When the Duchess of Cambridge convened the steering group to help her promote children’s mental health and strong foundation for the future in 2018, she could not have anticipated the global pandemic; yet she already demonstrated significant understanding of the impact our early years experiences have on so many aspects of our adult lives. The Five Question survey, originally launched by the Royal Foundation early in 2020, has been coloured by our recent experiences and amazingly received over half a million responses. This is a summary of insights gleaned from the survey
1. People overwhelmingly believe that a child’s future is not pre-determined at birth. However, most people don’t understand the specific importance of the early years.
Answering the 5 Big Questions, 98% of people believe nurture is essential to lifelong outcomes, but just one in four recognise the specific importance of the first five years of a child’s life.
2. The reality of life makes it hard for parents to prioritise their wellbeing.
90% of people see parental mental health and wellbeing as being critical to a child’s development, but in reality, people do very little to prioritise themselves. Only 10% of parents mentioned taking the time to look after their own wellbeing when asked how they had prepared for the arrival of their baby. Worryingly, over a third of all parents (37%) expect the COVID-19 pandemic to have a negative impact on their long-term mental wellbeing.
3. Feeling judged by others can make a bad situation worse.
70% of parents feel judged by others and among these parents, nearly half feel this negatively impacts their mental health.
4. People have been separated from family and friends during the pandemic and at the same time parental loneliness has dramatically increased. Disturbingly, people are also less willing to seek help for how they’re feeling.
Parental loneliness has dramatically increased during the pandemic from 38% before to 63% as parents have been cut off from friends and family. The increase in loneliness for parents is more apparent in the most deprived areas. These parents are more than twice as likely as those living in the least deprived areas to say they feel lonely often or always (13% compared with 5%). Compounding this, it seems there has been a rise in the proportion of parents who feel uncomfortable seeking help for how they are feeling from 18% before the pandemic to 34% during it.
5. During the COVID-19 pandemic, support from local communities has substantially increased for many – but not for all.
Across the UK, communities have united powerfully to meet the challenge of unprecedented times. 40% of parents feel that community support has grown. However, parents in the most deprived areas are less likely to have experienced this increased support (33%) than elsewhere.
The full report and summary versions can be found here:
As early years educators you may say there is nothing new in these findings – we have known the facts for a long time. In fact, it was Montessori herself who identified the importance of early years when she first established the Casa dei Bambini in Rome in 1907. Over 100 years ago Montessori was aware of the impact good provision for children can have on their families. She expressed her concern for working mothers in her “Inaugural Address delivered on the occasion of the opening of the second Children’s House in 1907” as documented in the appendix to the Discovery of the Child.
What I found amazing has been the overwhelming response to the survey, which brings me hope that more dialogue will take place between professionals and policy makers about the quality of early years provision for the most vulnerable children, the investment needed to make a real difference to lives of all families with young children, and the qualification and the on-going training early years practitioners need to support young children and their families and carers effectively. It is my belief that all three of these elements are fundamental to the future wellbeing our society.
As many of you have found during lockdown and as we have discussed during our many webinars in the past six months – it was the parents who were asking for support and those of you who managed effective communications with your families have been rewarded by their greater understanding of your roles and awareness of your importance in the daily lives of the children who attend your settings. This renewed confidence in your communications with parents should give you an opportunity to become true advocates of the young child. More than ever, young children today need to have time to engage in play and activities of their choice. We need to help parents understand the value of their child’s independence and their need to connect with nature. We need to sow the seeds of trust in the children’s capacity to do things for themselves and respect for their efforts in constructing the adult they will become. So often we focus on the child’s achievements in learning that we overlook their well-being and the importance of the social aspects of nursery experiences. Yet the child’s sense of belonging to the nursery community is fundamental to the creation of a foundation for social cohesions and the child’s emerging agency in relation to not only themselves but to others.
As Montessori often reminds us, early childhood experiences are as complex as the experiences of our adolescents; they are the foundation of respect and nurture which will enable the child to embrace the communities and contribute to society in the future. Our role as educators of the youngest children is to model respectful behaviours, to engage in conversations and acknowledge each and every child in our settings as a worthy companion in our shared journey of learning. As I have said many times before: teaching is about learning and learning is about teaching – they are deeply intertwined.
In our webinars over the last six months, we have really tried to explore topics and issues which might help you in your on-going journey of being worthy of the trust children and young people place in us. In her writings about Education and Peace Montessori urges us to move from the material and to turn towards the spiritual aspects of our role as educators, to get to know ourselves and our children ‘for who they are rather than what they can do’. As Andy Lulka reminded us in the Community conversation last Tuesday – the focus of Montessori education for peace is not about the ‘Peace Table’ or ‘Peace Rose’, they are tools for helping children modify their behaviours. She urged us to see our role as educators in creating a community which values, respects and celebrates the individual whilst honouring their culture and their community. Celebrating the child’s unique capacity to create the humanity. This is only possible if we reflect on our role in this process and have the courage and energy to engage with their families and carers and help them acknowledge the opportunities early years education offers to society of the future. The political aspect of this mission cannot be underestimated, hence the importance of the Royal Foundation’s survey with which this blog started.
As you celebrate with your families during the festive season we really hope you will have some time to reflect on what you are able to offer not only to your family but also to the children and families with whom you work. And perhaps you will find our next book club reading Maria Montessori Speaks to Parents a useful start to this reflection. We look forward to seeing you all back in 2021 and please share your learning and offerings of Montessori Musings with others.
Our warmest best wishes for the Festive Season to you all.
Barbara Isaacs, December 2020