A totally engrossed child watching and pointing at a video of his nursery key worker recently lit up Twitter during this bleak lockdown period. His father shared the film to show how much his son misses the staff at Lullaby Lane Nurseries in west Glasgow and to express his appreciation to them for keeping in touch while nurseries are closed to all but the children of essential workers and those who are vulnerable.
‘Our emotional responsiveness is shaping the ability of our children’s bodies to manage adverse situations,’ says Lullaby Lane director Pauline Scott. ‘So, where the videos might seem cute, and they most certainly are beautiful, they are having a biological impact on our children and building stronger stress response systems at a time when our collective stress is heightened.’
Many families will be confined to restricted spaces during the lockdown with little or no personal outdoor space, which is likely to have a negative impact on mental health and children’s well-being. Connection is a basic human need so anything that maintains a relationship between nurseries and families is essential during this uncertain time. Despite the sudden closure of nurseries, the swift response from the sector to send encouragement and support along with ideas to keep children engaged and entertained has been overwhelming.
Guided by Lullaby Lane’s attachment-led ethos, staff have made videos of them reading books and personalised messages and sent children ‘connection bags’ including a teddy to cuddle and photos of the children with their key worker.
‘Children are likely to take it as a loss and start to grieve because they are suddenly shut off from their key person who is like a part of their family,’ says nursery manager Donna Adams at Lullaby Lane’s Westerton setting. ‘That is why it is so important for us to stay connected.’
Older children are anxious that they may not return to nursery before starting school, so staff have sent out party invites to reassure them that they will get together when they can. They are also continuing to celebrate children’s birthdays with a gift and card. Parents are being supported with regular updates, mindfulness videos and a webinar explaining how their children may be feeling and how to comfort them.
Randolph Beresford and Vanessa Nursery Schools
The teachers at Randolph Beresford and Vanessa Nursery School in west London have also been supporting their children by posting videos on a secure YouTube channel.
‘Staff wanted the children to know that they were being held in mind and thought about by their key people,’ explains head teacher Michele Barrett. ‘The senior teacher initially created a short video telling the children why we couldn’t be at school at the moment.
‘To encourage all key people to film something, we started with stories, which felt less threatening to some staff who were anxious about being filmed. We then moved on to videos of activities that families could do at home.’
These include growing vegetables from scraps, such as the top of carrots, and using sunlight to create shadows to draw around on the ground outside or on paper indoors. The teachers explain the learning that is happening while they are exploring the activities and offer extensions.
Wildflower seeds have been posted to the children to plant in their garden, windowsill pots or scatter on their daily walk. A letter was sent with the seeds explaining how the flowers will attract bees and insects and why they are important to the planet. Significant events, such as the ‘pink moon’, are being flagged up by email so that parents can talk to their children about them.
The online communication tool Zoom is being used for weekly music sessions. ‘Watching the children’s faces when they see and interact with their teachers and their friends is magical,’ says Ms Barrett. Some parents have asked for contact details for other families so that their children can have ‘virtual play dates’. Being mindful of General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), teachers have contacted families first to ensure they are happy for details to be shared.
Teachers are continuing to send out activities and videos and create more Zoom sessions, with families contacting them to say how grateful they are.
‘We base our approach on the thought that learning, development and well-being are all related to the relationships children have with their familiar adults and their friends. It was important for us to have some “real” contact with families that was tangible and interactive,’ adds Ms Barrett.
Free school meal vouchers have been delivered to eligible families, and breakfast provider Magic Breakfast is delivering weekly breakfast packs to the nursery school and to those self-isolating.
The number of packs has been increased to help low-income families who are not yet in receipt of free school meals. Any uncollected packs are being donated to the neighbouring food bank.
Bertram Nursery Group
Bertram Nursery Group, with 42 nurseries based mainly in Scotland, has compiled a 65-page ‘Adventures at Home’ guide for parents. Included are advice on helping children to understand and manage their feelings, mindfulness activities – try blowing bubbles or playing with balloons – and ways to encourage children to be more physical indoors, along with action songs and rhymes, dancing and obstacle courses. There is advice on playing with loose parts, creating transient art, den-making and building DIY drum sets. Favourite songs and rhymes have been included to bring comfort, familiarity and continuity.
Some key workers have recorded bedtime stories and staff have filmed video tours of the nurseries so that they remain familiar to the children.
Head of early years Ursula Krystek-Walton says it is not just vulnerable children that they are concerned about. ‘Families that are very stable and have great attachments are being put into stressful situations,’ she says.
‘There could be two parents working full-time at home and trying to home-school older children while providing care for younger ones. Even for the best of families, it can be a situation of real stress at the moment. For some parents, the relief of a nursery worker spending ten minutes talking to their child or putting on a video of a nursery worker is a big help, even if it just enables them to get a cup of tea.’
London Early Years Foundation
‘Home learning has always been a big part of the LEYF pedagogy,’ says Ricky Bullen, pedagogy mentor at London Early Years Foundation. ‘Each nursery delivers home learning in different ways depending on the community it is in, but in the current climate all nurseries have been sending personal messages and photos because they do not want to lose touch with families, and to reassure children that we are still thinking of them, they are still with us and still a part of us.
‘We have asked parents what they want. For those with older children, school readiness has been a concern. We do not want to introduce a formal framework so have been showing parents how to make numeracy and literacy come alive in the home, such as making videos about baking bread to introduce numeracy, and modelling dialogical reading so they know how to share books with the children.’
The LEYF website has a dedicated section for parents, not just LEYF families, to access with regularly updated activity suggestions for baby, toddler and pre-school children. Staff are trying to avoid suggesting anything that involves leaving the home and, instead, finding the learning potential in everyday household objects, such as using masking tape to create indoor hopscotch or creating sensory experiences with soft make-up brushes and cushion covers.
There are also videos of teachers sharing tips and advice, including the importance of establishing a routine, and links to other recommended online resources and support.
‘Parents are comforted by our contact because they know that they have got our support as a safety net and receive reassurance that they are doing the right things,’ says Mr Bullen.
‘Our industry is all about caring and hugs so this is very different, but we can reassure our children that we are still there and still present, which is vital for them to know.’
Care has to be taken that furloughed staff on the Government’s Job Retention Scheme do not take part in any work-related activities. When staying in touch with families, communications should be from the nursery owner or a member of staff who is not furloughed.