Looking back on the past few weeks since reopening, and if I had the gift of hindsight, my mental health and wellbeing might not have had to suffer as much as it has over the past six weeks. When we had our date for reopening my mind started working overtime with so many ‘what about….’, ‘ifs….’ and ‘buts…..’ swirling round my head! We began by looking at Europe and what their approach was and started to envisage a way to open. The questions kept regurgitating in my brain, and I knew I needed to get solid information so we could plan. So, the first step was to contact all our parents and get a sense of what their needs were; we asked all the staff how they were feeling regarding coming back to work. With this information, we started our plan. We based this plan initially on the Danish and British guidelines, as the Irish guidance was not released yet.
When our Irish guidelines were released, we were able to put concrete plans in place and put these proposals to our parents. There were a lot of policies and procedures to be revised and new ones to be put in place. The DCYA templates provided were excellent, as they ensured we were covering everything. Considerable delays in deliveries led to us not receiving supplies in the usual time frame. The week before opening all staff returned to train up in the new procedures, to clear out rooms and clean. Our plans for Perspex partitions outside were a disaster, as the morning we opened they all blew over, and the Perspex smashed. After that we reconfigured our partitions to small picket fences which were very cheap and quick to make.
A week before we opened, when all staff were in, we invited each pod of children and staff in separately for an hour to the outdoor area. This enabled children to come back or indeed start off, with the security of their parents being with them, where they were able to spend time with their friends, make new friends and key persons.
It was a huge success as it helped reassure parents and staff as well as supporting the transition for the children to come back to us. Drop off, and the collection of children has worked out well. Parents ring when they get to the car park. They can either come around into the back yard if they want to spend a small bit of time dropping off or they can come to the reception porch. In the last few days, staff have gone out to meet parents as they approach the entrance, and this appears to be working well. If a very young child is attending for the first time and outdoors isn’t feasible, we do enable a parent to come inside, wearing a mask (unless that is distressing for a child) and shoe covers. The parent sits by the open external door and social distancing is observed.
The detailed information given to parents before opening has helped them to prepare their children in advance about how things will work differently now. What has become apparent to us is that our emphasis on building secure attachments has stood the test of time as those bonds have enabled children to transition very easily; they are so happy to be back.
Over the past few months we have all slowly adapted to this new way of living and so have our children, so the new changes implemented in our setting were really not that new to children, as they had become as accustomed as adults are to living like this. This is our ‘new normal’.
To see Anne Macken talk about the advance planning and her feelings after reopening please visit to see her video presentations.
Anne Macken is the Manager of a large full-time community setting in Ballyporeen Co. Tipperary. Anne has over 30 years’ experience in early years, opening her own preschool at the age of 18 having completed the IPPA introductory course. She then moved to developing a community preschool and managed this on a voluntary basis until the purpose-built facility opened in 2010. She is very focussed on supporting both her staff and children to reach their potential, by engaging in the Aistear in Action initiative pilot programme and the setting is currently waiting for Síolta QAP revalidation. Over the years she has completed her Level 5 ,6 and most recently Level 8 degree in Early Education in Maynooth University. She has a post grad qualification in Children and Loss as well as the LINC programme and Accountancy qualifications. As an advocate of the fact that qualifications bring higher quality more than 50 % of her staff hold degrees in Early Education and Care.