Call for ‘summer of play’ to help English pupils recover from Covid-19 stress

By Sally Weale for theguardian.com

Experts in child development are calling on the government to support a “summer of play” to help pupils in England recover from the stress of lockdown and a year of Covid upheaval.

Instead of extra lessons, catch-up summer schools and longer school days, they said children should be encouraged to spend the coming months outdoors, being physically active and having fun with their friends.

Psychologists have reported behavioural changes in some children following the first lockdown last year. After months of isolation from friends, some struggled to share and play together, teachers reported more fights and fallings-out, and Ofsted observed a worrying drop in physical fitness.

As the government draws up its latest education catch-up plans, to be unveiled in the coming weeks, a group of academics calling themselves PlayFirstUK have written to the education secretary, Gavin Williamson, appealing for a new emphasis on play, mental health and wellbeing as children emerge from lockdown.

“This spring and summer should not be filled with extra lessons,” the letter says. “Children, teachers and parents need time and space to recover from the stress that the past year has placed on them.

“As part of a wider recovery process, children should be encouraged and supported to spend time outdoors, playing with other children and being physically active. Where it is needed, evidence-based mental health support must be made available.”

It continues: “This is not an either-or decision. Social connection and play offer myriad learning opportunities and are positively associated with children’s academic attainment and literacy.”

The group cautioned that intensive “catch-up” plans, intended to help pupils make up lost ground as a result of the pandemic, could end up worsening children’s mental health and wellbeing, and have a negative effect on learning in the long term.

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