Laura House, education lead at childminding organisation Tiney, said parents of three and four-year-olds who are worried their child has missed out on learning because of the pandemic can build their confidence through play, rather than academic catch-up.
Research published by Save the Children found that nine out of 10 children feel the way they play has changed since the pandemic started.
More than half of children said they play outside less than before the pandemic hit. One third of children play alone more than they used to.
Helen Dodd, professor of child psychology at the University of Reading, said: “Children’s play with their friends has been restricted and there is evidence that their mental health has deteriorated. Children have missed out on play with their friends, physical activity and fun.” Ms House said the best thing parents can do is take let their children enjoy “rich, open-ended play”.
She urged parents to protect the childhood magic of enjoying a “long, slow summer watching bees or noodling about”.
“Kids have had a rough ride over this last year, and right now we need to build their confidence, enjoy family time and invest in building strong, loving relationships with them,” she said.
The expert added: “As adults, we can protect the right of young children to enjoy a long, slow summer watching bees or noodling about, being naturally inquisitive and enjoying the magic of being a small person in the summertime. Through rich opportunities to play they will learn the communication skills, resilience and confidence that will stand them in good stead for school, and life.”
There are some concerns that the government’s post-pandemic catch-up plans focus on academic work rather than well-being.
Catherine Roche, chief executive of Place2Be said: “Education is hugely important, but it’s also vital that we prioritise children’s wellbeing after what has been a hugely challenging year for many. We are already seeing some children and young people in our schools who are feeling anxious about not being able to ‘catch up’ with the work that’s been missed. As the adults around children, we must get the balance right to avoid doing more harm. “