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?
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:
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.
This drastically different way of considering the ‘enabling environment’ will take some getting used to for everyone involved. However, this gives us a chance to test our change management skills — how we adapt and thrive in response to major shifts in our routines. From my reading around the theory of ‘change management’ I’ve understood that a successful change management strategy falls into working with these elements:
All changes must be understood and undertaken for justifiable reasons because they are for the safety and wellbeing of all. So before doing anything drastic, discuss with all the relevant people – the five groups we went over at the start.
Getting feedback could take many different forms. You could send out a questionnaire to gather thoughts about what the reopened environment could look like, or ask what features of your setting the children are most excited to see again.
You’ll have to have honest conversations about why changes had to be made, why certain resources aren’t available at the moment, and what else we can have instead.
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:
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.
When you reopen, it may be that the children are now expected to sit at individual tables, and they might have less freedom to move unrestricted throughout the environment.
Of course, the children will need to learn about social distancing, and what a safe distance of two metres looks like. You might give each child a two-metre length of yarn, to allow them to mark out that distance as they go about their day.
Part of having their own space will be having their own resources. At the moment, we’ve been advised to avoid sharing common classroom materials. As an alternative, we could follow a Montessori style approach, where each child has their own ‘practical life activities’ in a tray, or in a box or bag. We could adapt this thinking to fit our own settings, and any number of different items could be included in our own packages.
An example might contain:
You could then add all sorts of things that the child could keep personal to themselves. The list is endless, but here are some suggestions:
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.
Please note: here at Famly we love sharing creative activities for you to try with the children at your setting, but you know them best. Take the time to consider adaptions you might need to make so these activities are accessible and developmentally appropriate for the children you work with. Just as you ordinarily would, conduct risk assessments for your children and your setting before undertaking new activities, and ensure you and your staff are following your own health and safety guidelines.