The pandemic has taken a dire toll on families and on early education. But, according to a new report from the Saul Zaentz Early Education Initiative at Harvard’s Graduate School of Education, this global crisis also produced important lessons for the future.

The report – “Persevering through the Pandemic: Key Learnings about Children from Parents and Early Educators” – “contains five snapshots addressing two guiding questions: How are children doing? And what is helping children and families cope with the challenges they have faced over the past fifteen months?”

The snapshot topics are:

• parents’ concerns about children’s academic and social/emotional development

• early educators’ reports on children’s behavior: a mix of negative but also positive details

• parents’ perspective on how supportive early education programs and school have been

• early educators’ reports on how they have helped children navigate and process the pandemic, and

• how families have drawn strength from their time together

As a press release explains, the report draws on data from the Early Learning Study at Harvard’s surveys of parents and early educators.

One finding, WBUR reports, is that “While 77% of the behavioral changes observed by educators were considered negative — including aggression, temper tantrums, sadness and anxiety — the others noted the resiliency of young children, with some becoming more independent or eager. One educator told surveyors smaller class sizes during the pandemic have helped some children become more calm and focused.”

The report also points to three lessons and their implications:

• “The pandemic has negatively affected young children’s academic, social-emotional, and behavioral development, surfacing a clear need for a careful approach to full reopening this fall.” Because of this, “children will not only need help in rebuilding their core academic skills, but also with those essential social and emotional skills that underlie all learning and interpersonal interaction.”

• “Educators and schools have played a central role in supporting families,” so it is important to ensure that “educators have access to the professional supports they need to continue their critical work, including regular opportunities to strengthen their competencies and skills, connection to networks and supports that can aid mental health and well-being, and appropriate living wages and benefits,” and

• “In the face of immense challenge and uncertainty, families have drawn strength from their time together.” This makes it essential to reinforce “critical supports that have helped families cope…”
“Policies and practices that enable families to build and sustain relationships with each other and with others – for example, paid family leave or flexible scheduling in work and child care – will result in a stronger and healthier future for us all.”

Stephanie Jones, a coauthor of the report and a Harvard Graduate School of Education professor tells WBUR that “children will need quality care, which includes foundational skill-building such as talking about how they are feeling and processing the changes over the pandemic and beyond.”

“ ‘Talking about all of that, letting it come out and spending time with it is the way to address all of those skills,’ Jones said. ‘It’s not rocket science and it’s not hard, but it does take commitment and explicit investment.’ ” To learn more, check out the report. And please share it with policymakers.