An international team of 13 researchers studied the influence of Covid-19-related social isolation measures on 2,200 young infants and toddlers aged 8 to 36 months. Their findings shed light on the consequences of lockdown on language acquisition and screen time in a generation of children growing up during this unique time.
A study led by the University of Oslo on the impact of lockdown-related activities on language development was published in the journal Language Development Research. A second study published in the journal Scientific Reports on the increase in screen time during the lockdown and its impact on language development, led by the University of Göttingen in collaboration with the Max Planck Institute for Psycholinguistics in Nijmegen and the University of Applied Sciences and Arts Western Switzerland.
Parents were requested to submit an online questionnaire with questions about the child’s age, exposure to foreign languages, number of siblings, and vocabulary development shortly after lockdown began in early March 2020 across 13 countries. At the end of the lockdown, parents were contacted once again (for that family or in that area, in general). They were questioned about the activities they did with their child during the lockdown, the length of time their child had access to screens both during and before lockdown, as well as how much screen time they typically had, and their thoughts toward children’s screen time.
Identifying the effects of parent-child interactions on the child’s vocabulary growth is a remarkable discovery, given that we measured changes in children’s vocabularies over an average of just over one month in our study.Professor Julien Mayor
Parents were also requested to complete a standardized vocabulary checklist stating the amount of words their child comprehended and/or stated at the start and conclusion of lockdown so that an increase in the number of words gained over lockdown could be computed.
According to the studies, children who were read to more regularly during lockdown were reported by their caretakers to have learnt more vocabulary than their peers who were read to less frequently. Children who spent more time in front of screens, on the other hand, learned to say fewer words than their peers who spent less time in front of screens. Furthermore, despite being exposed to more screen time than usual during lockdown, youngsters were observed to have gained more words than predicted during lockdown, compared to pre-pandemic levels. The increase in screen usage during lockdown was greater if the lockdown was longer, in families with fewer years of education, and in households whose parents reported using screens for longer periods of time themselves.
“Identifying the effects of parent-child interactions on the child’s vocabulary growth is a remarkable discovery, given that we measured changes in children’s vocabularies over an average of just over one month in our study,” says University of Oslo Professor Julien Mayor.
“While this suggests that the relatively short isolation did not negatively impact language in young children,” says Associate Professor Natalia Kartushina of the University of Oslo, “we should be cautious in assuming this would apply during normal times or too longer lockdowns, given the extraordinary circumstances that children and their parents faced during this time.”
Indeed, the authors ascribe increased screen time to the extraordinary circumstances that families faced during lockdown, including, but not limited to, the closure of daycare centers, sports facilities, and children’s playgroups. “Many caregivers found themselves in the unusual position of caring for and entertaining their young infants at home all day, without resort to other activities and on top of their other responsibilities. Allowing your child more screen time is a sensible solution to this unprecedented circumstance, in which caregivers were juggling numerous duties — work meetings or chores that required concentration, as well as a tiny child who needed amusing. We’ve all done it when under lockdown “Professor Nivedita Mani of the University of Göttingen agrees.
As a result, the authors argue that it makes reasonable that even young children, who had no online schooling or attendance responsibilities, had more screen time during a lockdown. Nonetheless, the authors find it comforting that, despite increased screen time during the lockdown, children acquired more vocabulary during the lockdown period in March 2020, compared to before the epidemic. This could be due to other activities that parents engaged in with their children during a lockdown.
The most significant shift in children’s everyday life under COVID-19 may have been the closing of schools and the implementation of digital homeschooling. School is not only a place for academic learning, but it is also a place for development, socialization, and connecting with friends and peers, as well as emotional and intellectual support from teachers, all of which are key aspects in children’s psychological well-being and adjustment.