If things go according to plan, the start of this summer will loosen the coronavirus lockdown in the UK.
We’re starting to get a sharper idea of what needs to be done to reopen, as nurseries and primary schools now have more information and details from the government. Not everything is set in stone, but after the Prime Minister’s announcement earlier this month, some parts of our sector — including preschools and nurseries — are going to be fully reopening starting on June 1st.
But our reopening won’t be as simple as just welcoming back full cohorts of children. So what do we need to think about?
Including every voice
As settings approach this reopening process, we should think about the most important voices and perspectives we need to include in the decision making.
Right now, it’s key that we prioritise physical and emotional wellbeing for all involved.
I see five key groups involved here:
- The families
- The children
- The teams in settings
- The leadership and management in settings
- The committee or governing body of the setting
Each one of these groups will have had their own experience of the pandemic, and it’s going to inform their needs and interests as we reopen. But running through all five is the shared goal of doing our absolute best for the children. For now, we might need to shelve our cynical thoughts about how this whole exercise is economically-driven, to get parents back to work. Whether or not that’s the case, children are still going to be coming back to our settings, and we need to be proactive to ensure that process is as safe and comfortable as possible.
Transforming our settings
We know that we must continue working within the Statutory Framework, and we’re also going to have to modify our environments in accordance with the latest guidelines.
From the instruction we’ve received from the Government, and from looking at what other countries have done in their reopening, here are some of the most major ways that you’ll need to adapt your environment:
- Consider how to keep small groups of children together throughout the day, and to avoid larger groups of children mixing together
- Pay attention to how equipment is used, ensuring it is appropriately cleaned between groups of children using it, and that multiple groups do not use it simultaneously
- Remove unnecessary items from learning environments. There will need to be plans for storage
- Remove soft furnishings, soft toys and toys that are hard to clean, such as those with intricate parts or tough-to-reach crevices
Balancing the new and the old
There will still be some significant changes in your setting for the children to get used to. Right now, everything you can do to make things feel normal and familiar will go a long way for children’s wellbeing. Ask families to send you photographs of things that their children have enjoyed at home — perhaps a favourite toy or a pet — so you can decorate your setting with familiar pictures. Take pictures of all areas of the environment before any changes are made, as a reference and as a keepsake. Having these photos of familiar sights and places enable the children to make links to familiar experiences.
Especially at the start, be sure to have lots of conversations where you all share and remember things you have done as a group. Talking together will reignite the personal relationships that might have become a bit distant during the quarantine.
Ownership of change is important, meaning that everyone must know why things are happening. When we went into lockdown we had almost no notice, and it was a huge wrench for us all. This time we have some warning, so we can work with the wider team to make the experience as positive as possible for everyone. Remember that this is about rebuilding and recovery, not about radical rethinking.
It’s crucial that we all pull together at this time. There are many confusing documents and headlines at the moment, but the Principles of the Early Years Foundation Stage remain statutory, as do the Characteristics of Effective Teaching and Learning. This means we’ve still got structure, and still can work toward these goals. It isn’t going to be easy to work within stripped back environments. Keep an open mind, smile, talk, sing — and above all, play. You will be amazed by how much you and the children will achieve.
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