While the next few weeks, as we approach the reopening of many settings for babies and young children, and later on, the school-age children, will be anxious and stressful, I’m sure there is a tinge of excitement too. Actual children in our actual rooms again, rather than all the virtual and digital connection we have had for the past few months! Who knew on March 12th that it would be the end of June (and for many the end of August) before some kind of normality would resume for educators and families and most especially the children?
There is much to think about when reopening. Health and safety concerns in abundance: do I need extra washbasins, who uses sanitiser, what about masks and face coverings, how many families are returning and when, do I open for the same hours as before???
In this Scéalta blog let’s have a look at some things to think about in your environments.
We need to take all steps possible to keep the environment clean and Covid free. We must also be cognisant of the fact that this is primarily a space where children’s well-being is paramount, a place where they explore and think. And we know that children do much of this exploring and thinking in a sensorial manner. Fortunately for us, the guidance from DCYA, while encouraging settings to minimise the use of soft toys etc, accepts that children have comfort items. So have a think about how these will be managed. Make sure parents know that they must be washed frequently and when being stored in the setting, make sure they are kept in individual, clearly labelled baskets or cubby holes and kept away from items from other homes. Wash throws, cushion covers etc from cosy corners every day and remove immediately if they have been coughed on, sneezed on or mouthed. If the equipment is shared (e.g. a second group in the day), these items must be replaced between sessions.
Involve children in the management of this. Have attractive signs to remind children about regular handwashing, and chat about why we are washing our hands more. Involve them in risk assessing – for example, when did we last clean this, what do we need to send to laundry in his room?
Resist the temptation to replace natural materials with plastic toys and equipment. Writing about natural materials, The Curiosity Approach says ‘Nature offers us so many magical things that stimulate children’s imagination and creativity, cultivates curiosity, awe and wonder. The way we think about materials we bring into our settings can really reflect how we think about the children we serve; what are the children capable of? How will they connect with the materials? Natural materials are so open-ended their potential is limitless.’ Some natural materials can be disposed of at the end of each session/day, some can be sprayed with a suitable disinfectant and wiped down and some can be washed in a dishwasher. Read the instructions on the cleaning products you use. Some sprays are to be left on items for a little while so they can take action, others are to be wiped off immediately, while other items may be immersed in a sterilising solution.
Reduce the amount of equipment in your room to make the task of cleaning a bit easier, but avoid the space being too minimalist and sparse. It is important that children can still feel comfortable and occupied in the setting.
Use the outdoor area as much as possible. In the outdoor area, children are naturally more spaced out, so a degree of physical distancing happens naturally. Having what the Universal Design Guidelines for Early Learning and Care settings refer to as ‘transition’ space can be useful. This is a space immediately outside the door that has a sheltered area. This can be used for play, storage, changing into or out of outdoor clothing. In addition, a covered area in the garden provides shade on hot days and shelter in very wet weather. Check out the ideas featured in the Universal Design Guidelines here.
Maintaining hand hygiene outside is also important. Do you have a space where a washbasin could be installed? Can you source a temporary handwash area? This article from Juliet Robertson of Creative Star Learning has some good suggestions.
Where will a child or adult who may be unwell, especially if they display symptoms of COVID, rest until they can be collected? The DCYA recommends a separate area if possible, but if this is not possible, this area must be at least 2 metres away from other children and adults. This area should have someplace a child can sit or lie comfortably, with some books or items to play with if they wish. Have some masks, gloves and gowns for the educator waiting with the child to wear. It is vital that this PPE is used in a sensitive way and that no child feeling unwell is scared by the sight of an educator gowned up. Having some masks in the home area will help with familiarity and I have seen some tiny masks for dolls. Having these in the environment will help children become familiar with this new aspect of their lives. When the child or adult has been collected, ensure this area is thoroughly cleaned, including the materials used by the child and adult.
It’s a whole new challenge that a few months ago seemed to be a complete flight of the imagination. We would love to hear your ideas on how you are approaching this challenge of welcoming back the children and families. Please, feel free to share your thoughts and plans below.