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Play under quarantine – Croatia

By: ADRIJANA VISNJIC-JEVTIC

Monday 08 March 2021

We all know now that 2020 was a year like no other, and its effects have been felt by every country in the world. While we look forward with hope to the future and getting back to what we considered ‘normal’…to mark a year since COVID-19 entered our lives, we take a brief glimpse into what has been happening for children in Croatia, the United Kingdom, and Iceland. Early Childhood Ireland is currently engaged in EU Erasmus + projects with early childhood organisations in these countries and their contributions to our Scéalta blog provide insights into how children were impacted during COVID-19. They also highlight how important it now is to let ‘children wallow in play’ and to encourage professionals to reflect on what has been learned from lockdowns and new ways of collaborating. To change the narratives from ‘learning lost’ and ‘catchup’ to possibilities and new ways of thinking. This Scéalta series compliments Early Childhood Ireland’s podcast, in which we discuss the impact COVID-19 has had on children in Ireland.

The year 2020 had become a year that slowed down businesses, travel, and gatherings. The year that forced us to change our lives into the so called ‘new normal“. We all needed to learn how to deal with minimising social contacts. UNESCO states that 155 million children of early and preschool age, were affected by the closure of schools in April 2020. While some of us as adults were having a difficult time with it, children experienced change on many different levels. Early childhood settings were mostly closed. The ones that were open were only for the children of frontline workers. Parents had to work from home. Older siblings had home-schooling. The contacts were limited to only those in households. The most important thing in children’s lives – play, was also changed.

Early childhood settings were working according to new (normal?) regulations. Environments that were supposed to be enabling, full of possibilities for playing and learning became equipped only with materials that could be disinfected. Loose part materials? Forget it, it may bring the virus in settings. Natural materials such as wood, rocks, sand? No way! You cannot disinfect them. Soft, cuddling toys? Sorry, no cuddling. In fact, no social contact at all. While the absence of toys and other stimulating material may lead to the exploration of new play(s), and experiences of new learning strategies, for these you need peers. And play with peers were, well not forbidden, but it was suggested to avoid close, physical contact. Teachers were suggested to engage children in activities that give possibilities of distancing. During this period, colleagues of mine and myself carried out research on children perspectives of play. Each photo taken by children showed peers as part of their concept of play. So, in these difficult times, we took, what we used to call high-quality materials, from children, we took their peers, and we still expected that their activities will remain the same. We were so wrong. Earlier children would process negative experiences through symbolic play, but now we have taken away the materials they normally used in such play. To use sports vocabulary - COVID-19 3 : Play 0.

Another paradox was the digitalisation of quarantined childhood. Suddenly everything moved online – education, work, gatherings, life. Life started to happen somewhere in the virtual spaces, even for the youngest ones. Online kindergartens were invented. Even in our, open curriculum, activities become more structured, strict, prescribed. Just recently as professionals we talked to children and parents about the danger of screens and media for youngest children. Now we are pushing their education online. We grumbled against video games. Now we are pushing play online. While we try to do our best to protect children, haven’t we failed to do it? 

On the other hand, some research shows that during the quarantine period we spent more time together. Not just by quantity but by quality as well. Croatian research shows that during the quarantine families spent more time outside.  It would be interesting to find what kind of play they practised on those occasions.

Early childhood settings in Croatia are open now. Children are back to their usual play habits. They are still missing some playing materials, but they got back their peers. Adults, both parents and professionals should now give children more time for free, unstructured play with lots of time for them to overcome fear, loneliness and the absence of their favourite toys. And just to say – even the screens contributed some good during the quarantine, however, I still think we have to be aware of the amount of screen time children are exposed to.

Bio

Adrijana Višnjić Jevtić, PhD is an assistant professor at the University of Zagreb, Faculty of Teacher Education (Zagreb, Croatia). Her research interests are early childhood education, cooperation between families and educational institutions and early childhood teachers’ competences and professionalism.  She authored and co-authored over 20 research papers published in journals such as the International Journal of Early Childhood, and the International Journal of Early Years Education, among others. She is also one of the editors of “Young children in the world and their rights, 30 years with the UNCRC” (Springer 2021). She is a member of OMEP, EECERA and TACTYC.

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