Impact of Covid on Children
23rd August 2021
The impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the natural development of young children and teens is indisputable but is not being discussed enough. As we continue to battle with variants and curveballs that have distinguished this pandemic, we need to talk about the effects it will have on our young people.
I speak as an educator with the International Helen O’Grady Academy and an authority on child-development through arts education.
Young children are wired to interact physically. They naturally play closely with each other, touch each other and contract the common illnesses thereby fortifying their immune systems. They argue, discuss, negotiate and become best friends again in the space of minutes as they share toys, ideas and adventures. These are all essential life lessons that we learnt during our formative years as part of our own self-development.
Contrary to this, the pandemic has forced us to say NO! You cannot share. You mustn’t touch. You cannot play with your friends. At what cost?
Children simply aren’t getting the cognitive and social stimulation they would normally get from these perfectly normal childhood behaviours, and this will almost certainly have social consequences.
We are working closely with parents who have noted delays in speech and language in their own children, as well as difficulties in collaborating and forming friendships. So how can we counter this?
Schools should be opening as usual in September, so we must now look forward to healing and getting our children get back on the developmental track.
For most, this will be a very welcome end to the long, hot summer; however, for others, it may be a cause for anxiety, especially with the seemingly ever-present media coverage of deadly unseen virus variants. How do very young children in particular understand this? Will their friends still be their friends? Will they have changed? What about children and young people having to socially distance – an alien and unnatural concept to many?
We enable all of our students to explore their full potential through positive reinforcement and trust
This is where Arts Education – and in particular, drama – plays a pivotal role in alleviating fears and anxiety. At the Helen O’Grady Drama Academy, we have proactively included elements of “drama therapy” into the curriculum specifically to minimise, if not eliminate, these issues. The idea is to allow children, under the guidance of trained and dedicated mentors, to express themselves and share their thoughts and anxieties – and find their solutions – freely in a safe environment. We embrace a range of drama, individual and group work, and other arts-based approaches in order to help individuals to cope, manage and come to terms with a very new “normal”. Unlike talking therapies, we don’t rely only on the spoken word. We work with role play, movement, sound, collaboration, empathy and enjoyment.
In the words of our founder, Helen O’Grady: “A lesson learned through fun is never forgotten – it stays with us forever.” Play and joy are fundamental to all children’s development; without it, in the early years, a child’s overall confidence and self-esteem can be damaged.
We have integrated elements of well-being and resilience into our extensive curriculum to create a safe environment for children to feel safe to express themselves in their own time, in their own way and without any pressure. We enable all of our students to explore their full potential through positive reinforcement and trust.
We have clearly demonstrated elements of our resilience programme during our summer school and we have seen first-hand that it works: the awkward boy who didn’t want to join in now enters the classroom with a spring in his step and a smile that melts our hearts; the painfully shy girl who spent her first day cowering in a corner now tells us that she wishes the day was longer.
Drama works and the creative education we at the Helen O’Grady Drama Academy offer works wonders. In the words of one parent: “My son had regressed back into his shell and into a kind of shyness we had never seen before. We were worried. Today we see such a positive difference. Drama has offered him a great outlet to express himself and build his confidence again”.
Alan Montanaro is director at Helen O’Grady Academy (Malta + Africa)