When the Prime Minister announced the second national lockdown on Saturday evening, we, like the rest of the country were fed up and despondent, but so relieved to be able to remain open for all children,
As a setting, we closed for the duration of the previous lockdown and so this will be our first experience of operating through a national lockdown, but with adaptations and measures put in place when we re-opened on June 1st, we feel adequately prepared to do so.
With limited guidance available amidst this new pending lockdown, it has led us to consider whether once again we are expected to reduce/minimise/adapt our setting and resources as per previous guidance.
Like many settings up and down the country, when we re-opened we of course removed all soft furnishings, moved our setting predominantly outside, removed the mud kitchen, provided limited opportunities sand and sensory play (apart from soapy water play) in order to minimise the risk of cross-infection between children and ‘bubbles’.
These measures were, and still are accompanied by a strict cleaning regime as well as toy/book/furnishing rotation daily.
However, as the children settled back into the setting and we began to adjust with our new way of living and working, we started to consider when, if ever, we could begin to re-introduce certain elements of practice and provision back into the setting.
We were then lucky enough to join an online discussion hosted by EYMatters with leading EY professionals including Dr Sue Allingham and Ruth Swailes, who introduced us to the term ‘Risk Benefit’ and we began to discuss and explore the concept of whether there was a greater risk of our children ‘missing out’ on elements of their learning and provision than the potential cross-infection risk we’d been trying to avoid.
As we know, children under 5 spread germs by nature; sneezing, dribbling, coughing, touching everything, and so regardless of what we remove, the children are all sharing the same space, and within a relatively close proximity and so we began to reflect on how significant the risk of re-introducing these opportunities would be, and after discussion, research and risk-assessing, we made the decision in the late summer to bring back our usual activities and resources.
With more focus on handwashing and our intense cleaning and rotation regime well-established we were confident that we could balance the increased cleaning by restoring these resources, with the children’s need for variation and these missing elements to their play.
And so, with handwashing routines in place, the children have since explored a variety of sensory experiences, the mud kitchen has been restored to its former glory, and the Cosy Corner is adorned with our favourite cushions and rugs once more, and the children’s opportunities and provisions have been restored to their full capacity.
Of course, this makes more work for us in terms of cleaning, washing, rotating, sterilising and setting up, but for us, knowing that the children have everything they need to fully explore, play and be creative, is much more important to us.
Some forums and colleagues have raised the question of whether or not we should once again consider removing these resources and opportunities in light of the second lockdown, and whilst we were not open during the peak, we feel confident in our own procedures and routines that we do not need to disrupt or restrict the children’s learning and development opportunities by removing their access to dressing up, sensory play and downtime under a blanket with a book.
We will be living with coronavirus for some time to come, and so we believe it is better for our children to continue to have access to the same resources and experiences as they did pre-Covid, and we need to learn to adapt, overcome and provide these opportunities in a safe and secure manner to minimise the potential risks, whilst also ensuring our children are able to fully access, explore and develop their play as they naturally desire.
For us, the risk of our children not being able to fully access, enjoy and develop within our provision, and the potential impact this could have on their learning and development in the long term, poses a much greater risk to their wellbeing than the minimal risk of cross-infection of re-instating these resources and experiences.
Many childminders and nurseries who remained open throughout the peak of the pandemic back in March, will tell you that they remained operating with no guidance or instruction from the Government to remove specific resources or experiences, instead they just increased their hand-washing and toy cleaning routines, and their children were and are perfectly safe, we found reflecting on the experiences of our colleagues incredibly reassuring and a bit of a lightbulb moment.
Too often, as practitioners we can get caught up in the guidance, fear and stress of trying to do what’s right and react in a knee-jerk way in order to meet current expectations, but upon careful reflection and safely returning all children into the setting for a considerable amount of time, we can view things differently and be in a clearer position to adequately assess the risk/benefit.
So, with the second lockdown only days away, the plans we’ve put in place as we set to continue to offer care to all children, do not include removing activities and resources, and we feel incredibly confident in this decision.
As we learn to live with Coronavirus and get through another lockdown, this time at full capacity, we want all practitioners to feel confident in the measures they have put in place in order to protect their setting and their children, and ask everyone to reflect on any rash decisions they may be making in regards to provision and opportunities.
Who are you doing it for? What will be the impact on the children if they can’t access those things? Can it be washed/cleaned/rotated? And ask yourselves, is it more of a risk to long-term learning and development than it is a possible risk of infection?
Stay safe, have faith in what you do to keep your children safe, and let’s help our children learn to live with ‘the new normal’ as very best we can.
Please don’t hesitate to get in touch if you want to talk about this new lockdown, to share good practice or just need to chat about how Covid-19 is affecting your setting/life/children. We ar always here.