Research into the indirect effects of COVID in children shapes future of playgroup delivery
The Sector > Research > Understanding Children > Research into the indirect effects of COVID in children shapes future of playgroup delivery

Research into the indirect effects of COVID in children shapes future of playgroup delivery

by Freya Lucas

September 23, 2022

New research from the Murdoch Children’s Research Institute (MCRI) is shaping the way some playgroups operate, putting a greater focus on language to try and combat the effects of the pandemic. 


For parents like Rhaikit Thintuep, who has Burmese heritage and does not have English as her first language, COVID has been a disruptive force which has left concerns about the learning development of children in its wake. 


Her three year old daughter Glory was enjoying spending time at a playgroup in Adelaide’s Northern suburbs, and was building social, language and fine motor skills through play with other children.


The playgroup was giving Ms Thintuep an opportunity to practice her English also. When the restrictions of the pandemic hit, she was worried that Glory’s development would slip, and despite the efforts made through virtual learning, she noticed that when the playgroup met again in person, Glory was “more scared of other people.” 


Research into the indirect effects of COVID on children in Australia is still in its early stages, but already shows it has impacted children’s development.


MCRI Professor Sharon Goldfield noted that while the actual virus “did not affect children too badly,” they bore the brunt of the indirect impacts, and now “we’ve got a bit of an uptick in children’s developmental vulnerability,” she said.


As a result of the pandemic many children are “not doing so well” in one or more of the domains of physical, social, emotional, language or communication, with lower income, and lower resourced families feeling the brunt the most. 


The concern, Professor Goldfield said, is that the inequality Australia was already experiencing prior to the pandemic will grow. 


Her research is based around the most recent Australian Early Development Census (AEDC) which showed that for the first time since 2009, the percentage of children who were “on track” in the five areas mentioned above had decreased.


It also showed a “small but significant” increase in the percentage of children who were facing significant challenges in one or more areas, with language and cognitive skills development the most affected.


Some playgroups, including those run by Catholic Education South Australia (CESA) have tweaked their supported playgroup programs to have a greater focus on language in response to the findings, with group song a big part of this strategy.


CESA early years consultant Emily Bowden said group singing could help with language development because of the rhyming and repetitiveness in songs, so it had incorporated more group singing into the playgroup programs across its 60 centres.


To learn more about CESA, please see here. For the original coverage of this story, please see here.

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