This year, while some children have been choosing their new school bags, others have been choosing a mask to wear. Many settings have out-of-school clubs, and while they are excited to welcome back children who have been absent for a while, there has been a lot of planning needed to put in place a safe environment. So, what has had to be done and how do we minimise the risks of infection?
Here are some key areas which need to be planned for:
- Transporting children safely
- Where to care for them when they are in the setting
- How to manage staff and those moving between groups of children
- Sanitising areas
- Working with schools to facilitate the staggered dropping-off and collection procedures
- Children’s well-being – considering their feelings and alleviating anxiety
- Ensuring the provision is offering interesting activities so that children still have fun and learn.
Starting the process with a full-risk assessment will make you think of many aspects of the setting that need changing or practices that can be adapted to increase safety and well-being.
Every setting’s risk assessment will be different and will depend on the layout of the rooms, fire exits and how to navigate the building safely, where to isolate children who become unwell and how to keep the premises sanitised.
Risk assessments should be carried out by a senior member of staff and shared so that everyone in the building is clear on the procedures in place.
When collecting children from school, it is best to walk and avoid public transport where possible, as being outside reduces transmission of the virus. A travel kit should be created with anti-bacterial gel so children emerging from school can clean their hands. Also consider what protective equipment you’ll need if a child is unwell while travelling.
Once back in the setting, groups should be kept apart as much as you can, and if you are picking children up from multiple schools, then these children should ideally be bubbled separately.
Of course, many settings do not have the same space that is available in schools and a large hall is often not an option. The guidance recommends that children can be bubbled in groups of up to 15. Where cared for in premises that don’t have areas where children can be kept separate, multiple groups of children must be kept apart but can be in the same room.
To minimise risks further, children should be kept in the same group, with the same children, wherever possible. Children going to or returning from school should not mix with children who attend nursery. This needs to be thought through carefully and a possible reduction in the service offered should be considered. Some settings have had to cease their school pick-ups altogether.
Communication with schools is key. Knowing where to go to collect children at the end of the day is often stressful, and this is only heightened by not being able to move around the playground or to find children.
From experience, the first few days back at school have taken longer to collect children than normal. There is no nipping back inside for a mislaid jumper any more. Any forgotten items have to be found by teachers, who are often busy.
To avoid the stress of a child upset at leaving something at school, working with parents and children to remember what they have to bring home is really important, as is regularly liaising with school regarding children’s well-being.
If a child becomes unwell, then it is important to share this information with school, with parental permission. Any confirmed cases of Covid-19 or signs and symptoms should be known at school and the setting so that measures can be put in place to keep other children safe and isolate children and families when necessary.
One thing that we must never lose sight of during this time is the well-being of the children. Covid has dominated the headlines for the best part of 2020 – the anxiety and changes in practices have affected many children, some of whom missed the final months of pre-school and preparations for their move to school.
Here are some simple ways to support their well-being:
- Give children the opportunity to talk before and after school. Small-group time or one-to-one discussions will help them to talk about how they feel.
- Listen with genuine interest, and when conversations allow, ask open-ended questions and let children have the opportunity to express their feelings.
- Ensure there are quiet spaces for children to rest and relax.
- Let children know that they can talk to someone if they have a worry.
- Mindfulness activities, such as breathing exercises and yoga, help many children to decompress.
We are working in an evolving situation, where guidance is updated regularly and Covid cases are again on the increase. Schools are closing some classes and to year groups in some parts of the country, therefore our approach to out-of-school care will be dependent on local cases and local authority guidance.