Children, parents, educators and centre owners are undoubtedly all pleased with the recent easing of restrictions in Melbourne, allowing early childhood education services to reopen for all families.
While centres return to providing children with high quality education and care, there is no doubt that the return to early learning will involve some changes and an adjustment period.
New routines, or getting used to previous routines can take some time, but with a few strategies in place the transition can be eased. Along with helping children and families to settle back in, ensuring centres are COVID Safe is a priority for all childcare services.
The coronavirus pandemic has affected the way we live and work, and the mental health and wellbeing of many. As we move into a new normal, supporting one another has never been more important, so take the time to get yourself and your centre’s community in the best position to go forward with minimal stress.
Easing the transition back to early childhood education
With restrictions now making way for all families to return to early learning, parents and carers will no longer need to be permitted workers or apply for permits for their children to attend early childhood education services. Many children and families will be excited about heading back to centres, but there may also be some anxiety, concerns or adjustment difficulties during the transition. As well as affecting children, these challenges could also extend to parents and carers or educators and staff. This might be related to fear due to the pandemic or simply getting used to a change in routine.
Being prepared is key in minimising any potential stress for reopening childcare centres. As such, it’s crucial to be aware of what everyone may be experiencing.
Fear of the virus
Children or adults could be feeling fearful of catching COVID-19 which could make them reluctant to head out of the house often. Signage, hand sanitiser stations, distance markers and masks show those attending your centre that you take infection control seriously and are actively minimising their exposure risk.
For most children it’s likely that attending early learning services will be the first time they will be away from their primary carer in months. Needless to say, this could cause distress for parents or children, or both. Separation anxiety can be reduced with consistency at drop off and pick up as well as a comforter item if necessary such as a badge.
With such heavy restrictions imposed throughout Melbourne for such a long time, many of us have not been around people outside of our immediate families. Being in social groups may be intimidating or anxiety-inducing, but exposure over time will help. Try working in smaller groups where possible and offer plenty of time for children to take some quiet time as needed and consider offering a quiet space with some books.
Sleep and wake times may have changed during lockdown, and it can take a while to get used to a new schedule. Creating extra rest times could be worthwhile for some as we get back into the swing of things.
Overcoming return to early learning challenges
The pandemic has put a lot of pressure on all of us and had a notable impact on mental health and wellbeing. Encourage those around you to access wellbeing resources and take care of themselves. We’ve compiled some mental health and wellbeing strategies that could help here. Incorporating activities such a yoga, meditation and mindfulness into the daily routines could be incredibly helpful in making the adjustment back to childcare smooth.
As well as being patient and supportive, these tips can help everyone transition comfortably:
Be flexible and adaptive
Shorter days, more rests, extra hugs — keep an eye on how everyone is traveling and try to be adapt where possible.
Talk to children
Be open and honest about what’s been happening in the world and encourage children to ask questions.
Use a planner
At home and in centres, use a planner to show children what is coming up for each day so they know what to expect. This will help familiarise them with their routine and feel more secure.
Take time to reconnect
Reconnecting with one another is important and while it may be a quick process for some children, for others it will take longer. For a week or two consider incorporating activities that are specifically committed to helping everyone renew their relationships.
Just as heading into the pandemic was an adjustment that took time, so too is getting back to a new normal. Be patient with others and with yourself as we all navigate the return to early learning.
Ensuring your centre is COVIDSafe
To reduce risk and keep everyone safe and well, all centres are now required to have a COVIDSafe Plan in place to operate. High standards of hygiene and infection control are always a focus for early learning centres, and now more than ever before. According to the Victorian Government guidelines, it is essential that your plan demonstrates how you will meet all of the requirements set out by the Victorian Government. must outline:
- Your actions to help prevent the introduction of coronavirus (COVID-19) in your workplace
- The level of face-covering or personal protective equipment (PPE) required for your workforce
- How you will prepare for, and respond to, a suspected or confirmed case of coronavirus (COVID-19) in your workplace
The Government has provided guidelines and a template to assist centres in putting this COVIDSafe Plan together.
Infection control strategies as we return to care
For childcare centres to reopen safely their COVIDSafe Plan should include ensuring physical distancing is maintained where possible and practice good hygiene such as regular handwashing and hand sanitiser stations. It is advised that where possible rosters should be arranged to create ‘workforce bubbles’ to minimise unnecessary intermingling of staff members.
While masks are required to be worn in most sectors, early childhood education settings are a little different. Staff can choose whether or not they wish to wear a mask while working with children, however when staff are working in other areas of the centre they are expected to wear masks. This could be working on reception or moving through staff rooms and foyers. Parents and carers should wear face masks for picking up and dropping off children.
There are many free resources available via the Department of Education website that can support your infection control COVIDSafe strategies, such as posters to display that remind those working in or visiting your centre to wear their face masks and maintain physical distancing.
Working together in a new normal
Early childhood education will look a little different as we move forward but working together as a team will help us all to thrive as we reopen and resume early childhood education.
To add to the enjoyment of reopening, we will be announcing some exciting news for early learning services. Details will be announced this week on our Facebook page, so make sure you visit our page to find out what we have planned!
Take care as you return to doing what you do best — providing the best start in life to children throughout your community.