Coronavirus: experts advise on practicalities, protection and pedagogy for wider opening of nurseries

Nicole Weinstein
Tuesday, May 19, 2020

As nursery owners in England gear up to reopen from 1 June, an online conference run by Famly, with Nursery World as media partner, has pulled together expert advice on key questions.

Experts leading the Famly online conference
Experts leading the Famly online conference

Topics included: how will early years settings implement social distancing measures for young children; what will effective hygiene standards entail; and how will they be able to support the most vulnerable, at the same time as implementing pedagogy post-lockdown?
 
Leaders in the field, including early years consultant Jan Dubiel; chartered psychologist Dr Pam Jarvis and Phd researcher and author Mine Conkbayir, were on hand to answer questions by some of the 2,600 attendees of the live event and dissect Government guidance published on Covid-19 last week.

DANISH MODEL

Denmark was one of the first countries in Europe to announce a lockdown, and the first to reopen its childcare and primary schools.

Anne Therkelsen, leader of Børnehuset-Evigglad, a small Danish nursery chain of two settings, which reopened four weeks ago, told attendees of her key concerns prior to the reopening, ‘One of the key challenges was if we had enough staff to split the children up into small groups. And also, if the children would be ok with the measures we had to put in place.’

Although the model is different to many UK nurseries, as all three- to six year-olds are outdoors all day, important lessons can still be learned from it.

Some of the main measures that have been put in place following the pandemic include:

  • Each member of staff has responsibility for a ‘bubble’ of children of up to six children, who spend the day playing and eating together
  • Children spend more time in the woods, interacting with nature and playing with twigs and stones and natural resources.
  • In the playground, rope cordons are used to block off outdoor playgrounds into smaller, more manageable areas, to help control how many children are gathered together at any given time
  • Indoors, each group for younger children has a room, which is partitioned off with bookcases. There is a box of resources for each group, which is washed twice a day.
  • All resources that can’t be washed on an 80 degree cycle in the washing machine have been taken away
  • During pick-up and drop-off, parents line up with markings on the floor and are told to expect delays
  • Staff members are involved in cleaning resources when children are having naps or during their daily meditation sessions, but more staff have been taken on to help with the process
  • Each child has a bag with colouring pencils, glue and scissors, as well as their own water bottle and change of clothing
  • Staff members must ensure that they wash their clothes every day, or at least their shirt.
  • Handwashing takes place very regularly and the setting has invested in a portable hand-washing station for outdoor use

WHERE DO WE START?

Alison Featherbe, early years trainer and consultant, advised UK settings to start with the Government guidance when planning their reopening measures.

She said, ‘Download, print and read it word for word. Think about what it means for your setting, staff and families. Pick out things you want to focus on and start to assemble a risk assessment and policies and procedures around it, ensuring that you involve staff members. The risk assessment and policies and procedures are going to be how you deliver a safe environment.’

Essentially, she said, it’s about handwashing and deep cleaning and cleaning throughout the day, as well as staggering pick-up and drop-offs. She continued, ‘It’s about opening windows and making sure you’re outdoors more. We know that one-to-one contact is naturally going to come to us. But in terms of safeguarding and wellbeing – if these protective measures are in place – we will be able to come together with children and be as normal as possible.’

SAFEGUARDING MEASURES

During the pandemic, some children have been trapped in homes with substance and alcohol abuse, neglect and physical abuse. Mine Conkbayir urged nursery managers to consider how they intend to respond to children’s wellbeing. ‘Just as we have a duty to keep them hygienically safe, we also have a moral duty to keep them emotionally safe.’

She advised practitioners to look out for signs of regression within children, for example, a return to earlier soothing methods such as thumb or finger sucking, and seeking close proximity to their parents and carers. She said, ‘You cannot deny a child affection if they are seeking it – it can lead to terrible consequences. A hug helps children to feel safe and grounded.’

Ms Therkelsen said that although staff no longer greet children with a hug, they are on hand to offer cuddles and comfort when needed. She added, ‘We don’t turn them away. The pedagogy and the comfort of the children is key and all our staff members agree to it.’

Rachel Buckler, co-founder of the early years hub, praised the UK early years sector for its amazing resilience so far, and the stringent good practice in place around collecting and dropping off children. However, she warned, ‘It’s important that practitioners pick up on any deterioration in a child’s wellbeing – weight loss; changed demeanour; withdrawal or physical marks and know the appropriate ways to deal with issues around disclosure and know how to signpost them.’

SUPPORTING WELLBEING AND LEARNING POST-LOCKDOWN

When it comes to knowing how to support children’s wellbeing and learning after lockdown, early years adviser Jan Dubiel told listeners that the priority is to keep children safe while at the same time practising ‘curriculum care’ and ‘healing and focused on mental health’.

‘Children need a safe, secure space to process the traumas and challenges they have faced. We are stripping back to the core principals and characteristics of effective learning here,’ he added, ‘which is all about meeting the needs of children – but the difference is that the situation is unusual and unique and we have no experience to draw on.’

Mr Dubiel said that children would likely use small-world-play and role play to re-enact the traumas that they may have come into contact with, citing when he worked at a setting in Leeds which was in an area dealing hand foot and mouth disease.

He said, ‘The children would come into the setting silently and build a trench in the sand pit and bury all the small world play animals. It’s important to give them the opportunities to process their feelings in this way.’

Chartered psychologist Dr Pam Jarvis said that she hopes to see more guidance released in coming weeks, especially for four- and five-year-olds ‘who are seen by policy-makers as no different than children of eight or nine’.

She advised practitioners to use their own judgments and be confident with their expertise, ‘Every setting is different. Keep your own mental health secure and know that this is a difficult job and do the best you can with support from your senior management.’

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