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Re-opening early years settings from lockdown easing

As a result of the government announcement last week, I thought I would condense the long guidance documents into a relatable piece specifically for nurseries, preschools and childminders. I will include suggestions of how things may look in practice but these are obviously specific to individual settings so you will need to adapt or use your own ideas for your setting.

The government have said that Early Years settings can begin operating again on 1st June, providing the R rate has not increased and the 5 control measures are still being met. We will receive confirmation of this on 28th May 2020.

To begin with you will need to complete a comprehensive risk assessment. Everyone must do this, however, if you employ less than 5 people, it does not have to be written down. I would advise that you do record it given the seriousness of Covid 19. It will also help you to keep track of any risks, ensure you are carrying out your tasks to minimise the risks and demonstrate to others how you are keeping everyone safe.

No one can fully eliminate every risk of Covid so we have to do our best to minimise them. The best way is through excellent cleaning and hygiene measures:

  • Cleaning needs to be regular and thorough. When children change play stations, halfway through the day, when resources are finished with, at the end of the day, if a child has been mouthing a toy etc. Think about sinks, toilets, door handles, locks and heavily touched items.
  • Hygiene is a priority. Regular hand washing, including on arrival, sneezing and coughing into tissues and disposing of these. The government have produced guidance on how to dispose of possible infected items like tissues in the document
  • Equipment should not be shared between groups but can be cleaned and then shared.
  • Have a checklist for cleaning so you can ensure you’re remembering to clean everything.
  • Offer cleaning wipes in the staff toilets for staff to use after each use.
  • Think about malleable play too. This should not take place at the moment. Things like sand, water, playdough, clay, foam and foods can all harbour the disease as they cannot be cleaned. If you believe you can operate a malleable experience for 1 child and keep it only for that child or dispose of it after use, then you could offer this. Running water could be used in the form of watering cans etc. Paint is easier to manage as an activity for individuals.
  • Guidance refers to ‘removal of soft furnishings’. This does not mean removing your home sofa if you are a Childminder. You could use throws to cover any sofa if you choose. These can be washed at the end of the day. It does refer to the removal of fabric items like cushions, dressing up, soft toys, rugs etc. These can harbour the disease.
  • Resources – Offer a minimal selection of resources per day. This reduces cleaning time and cross infection. Think about the types of resources you offer too. Can they be cleaned easily? Are they porous? I am an advocate of natural resources, but I would be reducing or removing wooden resources.

Following cleaning and hygiene, much can be done to reduce the risks within your settings by altering some of the things you do daily. For instance:

  • Children should be kept in small groups if possible. Group settings may need to divide up their spaces or make use of areas that may not be fully utilised, like unused rooms. Dedicated staff members should remain with these children.
  • Offering staggered drop off and collection times.
  • Implementing a doorstep policy where parents do not enter the building.
  • How you can keep parents safe and ensure they are keeping a safe distance when waiting to drop off or collect?
  • Children are not to bring in items from home unless they are necessary comforters and can be disinfected. For example, keep a dummy or blanket at the setting that you can sterilise and wash each day.
  • Lengthen your operating day to aid the staggered drop off/collections. Or offer morning and afternoon sessions allowing for cleaning to take place between each session.
  • Stagger mealtimes so large numbers of children are not coming together in one area.
  • If you do not have an area for coats and bags, ensure they can be left away from the main play area, either outside, in the porch or lobby.
  • Offer small groups or individuals their own pen/pencil pots that can be wiped at the end of the session/day.
  • Staff should wash their uniforms each day or offer a service for them if this is hard for them to achieve.
  • Being outside as much as possible is going to be the best, easiest and safest way to operate as transmission rates are far lower. Use as much of the space around you as possible. Is there a field next to you that you can use for additional space in order to keep lower numbers of children in one space together? Can you offer local walks or trips to open spaces/woodlands? Outdoor equipment is still going to need cleaning but there are not any floors or walls to clean!
  • If you find that your staff room will not allow people to distance themselves, have you some foldaway chairs where staff can sit outside? Thankfully, it is normally warm and hopefully dry so this could provide an easy solution. Staff having staggered breaks will also help.

You will also need to update your policies like your sickness policy which are to be strictly adhered to – children must go home at the first sign of a temperature and parents must not give calpol or nurofen before arrival unless otherwise agreed. Update your Covid policy to reflect ever changing guidance and add any new symptoms. Contracts may need updating if you are changing days or times, if parents are to pay if their child is off with Covid/if the setting must close due to Covid. Update your employee handbook with the updated policies.

There is lots to think about, but children and staff well-being should be a high priority throughout this period of unsettled practice. Children may return scared and anxious, as well as staff. How can you help keep things as normal as possible for children whilst maintaining safety? How you act, talk and what you talk about is going to be very important. You will still be required to be a stable constant for the child whilst they are in your care. Keep conversation on Covid between adults away from the children unless you are teaching them about an element of it. Be your normal, happy, enthusiastic and kind self with the children. Offer staff time to talk, support and help with anything they may be struggling with emotionally. Signpost them to other agencies for additional support.

Working with parents will remain as important as it always has done so be sure you are managing to communicate effectively with them whilst maintaining social distance guidelines. You may find using social media, email, telephone, daily diaries, etc. effective at this time.

You are in this profession because you care and have the children’s safety welfare of paramount importance. Whenever you decide to open, it is what works for you, your family and the families of your service. Wishing you all the best.

Here are some links for you to refer to government guidance. Look out for regular updates to these:–2/early-years-foundation-stage-coronavirus-disapplications

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