dinosaur. As they discover that they can actually build what they set out to, their confidence will grow.
And on top of this, research has actually shown that children who take part in engineering activities in the primary school years perform better across the curriculum. So it's a win win!
See how you can be getting your child more involved in STEM activities, whatever their age by clicking here.