Parents’ Perceptions on the Pandemic’s Impact on Children’s Development

  • Nympha Fontanilla

  • April 24, 2024

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In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, concerns about its impact on various aspects of children’s development have been at the forefront of discussions among parents, educators, and researchers. A recent collaboration between researchers from the Ensuring Full Literacy team and The Canadian Children’s Literacy Foundation (CCLF) sheds light on parents’ perceptions of how the pandemic has influenced the language, literacy, and social skills of their preschool-aged children. 

Established in 2017, CCLF aims to ensure that every child in Canada has the literacy skills necessary to thrive. The organization works to increase awareness of the significance of literacy skills through various programs and collaborations, recognizing that literacy is fundamental to academic success and lifelong learning.

This collaborative study, titled “The Impact of the Pandemic on Development: Parents’ Perceptions on Language and Literacy was led by Dr. Emilie Courteau, a former Speech-Language Pathologist (SLP) alongside Dr. Guillaume Loignon, Dr. Mélanie Dutemple, and Dr. Hélène Deacon, and in partnership with Nina Shukla, the director of the Early Words program at CCLF. 

Through a mass survey, 253 parents of children ages 5 years and under were asked to rate the impact of various pandemic-related measures, such as mask-wearing and virtual learning, on their children’s social, language, and literacy development. The study additionally explored whether parents’ perceptions differed depending on whether their children had diagnosed or suspected developmental difficulties. 

Main Take-Aways

The findings revealed that parents were overall more concerned about the pandemic’s impact on their children’s social skills rather than their language and literacy skills. 

Interestingly, parents who suspected their children may have developmental difficulties perceived a more negative impact of the pandemic compared to those whose children had diagnosed learning difficulties or those who did not report such concerns or diagnoses. 

Virtual learning and mask-wearing were rated as having lesser negative impacts on pre-school aged children. On the other hand, social distancing was rated as having the most negative impact on children’s social development due to limitations of children being able to play with others. 

Note: Clusters of questions included in the survey. Reprinted from “The Impact of the Pandemic on Development: Parents’ Perceptions on Language and Literacy” by Courteau et al., 2024, Canadian Journal of Speech-Language Pathology and Audiology, 48(1), p. 17-27. Reprinted with permission.

The Importance of Understanding Parents’ Perceptions

The authors speculated why some of these somewhat surprising trends were observed. For example, while virtual support systems were put in place for those with existing learning impairments, parents who suspected their children may have learning difficulties likely received longer than usual diagnostic services, and ultimately delayed any available treatment and support services. Furthermore, terms such as “social distancing” likely contributed to restrictions having more salient effects on social skills than cognitive development.

One possible reason why virtual learning was rated as having lower negative impacts could be due to an increase in parents working from home, which may facilitate more hands-on learning experiences between parents and their children. This could potentially increase at-home reading time or enhance parents’ understanding of what children are learning in their educational settings.

Assessing parents’ perceptions provides an essential foundation for further research to explore how the Pandemic’s measures may have directly impacted parent-social educational interactions. Dr. Courteau highlighted that by acknowledging parents’ concerns and insights, researchers and practitioners can better tailor interventions and support systems to meet the needs of children and families. Additionally, Dr. Courteau emphasized the need for increased awareness of the relationship between language development and social skills, underlining the crucial role it plays in children’s overall development.

The Mutual Advantages of Collaboration

Beyond the impacts of this survey, Dr. Courteau spoke about her the experience of collaborating with a charity organization such as CCLF from a researcher’s perspective. The collaboration was initiated during her postdoctoral fellowship working alongside Dr. Hélène Deacon, facilitated by a Mitacs program. This partnership allowed for the development of a questionnaire tailored to the specific needs and understanding of parents, ensuring that the survey was accessible and comprehensible to participants from diverse backgrounds.

Dr. Courteau stressed that the benefits of such collaborations are mutual for both sides. While academia brings research expertise and analytical tools to the table, organizations like CCLF offer invaluable insights into appropriately formulating questions for the desired audience. For example, a Clear Language and Design (CLAD) professional ensured that the survey wording and questions were clear and understandable for parents across all literacy backgrounds. On the other hand, when it came to building the survey, the academic team provided expertise on the optimal methods for constructing the survey’s response scales for optimal advanced statistical analysis. For instance, the data collected allowed the research team to verify questionnaire items and determine how they best statistically aligned with one another. Questionnaire items could then be formed into clusters for clearer communication of the results. 

Dr. Courteau shared how working with CCLF allowed her to expand her network beyond academia through the opportunity to work in evidence-based practice and develop skills in knowledge translation. Collaborations such as this one significantly broaden the dissemination of these vital research findings beyond academic circles, reaching parents, educators, and clinicians, thereby expanding their influence and application.

As we navigate the ongoing challenges posed by the pandemic, collaborative efforts between academia and organizations like the Canadian Children’s Literacy Foundation play a crucial role in addressing the evolving needs of children and families. By combining research expertise with real-world insights, we can work towards promoting optimal development and well-being for all children, even in the face of unprecedented challenges.

You can access the freely-available report of the survey results by clicking here

Note that this study, was part of a larger project called the Language and Literacy Environment Questionnaire, which examined digital and non-digital language and literacy development activities at home. Click here to learn more. 

Written by Leah Brainin