When I came to write this blog, my immediate response was to think, how can I possibly write about reopening when I don’t even know what I am doing!! Like everyone else, being in lockdown has changed the pace of life for me and my family, and of course my preschool. The initial frustration at not being able to do all the normal activities of life, gave way to a calmer acceptance and enjoyment of the slower pace of life. Within my service we found new and creative ways of keeping in touch with the children and their families. My staff were engaged and proactive; playdough, yoga challenges and story times over Facebook became our link to the children. We had staff meetings over Zoom and talked with passion about the wonderful CPD we were all finally getting the time to do. As June approached and the reopening date of the 29 June drew closer, I still felt like a spectator, empathising with the efforts that full day care services would have to go to meet all the new guidelines, but overall feeling, well, we have until September to worry about that.
Even with a September start date my head was rushing. I would wake in the middle of the night redesigning my whole service in my head: where could I put in a room divider in my room of 22? What should a divider be made of? Did I even need a divider? What is the maximum size of a pod? These and many more thoughts would wake me in the middle of the night, or right in the middle of the day, when I really should have been helping my own children with their online schoolwork. I felt disjointed, guilty, and disorganised. I worried about pods and children being separated from friends, and spent hours with my very supportive team, creating pods that would continue to nurture existing friendships, that would have a balance of age, gender, and even who was going to what National school in a year’s time. Sometimes the worry and the panic yielded good results; policies and procedures were developed and amended, lists were devised for cleaning products, toys and materials, and Covid-19 return to work forms developed. I worried about a summer ahead where I would be constantly amending, and re-visiting these plans, finessing them, and making them perfect.
Then came the announcement that all ELC and SAC services could open on the 29 June, my perfect plans and timeline had been waylaid. My head was still telling me that we were not ready, that three months of summer was just not enough time for me to get everything ready. How on earth were we going to be ready in July? And then I stopped… I stopped planning and making lists for just long enough to remember what it feels like to open the gate to my service, to see the children and their families, I stopped long enough to re-imagine what the children and families would see when they came back in that garden gate…. Would they see the policies and the procedures and maybe decide that they are not quite ready? Or would they perhaps see, how much the hedge has grown, and look, the new sandpit! Would they think its funny to have a sink in the garden now? ‘Well it will definitely make it much easier to fill the water table and for when we have our picnics outside so that’s good’.
I didn’t want them to see worried, stressed, anxious adults. I wanted them to see familiar, welcoming happy and relaxed adults, excited to show them how this space, their own space, still belongs to them. We wrote to our families of all the children who left our service so abruptly in March and asked them if they would like their children to come and spend time with us for July. Within 24 hours we had a fully booked-out camp. We spoke with all of the parents and reassured them that our policies and procedures were in place and they reassured us that they trusted us implicitly. So now we move on to our real work. People talk of the ‘new normal’ and behind the scenes, yes, we will be creating new ways to work, new ways to engage safely with our families. But for the children, there does not have to be a ‘new normal’; just the normal everyday wonderfulness of play, friendships and joy.
Lee Herlihy is the proprietor and manager of Horizons Montessori School in Bishopston, Co. Cork. She has worked as a Montessori directress for 20 years and her school has been delivering quality Montessori experiences to children aged three to five years. In addition to her Montessori qualification, Lee successfully completed her honours degree in Early Childhood Education and Care with National University of Ireland, Galway. Her research on Children’s Friendship Formation in ECCE settings was so well received that she was subsequently invited back to NUI Galway to present it to their graduate programme.
Lee has been a voluntary administrator /moderator of Ireland’s largest online community of practice, Montessori & Early Childhood Professionals Ireland (MECPI) on Facebook, since its inception 12 years ago. In addition to the administrative aspect, Lee has mentored and advised members of the group on their professional practice – in particular mapping the Montessori ethos and curriculum to Aistear. Lee delivered a master class on this subject at Early Childhood Ireland’s annual conference in 2017 and also spoke with Early Childhood Ireland’s Maire Corbett at the Montessori Europe Congress in Dublin in October 2019.