COVID FOMO: what children really miss when they’re not at school

How staying connected can improve pupil wellbeing and accelerate a return to learning

The prospect of pupils missing a single half term was scary enough for most teachers. Now, almost 12 months into a global pandemic and a third national lockdown in the UK, many primary school children may have forgotten what regular school life is like entirely. Memories of running in the yard at playtime or eagerly telling their favourite teacher about their latest Minecraft project have been replaced by endless screens, online meetings and home learning.

Of course, not every child’s home learning experience has been identical; many have had to deal with cramped living spaces, or been forced to share their devices with siblings. Parents have equally struggled, either with adjusting to working from home or to suddenly losing their jobs – leaving their children to deal with their virtual education unsupervised.

In a recent survey carried out by Natterhub, more than two thirds of children (69%) said the thing they missed most about pre-lockdown life was seeing their friends at school. Another 30% said they missed going outside for PE. A quarter mentioned that they missed being in a classroom.

‘We were determined to improve children’s situation’

In response to this paradigm shift, edtech startups have tried to fill the void in children’s social lives. Natterhub is a gated online platform that resembles social media, where pupils create avatars and share posts, videos, images and comments on a communal newsfeed.

Natterhub co-founder Caroline Allams, a former assistant headteacher, said: “We developed Natterhub as an online safety teaching tool to keep children safe on screens, aligned to the new RSHE [Relationships and Health Education] curriculum. But we quickly adapted when the first lockdown was announced. We knew that being removed from a school environment would make children feel isolated and alone, and we were determined to improve their situation.

“We decided to launch early in April of 2020, and because we had created a safe social media framework, we chose to make the platform free to use so pupils could stay connected in a child-friendly safe space.”

Since Natterhub’s launch, the platform has had over 3,000 sign-ups from schools in 50 countries. Hundreds of teachers signed up in January alone, since the UK entered its third national lockdown and schools closed to the majority of pupils.

Manjit Sareen, the company’s CEO and a mother of two young boys, says that pupils have been extremely responsive. “[They] love using the platform, and teachers tell us what they enjoy most is using it to just share things with their friends.” she says. “Natterhub has been designed to be child-friendly, so it feels like a fun and safe place to be.

“Many are uploading home learning and asking teachers to mark it. But they’re also making cooking videos, posting things they’ve drawn at home, and celebrating birthdays. Just getting an emoji from a classmate they might not have seen face-to-face for months can bring them so much happiness.”

But Allams is also aware of the limitations of any online learning programme. “We can’t replace face-to-face,” she says. “What we can do is make this ‘new normal’ feel less abnormal, for as long as it lasts.”

Can we go back to how things were?

While the digital revolution has proved its usefulness in the COVID era – the kind of remote learning we’re seeing now would have been impossible just a decade ago – the increase in time children spend online comes with a greater risk, and a greater need to teach children how to be safe in digital spaces. Out of over 1,000 parents that Natterhub surveyed in 2020, only one in four (27%) said they felt completely confident that their child was safe when using the internet.

But even as the question of “how do we keep pupils learning in a pandemic?” is still on many teachers’ minds, there’s another, equally important question to consider: what happens when it’s over?

“We just don’t know the long-term impact the pandemic will have on children’s relationships, or their development,” says Allams. “After months of learning at home, adjusting to the boundaries and expectations of the classroom is sure to lengthen the recovery period – both academically and emotionally.”

After spending months being stimulated by screens every day, going back to an analogue learning environment might seem like a step back for some pupils – but Allams is optimistic.

“The feeling of being back in a classroom can’t be beat,” she says. “It’s simply more exciting than communicating through a screen. Once children are socialising, they’ll quickly catch up with learning. And the great thing about having a whole cohort of teachers who have rapidly upskilled their tech know-how means we are more likely to embrace innovation, for the right reasons, in the classroom.”

Teachers will be able to sign up to the platform and use all of the materials – including interactive lessons and cross-curricular activities – free of charge until 8 March*, and can take advantage of a limited special offer of 15 months for the price of 12 until 30 April.

*The basic platform will remain free indefinitely.

“Keeping children connected is simply too important,” says Sareen. “And Natterhub is teaching pupils to handle all the nuances and genres of digital communication – those are skills that will serve them long after this pandemic is over.”

About Natterhub

Natterhub is an educational social media platform created to prepare primary school children to thrive online.

Our interactive lessons give children all the skills that they need to stay safe in a digital landscape, and our Badges of Honour help teachers keep track of their progress.

With a cleverly designed interface that looks and feels like social media, children learn in an environment that feels like the real deal whilst teachers can make use of the extensive Natterhub content library to keep pupils engaged and inspired.

Natterhub is powered by TwinklHive and is used in over 40 countries worldwide. Twinkl, a global educational publishing house, offers primary and secondary resources to 8.5 million members, across 197 countries.

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