Time to innovate as children return

Time to innovate as children return

This article was originally published on Early Years Educator. 

The latest Government guidance for children returning to nursery and pre-school contains reassuring steps in the right direction and provides scope to think about new ways to operate, says Sian Marsh of Best Practice Network and Gill Mason of Kids Planet Day Nurseries.

The news that from 20 July early years providers were no longer required to keep children in small bubbles was welcomed by the many settings suffering from financial uncertainty and possible job losses.

The sense from early years providers is that the overall risk from coronavirus for children is relatively low and this has been backed up the Department for Education’s (DfE) latest guidance which suggests that as long as the correct safeguards are in place the risk of transmission in early years settings should remain low.

That’s not to say that parents aren’t concerned. Since early years settings started to open up more widely on 1 June one of the biggest worries for parents has been the safety of their child at nursery or preschool and the safety of their wider family as a result of children moving between home and their early years setting.

We think that as well as making all the necessary preparations for safe operation early years settings should also prioritise clear communications with families. At Kids Planet Day Nurseries, for example, settings managers have been on hand to support parents and answer any queries they may have about our arrangements before, during and after sessions.

Strategies to reassure parents
Setting owners and managers know their settings, staff and families the best and it is good to see that providers have been given the flexibility to plan their responses to the wider opening of their settings according to their own risk assessment processes.

We’re pleased that guidance on keeping groups of children apart still stands, as does the guidance on children and staff attending just one setting. This means that in larger chains staff shortages in one setting should not be filled by staff normally working at other sites. Measures like these will reassure staff and parents alike.

The positive effect of high-quality early years education on educational outcomes for children has long been accepted. Alongside this, you can add clear benefits to children’s physical, emotional and mental health. We all know that the coronavirus outbreak has had a huge impact on the daily lives of children and their families so it is encouraging to see that the DfE continues to suggest that settings should use their best endeavours to meet the learning and development requirements of the EYFS, while acknowledging the need to focus on the prime areas for children in ‘pre-reception settings’.

Well-being projects
With the expected increase in the number of children returning to settings the focus on supporting children’s personal, social and emotional development will be key.

It is likely that children might not have made expected progress in their physical development and settings will be required to provide differentiated support to children and families as they adjust to this new transition back into early education. Staff at Kids Planet, for example, are involved in a number of well-being projects across their nurseries, all of which have received positive feedback from children and their families.

It is likely that the early years sector will, like large swathes of the UK economy, face uncertainty for a considerable time as a result of the pandemic. In the meantime, working closely and carefully with children, parents and staff, and responding innovatively to the guidelines, will give the sector the best possible of chance of getting back to a state of near normality come September.

Sian Marsh is programme director, Early Years and ITT at Best Practice Network, a national provider of early years programmes and support, including Early Years Initial Teacher Training. www.bestpracticenet.co.uk/early-years-courses.

Gill Mason is head of Education and Training at Kids Planet Day Nurseries, a family-owned group of nurseries based in Cheshire. www.kidsplanetdaynurseries.co.uk