Coronavirus: Nurseries use hi-tech systems to reassure parents sending children to settings is safe

As lockdown eases, early years settings are finding that they need to adapt to stay open in a changing environment.

Fennies Nurseries has adopted virtual, guided tours in order to attract prospective parents
Fennies Nurseries has adopted virtual, guided tours in order to attract prospective parents
  • Settings are adapting how they work post-lockdown
  • Thermal cameras, virtual tours and digital drop-offs are among steps taken

Nurseries are embracing new technology to reassure parents their settings are safe and secure to return to during the Covid-19 outbreak, and to attract new parents through the door.

Nursery World looks at some of the ways nurseries are adapting their systems and how they work to future-proof their businesses in ‘the new normal’.

Thermal screening cameras

Danielle Dixon, owner of Kinderhaven Nurseries, with one of several thermal screening cameras the nursery group has bought for its settings

At the start of lockdown, Kinderhaven Nurseries in Bradford installed thermal screening cameras in the four nurseries it kept open as hubs and is expanding the technology across its nine settings in Bradford.

‘This system will enable us to support early detection, reduce the risk of community transmission and keep everyone safer,’ owner Danielle Dixon told Nursery World.

Parents have been dropping off their children outside the nurseries since February.

‘We saw what was happening with the pandemic elsewhere in the world.

‘We were thinking we need to act responsibly to safeguard our employees and children,’ said Ms Dixon.

‘We had visited Asia before Christmas and seen the thermal screening at passport control, which they use in airports and shops in Singapore and Hong King. We researched it and thought it could be a good system, a fast response. We already have CCTV and we wanted something to interact with that.’

The thermal camera system supports the early detection of high skin surface temperatures, monitoring people walking through the detection zone in the nursery reception area. This provides rapid early screening and verbal alerts. The system measures the core skin temperature of each person, and flags up anyone reading a high or elevated temperature.

If this is detected, an automatic voice message announces an ‘abnormal temperature. We changed the voice message to be nice and calm,’ Ms Dixon said.

The thermal camera interacts with the nursery’s fob access entry system, and if the alert is sounded the inner reception door automatically locks.

Individuals can then be checked with a thermometer as well.

‘We created a zone where children and staff stand. We’ve made it fun and engaging with a camera placed in reception. If a child comes into the “selfie zone”, children give a big, smiling face, a thumbs up or do a pose of the day or dance into nursery. They can also watch themselves on the iPad as they come in, if they like.

‘We’ve had an amazing response from all of our parents who found it reassuring for peace of mind and supported their decision to return,’ Ms Dixon said.

She added that 30-60 per cent of children across the nursery group have yet to come back, with some due in September.

‘We are proud to be one of the first to install these systems in our sector, this is a step we are taking to support our existing protective measures to prevent, control and monitor risks of Covid-19,’ she said.

Virtual nursery tours

Fennies Nurseries has seen a boom in virtual live and guided nursery tours, which is proving very successful in helping to secure bookings from new parents for September.

The group, which has 11 settings in Surrey, Kent and London, has reported a 55 per cent increase in demand for live guided nursery tours from parents who are unable to visit nurseries in person due to lockdown rules.

Online nursery tours can only be booked for a set time and are carried out under the guidance of a nursery manager for safety and security purposes.

The virtual tours are done during the day, usually one in the morning and one in the afternoon, which the group said was very easy for the manager to balance with their regular workload, as there is obviously no on-site visit.

Parents use a one-time log-in from a dedicated weblink created for the tour, with no apps or special software needed, and share a screen with the manager, who talks them through the visit and answers questions live via audio during the tour.

The virtual visit has been pre-recorded professionally, with the manager controlling the tour by moving around the nursery and able to zoom in on specific areas of the nursery to show parents.

Steven Fenn, co-founder of Fennies, said, ‘Demand for virtual tours has been unprecedented – far exceeding the numbers of live visits we conduct during unrestricted times.

‘Since they launched two weeks ago, our conversion rate has been 85 per cent.’

The nursery does not, under current guidelines, allow visitors on-site.

Mr Fenn added that parents were concerned about finding a nursery place at a time when there was so much uncertainty in the sector about when, or even whether, some nurseries will reopen.

All of Fennies’ nurseries remained open during lockdown, with an attendance rate of 25 per cent for vulnerable and key-worker children.

Occupancy is now running at more than 50 per cent at all settings, and is increasing gradually each week since nurseries were allowed to reopen to more children from 1 June.

Fennies said it expected to return to full attendance in July.

Digital drop-offs

Since reopening on 8 June, Christopher Robin Day Nurseries has been using a digital queueing management system to support social distancing at its five locations in Surrey (pictured right).

The nursery group is asking parents to check-in remotely using a virtual service on their smartphones when dropping off and picking up their children.

Qudini’s Queue Management Software allows parents to digitally check-in to its nurseries in an initiative designed to support social distancing measures by reducing the amount of time parents spend at sites and creating a streamlined drop-off and pick-up process.

Parents are able to register to the home room their child is based in and notify nursery staff when they have arrived to drop off their child, or are ready to collect them.

Instead of asking parents and children to wait in queues outside the nurseries, parents are able to wait in their own cars, with staff overseeing the process.

Director of Christopher Robin Day Nursery, Daniel Seemungal-Owen, said, ‘With social distancing measures likely to stay in place for the remainder of the year, it’s crucial that education providers take a long-term stance towards protecting students, parents and their staff.

‘Qudini’s virtual queueing system will help us to support parents with social distancing as they pick up and drop off their children, creating a safe environment for everyone, and a seamless and efficient service for parents.’

Qudini’s software is also used by Samsung, L’Occitane, Tesco, NatWest, Telefónica and the NHS.

CEO and co-founder of Quidini, Imogen Wethered, said she envisaged that the virtual queueing and appointment booking software will play a significant role in helping the UK to fight coronavirus.

She said, ‘We’re very excited to be working with so many incredible organisations like Christopher Robin Day Nurseries in supporting their social distancing initiatives. Our mission is to help people to safely and confidently visit stores, schools and other organisations, because if we can achieve this, we can reduce the chances of the virus spreading further, as well as bolster the economy and ensure jobs remain intact.’

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