‘I want to be pregnant!’
This phrase alone was enough to capture my attention, but the fact that it was being projected from the mouth of a Year Two student towards her group of friends during play time at lunch in the playground caught me somewhat off guard. Her seven-year-old friends began to argue then about which of them was to be the pregnant patient whilst the others allocated themselves roles of Doctor and Nurse, poking and prodding each other accordingly.
Let’s just say that the social distancing rules were relaxed during this little pretend play interlude.
In fact, there was no visible evidence of social distancing being observed at all. Apart from the fact that there were perhaps a third of the regular population in the Year One to Three playground area, all was as it always was: busy, chaotic and completely and entirely hands-on.
This is not because the students don’t have the information. The pertinent facts of the situation are thrust upon them religiously at school. This is not because staff aren’t constantly reminding them either. ‘Social distancing’ is a phrase that collectively we teachers hope to never hear uttered again when this is all over. The reluctance to depart from the hands-on style of play by kids at this tender age is because they do not actually even comprehend the full implications of their interpersonal interactions with each other.
Pathogens, germs, viruses, infections…none of these terms mean a thing to a child when there is a group of kids nearby to chase, capture or play ‘Doctors and Nurses’ with.
And honestly why should they? These six to eight year old children should be able to tickle, chase and hold hands with each other as regular kids do. Hands that have been chewed on and noses that have been picked – those childhood ‘crimes’ ordinarily would not cause anywhere near the outcry they are currently receiving. Since when do children at this age all just know to sneeze into their elbow? Or to make sure they wash their hands several times a day for no less than a count to 30?
Our babies are being robbed of their innocence and while it is wonderful to see an increased awareness of personal hygiene habits, it is completely, utterly devastating to watch. Monkey bars, pencils, tuckshop wrappers, classroom door handles – the dormant threat exists everywhere around them. They don’t know it, but we do.
Their juvenile minds are aware that something big is going on; they just aren’t able to put all the pieces together.
Our kids are existing in the midst of the greatest pandemic of our lifetime: COVID-19.
I walked into the shower last night to find my five-year-old Master C drawing on the steamed up windows and muttering about a ‘virus’. I then watched as two-year-old Miss L grabbed her little toy present boxes and went from room to room cleaning with them like sponges, actually scrubbing door handles as she had seen me do previously.
Right now it is all a bit of a novelty for these kids because the regular routine is disrupted and life is a bit topsy-turvy. The ‘up side’ of this being, of course, that they get extra time on holidays and extra time at home with their family. Pretty soon, however, the novelty of being at home is going to wear off and the effects of having their wings clipped is going to become all too clear to our little ones. They have lost their sport, their freedom, their outings and their schooling experience as they know it, and the worst hasn’t even hit yet.
Soon, they may in fact see loved ones around them becoming sick – really sick – and finding themselves potentially without some of the most cherished people they have known in their short lives.
So please spare a thought for the fact that even though it is difficult for us right now, particularly those of us without work and those who are unsure of what the future holds, it is a difficult time for our young ones too. They are acutely aware that something big is going on, and they are absolutely powerless to change it.
They want you to be happy, life to be happy and all to be as it should, and yet do not have the capacity right now to understand the magnitude of all that we are facing and the repercussions it holds for life as we know it.
So instead of worrying too much about their education and being frightened about what they will miss out on, please be aware that your little ones will be fine as long as you are. They look to us as their parents and carers for their feelings of safety and well-being, and we have a great responsibility to them to follow the requirements and to stay home and keep each other safe and well.
We have, right now, the chance to spend some quality time with our young ones – time that we may never again get in this noisy hustle and bustle of life. Yes, it is scary and yes, these times are terrifying, but it is not the end of the world.
We are all in this together.