A study of preschool children in Ontario, Canada finds those exposed to the COVID-19 pandemic had better vocabulary and visual memory skills and no difference in their social and emotional skills at age 4.5 years, compared with children pre-2020.
That’s according to a study published in JAMA Network Open comparing cognitive and social-emotional development in pre-school aged children assessed before COVID-19 and those assessed during the pandemic.
Results were mixed for 2 years olds. Pandemic-exposed children showing higher problem-solving and fine motor skills, but lower personal and social skills, compared to an earlier cohort.
The study uses data for 718 children at 24 months (258 before the pandemic and 460 pandemic-exposed) and 703 at 54 months (417 before the pandemic and 286 pandemic-exposed) from the Ontario Birth Study collected between 2018 and 2022.
Children in each age group were considered pandemic-exposed if they were assessed after March 2020.
The Ontario Birth Study assesses development in a relatively socioeconomically advantaged sample of children. Approximately half came from households with incomes greater than $150,000.
According to the study, decreased personal-social skills among pandemic-exposed children at 2 years old: “may reflect the fact that children had fewer socialisation experiences outside the home and less opportunity to build gross motor skills through community-based activities and play opportunities.”
The study says “it is important to note that these results may not be representative of the experiences of all preschool-aged children and their families during the pandemic.”
Unlike schools, which in Canada were closed for a minimum of 10 weeks and up to 27 weeks (135 school days) in places like Ontario; trends in child care attendance during 2020 were broadly similar to 2019, according to the national statistics agency.
Meanwhile in Australia, children’s experience varied wildly based on their location and age. For example, South Australian school children experienced a couple of weeks of remote learning, while in Victoria children lost as much as 35 weeks of face-to-face instruction.
Childcare centres mostly remained open in Australia throughout the pandemic, except for periods during Victoria’s second and sixth lockdowns (for non-essential workers). As part of the national COVID-19 response, child care was made free for families between April and July 2020.