Updated: Aug 13, 2020
Monday 1st June 2020. A date that will be etched into minds within the Early Years sector for some time. The day that we should, not must, re-open to a wider group of children as well as the children of parents in Key Working roles. With very vague, and not to mention last minute guidance, all Early Years Education leaders embarked on the journey of deciding and deliberating what was going to be the best decision for their children, families, staff, and everyone else involved in their setting. With there being slight variations in every single setting, it meant each had to make an individualised decision.....
So some opened, and some didn’t. But what will have been the same for everyone, is the amount of effort, commitment, determination and worrying that went into each decision made.
For me, the decision was almost out of my hands, the guidance stated that we should open, and therefore, my Executive Head and Governing Body were of this opinion too. However, how we were going to open was very much in my hands. After weeks of digesting guidance, discussions, sleepless nights, staff meetings and a huge amount of questions; all whilst trying to stop my nose falling off my face with Hayfever, we were ready!
Over just a weekend we were about to go from 4 children of Key Workers, to 36 children! I had my 3 bubbles organised and staffed, and had spent Friday removing certain resources and wondering how much Milton I could get my hands on.
Monday morning arrived and my staff were incredible. They returned with a calm and positive attitude, and adopted all the new procedures with a can-do approach. They were happy. However, the one thing that made the return so successful, was, without a doubt, the children. They were excited, yet settled, animated and so eager to talk to us! We had almost forgotten what it was like! And isn’t this exactly how is should be?
We made some really tricky decisions and there were definite parent concerns. My inbox was in constant receipt of queries, and I did my best to reassure them. Only allowing children to attend for full days, preventing the children from bringing their cuddly comforters, asking parents to line up to drop off whilst socially distancing, allocating specific collection times, were all items raised within our risk assessment and we had to implement procedures to minimise the risk of contact. The first 2 have probably been the most worrying for my parents. Children who only attended half days before were now with us all day, and not being able to bring their favourite white bunny could add to the anxiety. Rules that seem harsh when you’re writing them down! However, due to the support from staff, all the children have not just coped, but have been happy.
With 10 new children due to start their Nursery journey after Easter, some of these decisions impacted heavily on them and some have deferred their start to September. I have been understanding and flexible with these families, knowing that starting Nursery for the first time is a huge transition anyway, without the constraints of current circumstances.
As the week went on, we were constantly reviewing what we had decided, reflecting on how each day had gone, and where we could tweak practice to improve it. Most things were working. In my pre-1st June hayfever dazed state, I had decided that we wouldn’t have water play, just access to the tap outside for the Texture Kitchen. However, nearly 2 weeks later, having read lots of great practice in other settings, we have decided it will be safe, as long as there’s no bubble to bubble sharing, and with more regular water changes. Our youngest children were really missing it, and even some of the Pre-Schoolers had expressed concern that it has disappeared!
All in all, and like with lots of things, the run up and preparation was far more stressful than the actual event. On the evening of that first day, I felt a real mixture of relief and pride. I felt we had achieved in making the environment as safe and engaging as we possibly could for the children, and having no real dramas or disasters definitely helped!
I’m sure there are many Early Years Leaders that felt that success after the first week, we are a determined bunch that’s for sure! And like with most things thrown at us in Early Years, we have had to run with the theories and put them into practice, having the children and families at the forefront of our thinking.
Well done everyone, you really are stars!
By Natalie Herbert