What impact does closure of kindergartens have on children, families and preschool teachers?

Kindergartens in lockdown during a pandemic have significantly changed the lives of pre-school children, their parents, and teachers.

Tako Jibuti for UNICEF Georgia
Father and Daughter
UNICEF/GEO-2020/Jibuti
10 October 2020

“The world that exists beyond one’s family is introduced to a child through kindergarten. This is a very important process by which a child begins to perceive of the universe, and is connected to the mental emotional and physical development of a child. When we face a 6-month lockdown of kindergartens, this means that we also face the hampering of the above-mentioned development,” says Natia Rurua, kindergarten teacher.

 

Kindergartens in lockdown during a pandemic have significantly changed the lives of pre-school children, their parents, and teachers. How do these changes affect the mental health and physical wellness of those involved? What role do pre-school children have in the society and generally, in the development of a country?

Liliana
UNICEF/GEO-2020/Jibuti

Since the lockdown of kindergartens, 5-year-old Liliana spends most of her time at home with her father David, who works remotely. Liliana’s mother works full time from the office. David says that Liliana was noticeably lacking social skills before she went to kindergarten. She preferred spending time with family members and playing with her cousins. Liliana’s parents thought that sending her to kindergarten was important for encouraging social integration. Kindergartens began locking down just when Liliana started to feel safe in the classroom environment, began developing trust with her teachers, and started to enjoy her relationships with other children.

LIliana and her father
UNICEF/GEO-2020/Jibuti
“Both, emotionally and physically, it is very hard to combine work and the upbringing process in a way that would involve only activities that are beneficial for a child,” says David.

Liliana doesn’t have siblings; she is used to the full attention of her family members. When her mother and father are around, she is constantly expecting them to be involved in her activities. Although it is hard for David to concentrate on his job in the given situation, he regards the opportunity of being at home with Liliana as positive. David says that he created some kind of schedule where he and his daughter draw, sculpt, and recreate different kindergarten activities together. Despite his best efforts, David says that he couldn’t prevent screen exposure for entertainment, which he considers undesirable in Liliana’s daily routine. David found that it was impossible to combine work with the upbringing process and, at the same time, do everything right.

Natia Rurua
UNICEF/GEO-2020/Jibuti

David and Liliana’s situation, despite its difficulties, is still an example of best practices. Even with the parents’ most dedicated efforts towards child education in the home, is it possible to develop the same skills that are supposed to be acquired in the kindergarten environment?

Natia Rurua, a teacher at one of the kindergartens in Tbilisi, says: “The world that exists beyond one’s family is introduced to a child through kindergarten, starting at the age of 3. This is a very important process by which a child begins to perceive of the universe, and is in tight connection with the mental, emotional and physical development of a child. When we face a 6-month lockdown of kindergartens, this means that we also face the prevention of the above-mentioned development.”

Natia Rurua
UNICEF/GEO-2020/Jibuti

According to Natia, who has been teaching kindergarten for 13 years, children make new achievements on a daily basis. In children, aged 3 to 6, every phase has its own importance in the cycle of development. Step by step, children learn to face different obstacles, overcome their fears, and gain the skills that will encourage them to lead a fulfilling life. This process can only take place in a social environment, and neither individual therapy nor relationships with family members can generate the same results. Natia thinks that an unexpected interruption of the above-mentioned process, together with de-socialization, uncertainty, and failed expectations of going back to kindergarten, can cause severe damage to the mental and physical development of a child.

Kindergarten teacher
UNICEF/GEO-2020/Jibuti
“A teacher has to be calm and confident to assist a child in facing obstacles and overcoming fears. Unfortunately, today we have to struggle to maintain inner balance and overcome anxiety, caused by the uncertainty of the given situation,” says Natia.

Sophia and Elene meet each other several days a week at the office where their mothers work together. As mothers, Rusudan and Sopo have nowhere to leave their children during kindergarten lockdown. They often have to take their daughters to their workplace in a co-working space.

Girls at whiteboard
UNICEF/GEO-2020/Jibuti
“Despite the fact that we try to supply the children with different entertainment materials, we still have to keep them isolated in a separate room, where they still happen to meet strangers when they wander out,” say mothers Rusudan and Sopo.

Rusudan works full time. It is hard to explain to 5-year-old Sophia, who often asks for Rusudan’s attention, that her mother needs to concentrate on work. This makes Rusudan’s work environment more stressful. Sophia expected to go back to kindergarten in September; she even went shopping for new clothes with her parents. But several days before 1 September, Rusudan told her that kindergarten would be postponed. Sophia had an extremely emotional response to the news. When the same thing happened on 1 October, Sophia complained to her mother that she was “lying” to her.

Mother and child
UNICEF/GEO-2020/Jibuti

Rusudan is worried about Sophia’s chaotic daily routine and the obvious decline in her development. She says that Sophia learned many things in kindergarten. However, now, in contrast, she gets bored playing alone, lacks physical activity, and easily gets irritated. Given the situation, Sophia now spends more time watching animated movies and her screen time has increased significantly.

Mziko Dalakishvili
UNICEF/GEO-2020/Jibuti

Mziko Dalakishvili, Gestalt therapist and kindergarten teacher, emphasizes that screen dependence is caused by accumulated energy in children, and that the problem has become more common during the pandemic. Screen dependence may cause a range of psychological problems in preschoolers, such as a delay in speech development, irritation, unwillingness to communicate, bad habits, and disruptive behaviour. The goal of early education is to create a proper environment for children where they can spend their physical and emotional energy in a beneficial way. This type of environment for preschoolers can only be created in kindergarten, Mziko says.

Mziko and her pupils in Mziuri
UNICEF/GEO-2020/Jibuti

Since the lockdown of kindergartens, Mziko and other teachers occasionally arrange meetings with their pupils at Mziuri Park. Such gatherings help children satisfy their natural need for being in touch with each other, for being physically active, and for exploring their surrounding environment.

The kindergarten lockdown has a significant impact on children with special needs. As usual, discipline and daily repetitive activities are very important for the development of children with special needs; they also react quite acutely to change.

Mziko and her pupils in Mziuri
UNICEF/GEO-2020/Jibuti

For Nikoloz, who has a delay in speech development, daily communication with his friends is very important. Currently, he only meets them once a week, in Mziuri park. Mziko says that it was very touching to observe how other children took care of Nikoloz, who, due to his difficulties, rarely initiated communication. Such relationships are equally important for other children who learn acceptance of someone who is slightly different, and can acquire many important skills in the process of establishing a friendship with Nikoloz

playing in the sand
UNICEF/GEO-2020/Jibuti

The opening of kindergartens has been postponed until 12 October in Georgia. Children, parents, and teachers are getting ready for this big date, and they are hoping that, despite the pandemic, they won’t face a prolonged interruption in early education again.