With so much uncertainty surrounding our sector, our businesses and our current situations, many of us have started to think ‘What next?’
Is re-opening going to be a smooth and easy transition? There will be many challenges, not only are there business and policy implications to consider for those settings with more staff, but the most important factor to consider in all of this is the impact on the children.
Covid-19 is something none of us were prepared for or have been adequately trained or equipped to deal with; the impact of Covid-19 was sudden and intense; how has this been portrayed to our children? One day, they were at their early years setting, playing with their friends, blissfully unaware that it was about to be taken away.
Many younger children won’t understand what’s been going on, whilst some are that bit older and overhear conversations and parents may have had to give them a softer explanation of the tragedy that is currently engulfing our country as means to why their little lives have been turned upside down. Whether the child/children returning to your setting is 14 months old or 4 years old, the transition back into a routine and into the setting must be handled sensitively and according to the child’s individual needs.
Have you as a setting and a staff team begun to consider how this will look in practice? What will you do? Despite the uncertainty surrounding when lockdown will be lifted and settings will be able to re-open, it is important that we all formulate some kind of re-opening plan; not only for the children but for staff and parents too.
As practitioners, we need to be aware of the potential impacts this kind of large-scale trauma will have on our children, some may return unphased, others may need additional time and support to transition – and we won’t know this until we begin the return process and so it’s essential that we plan and are prepared for all eventualities.
We cannot just expect children to be able to return unaffected and resume their normal sessions in their normal way; this may be a long process for many children, re-settling into an environment that was once familiar but after such extended time at home with their families, this return could be traumatic for them.
This is why it is so important to stay as connected to your children and families during this time as you can; children change so quickly, and this is already a huge amount of time, let alone any further lockdown measures that may occur – so keeping in touch with parents and families and staying informed of children’s progress, development and milestones is key.
Our parents have been contributing observations and updates to their children’s Tapestry accounts, keeping us updated on any news and milestones via Whatsapp and we’ve also been staying connected the children and their families via our weekly Zoom Chats. Similarly, we’ve been providing home-learning materials and loaning resources to our children and their families to support and stay connected during these difficult times.
We are desperate for ‘normality’ to resume and to have our setting re-open and the children back with us but are also exceptionally mindful that this re-opening transition process must be done sensibly and sensitively.
Whilst we are in a lucky position to be able to keep up regular contact with our children and their families despite the setting being closed since lockdown began, other settings are not that lucky and so the gap in communication and lack of updates on progress and development may be more difficult to bridge, particular on a larger scale for those larger settings.
Despite having this regular contact and developmental updates from our families, we have already begun to plan our return and re-open to ensure we cover all bases and ensure that the transition back into the setting is a calm, unrushed and sensitive process. As such, we have worked together (remotely) to construct a survey asking a range of questions about the children, their new routines, interests, development and any other key information, which we plan to send out once we are informed by the Government it is safe for us to re-open, whenever that may be.
The responses to these surveys will shape our environment, resources and routines moving forward once we re-open and will enable us to provide the best possible individual support to each child during this tricky transition process.
Similarly, as desperate as we are to get straight back into ‘business as usual’ we also appreciate that whilst children are exceptionally resilient and some may be chomping at the bit to get back into their setting and see their friends, this won’t be the case for all. Which is why we will be open for ‘Keep In Touch’ sessions before we accept the children back into their normal sessions; whilst this may seem like an odd decision to make given the time children have spent away from the setting, this is exactly the reason why we plan to hold these days before re-opening for normal sessions, to allow the children to re-visit the setting, with the security of their parent/s and to re-familiarise themselves with us as caregivers, and the environment. It would be unfair and irresponsible of us to expect parents to drop their children off as normal after such a significant absence in such unprecedented circumstances.
In regards to routine, whilst abiding to any ongoing restrictions and direction from the Government until the lockdown is lifted, once normal sessions resume, we plan to be solely led by the children as we normally are. It is impossible to expect ourselves and the children to socially distance from each other and that goes against our entire ethos, but keeping the children safe is and always has been our priority. Which is why we will utilise our indoor and outdoor environments, utilising the time the children will naturally need to become re-accustomed to the playroom and the routines of our setting, providing opportunities and experiences for the children to explore freely that capture their interest and encompass their new skills. Outings will continue where possible and in line with any further measures enforced by the Government; we have always utilised outdoor play and utilised our locality and we will continue to do this by reconvening our woodland walks, beach trips and outdoor adventures in beautiful, remote locations, as we have always done.
It is important to mention at this stage (and we will be discussing this in more detail in our next blog) that many of our children may return to the setting for only a brief time before their transition to school begins. For us, our main focus will not be on ‘school readiness’ (we view this differently to the original term anyway) skills as such, and more emphasis placed on the children’s emotional and social development, ensuring that they are able to make this transition with as little impact on their emotional and mental health as possible. We will naturally do all we can to liaise with the receiving schools and prepare the children as best we can given these difficult circumstances – but it is much more important to us that the children are happy and settled and prepared for the next transition in their life, than teaching them to read and write, and we would hope that the receiving schools and teachers will feel the same.
Similarly, many of us will be receiving new children into the setting in September and as such, the upcoming summer months would be used for settling in sessions for these children and many would visit us at least once a week leading up to their start date for around 8 weeks. Dependent on when the return happens, we are conscious that we must first ensure that our returning cohort of children are confident, settled and happy before we begin the settling process for new children; which again we must continue to be mindful that during these unprecedented times, children’s early experiences before they join us, will be starkly different to life pre-Covid-19 and so exceptions must be made for this and the settling in period must be reflective of these considerations and the individual child’s needs and circumstance.
Covid-19 has already taken so much from us all and we have a duty of care to ensure that it does not take any more time or happiness from our children, and if formulating a brief, simple return plan will minimise any further impact of this awful experience on our children, then it is an essential use of your time whilst in lockdown in our opinion.
For larger settings, managers and owners the challenge is even greater and consideration of their staff team and what kind of support and assistance staff will be needed to ensure not only the wellbeing of the staff team as individual practitioners, but to also ensure staff are adequately informed, equipped and prepared to provide the support the children will need too.
We appreciate it is difficult to plan in these uncertain times, on such an unprecedented experience, however, once we begin to re-open and return, our children are going to need us more than ever and so we as individual practitioners and as staff team must be adequately prepared for what may need to be in place and the level of support, understanding and flexibility our children will need as they re-transition. Have a chat with your staff team the next time you catch up, gather ideas, thoughts and formulate a plan of return and the support you will put in place for this children and outline how this will look for your setting – each setting will be different and there will be no ‘one size fits all’.