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COVID-19 and children’s cultural development: A reflection

Amoriza Gunnink is M.Ed and working on PhD and founder of the Kinderhouse preschools in Calgary.

As we head back to school, much anxiety and concern remains among parents and educators over COVID-19 and its impact should an outbreak occur at school.

COVID-19 is a disease that needs to be carefully managed as a society, not merely on the level of health but also communally, economically and its impact on societal well-being.

The consistent and negative news cycles have created a pessimistic mindset that if left unchallenged, will drastically alter the lives of our children over the long term.

Early learning and education are important components of development that support a strong childhood.

The overall development of children is not the function of the family nucleus only, but the sum total of the interactions at the communal, cultural and societal levels as well.

Formative years critical for a child’s education

A quality education encompasses a comprehensive view of the formation of children and their contribution and transformative impact in society and culture both now and in the future.

The reduction of time spent in areas such as preschools, schools, recreation centres and community programs, where our kids typically participate, could fundamentally change their experiences of culture and culture-making if the pandemic drags on.

These communal places don’t merely function to create bright, smart, creative and physically healthy kids. These are places where culture and social relationships occur, are practiced and solidified. Children’s learning is an interactive process of integrating personal experiences, including culture and social structures, as sources for learning and developing knowledge.

Children learn not only from textbooks or materials, but also from group and social interactions.

They learn from cultural performances and participation, as well as from the general lived experiences they bring to the learning process.

Through play and children’s own face-to-face interactions with others at school or in the community, they negotiate their identities, they develop intercultural understanding, their personal values and norms.

As they collaborate and learn together, they are forced to also think critically, to question, as well as solve problems and conflicts with one another.

The richer these experiences are, the greater children’s growth. Children’s cultural development supports their personal and social identity formation, along with their character development. The practice of culture for children in the (pre)school setting is an important component of children’s learning and development, and includes verbal and various forms of multimodal communication, creativity, play, collaboration, group work and intercultural interactions, as well as explorations in arts and culture.

Having the social environment as important as textbooks

At the micro level, community and educational organizations, as well as preschools and schools provide our children a social environment and an active means for participating in, shaping and reshaping their own child cultures.

This form of cultural empowerment in the formative years then provides children the tools to continue to be active collaborators in society and culture as they grow older. A strong and socially cohesive community with a culturally active and engaged citizenry is fundamental to the growth and well-being of any town, city or nation.

The COVID-19 pandemic’s impact can be seen in the way it has begun to alter children’s cultural participation and interactions in community organizations and schools. Collectively, as educators and parents, we need to continue to find creative new ways to foster the socio-cultural development of our children through safe and thoughtful planning, to ensure active communal participation and enriched educational experiences in both the short and long term as the Covid-19 pandemic carries on. Our children’s overall developmental well-being and cultural growth both now and in the future are worth our every effort.