The World

Quarantine continues to affect the development of young children

In 2024, four years after the initial COVID-19 quarantine, young children are continuing to demonstrate developmental delays because of the two-year absence from a normal school environment, according to education and health experts. Also, infants who were born during this time are experiencing speech and language delays. Experts disagree, however, on the extent of which children are being impacted, and the age group that is most affected.

Pediatrician Hannah Chow-Johnson at Loyola University Medicine Center says that “As young children develop socially and emotionally, they benefit greatly from daycare, preschool and play dates.” Quarantining shut down these social activities, and prevented children from learning “how to develop relationships, get along with others, and problem solve.” 

Quarantine did not affect every student to the same extent, however. Dr. Chow says that “While some children will come out more resilient, others may have lasting problems with their development or mental health.”

The age of students plays a role in their resiliency. Elizabeth Hitron, an elementary school librarian, has noticed that “The younger kids who weren’t as affected by Covid, the ones in kindergarten and first grade right now, they seem more typical to me than the kids who are in 3rd, 4th, or 5th grade, who were impacted during their earlier elementary years.”

Some experts disagree with Ms. Hitron’s observations. According to UNICEF, “younger and more marginalized children [are] facing the greatest loss” when it comes to academic learning. These statistics also vary from country to country; in Brazil, for example, “around 3 in 4 children in grade 2 are off-track in reading, up from 1 in 2 children pre-pandemic.”

During online school in 2020-2021, it was easy for children to become distracted because of the activities in their own homes, and the unsocial environment of a Zoom call. Ms. Hitron now notices that students “are socially distracted with each other,” and theorizes that “maybe because they went so long without having social stimulation.”

Elementary students are not the only children experiencing negative repercussions from quarantine. Columbia University Irving Medical Center found that infants that were born during the pandemic had average test scores that “were lower than the gross motor, fine motor, and social skills of 62 pre-pandemic infants born at the same hospitals.”

However, this lost ground is reclaimable. Dr. Dani Dumitriu, assistant professor of pediatrics and psychiatry at Columbia University, said that “This is still a very early developmental stage with lots of opportunities to intervene and get these babies onto the right developmental trajectory.”

According to the National Education Association (NEA), young children are adaptive and resilient when they have trusting relationships with the adults in their life. NEA says that in order to help re-mold these young minds, educators “will need additional support and training on how to ease students into in-person learning and help them develop grade-appropriate skills.” Regardless of the reasons for these effects, the NEA  plans to provide educators with “the tools, time, trust and resources they need to foster meaningful academic, social and emotional growth and success.”

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