I opened this 26 place private nursery 29 years ago. We cater for children between 2 and 4 years old and are open from 8am to 6pm. There are, at present, 25 children and six members of staff on our register.
When Coronavirus started to take hold across the world, we implemented more frequent cleaning and asked parents to drop off outside the nursery. We made up a handwashing song, encouraging the children to wash thoroughly. This was also sent home in video form to support parents at home.
When lockdown came in March, we stayed open for three families of critical workers on just one day a week, from 9am to 4pm. In the first week all staff were asked to update their key children’s learning journeys. I wanted to have clear records of where they were before lockdown. It also helped me to understand their needs at home. Unfortunately, due to our now hugely reduced service, the majority of staff were then furloughed and could no longer work.
Arrival and risk assessment
We carried out risk assessments with support from our professional associations, owners’ groups and my local authority in Camden. We marked out a two-metre line at the door and we asked the parents to stagger their arrivals. The parent waits behind the yellow line as the child enters. We have asked children not to bring toys from home and we have stopped our book bags completely at the moment.
The children take off their outdoor clothing and immediately wash their hands. This is fine until a 2-year-old hugs daddy’s legs and needs to come into your arms. We need to be careful but have found in these types of situations we cannot socially distance from this age group and we must be able to do our job.
Toys and activities
The children each now have their own tray with a pencil case, a pot of play dough and tools, scissors and a favourite book. If they become attached to a particular toy at the nursery, they can put it in their tray. All the toys we have out are easy to clean, but it has been hard to take away all the soft toys, so we have some puppets that we use for stories and then wash them after use according to NHS guidelines.
I have stopped cooking with the children at the moment until we get more guidance, and we are not using the sand as per government guidance – I cannot work out how best to clean it, either! When we sit at the table, their chairs are spaced out but when playing with the small world or running in the garden you can’t keep them apart. We spend a lot of time outside so this lowers the risk.
PPE and cleaning
We don’t wear masks, but we have made some fun ones with the children just to make them seem less frightening when they see them outside of the setting. We use gloves and aprons for changing and have upped our cleaning routine with a sanitising station in several areas, so cleaning is easy and frequent. We also have a tub of Milton which toys are dropped in if they go into mouths.
Support for other children and parents at the setting
To keep in contact with the other children not currently at the setting, we have Zoom sessions. Sometimes it is a singing session and sometimes we do an art activity together. The look of joy on their faces when they see their friends is wonderful. I send daily activities to cover the EYFS and ask for comments and photos to add to their learning journey. I have also offered one to one chats with parents to support them through this difficult period and reassure them that they are doing a great job. The children have been happy and fulfilled and I am looking forward to opening for more children.
Overall, during the initial lockdown, it has been a difficult and lonely time as an owner. The stress at the beginning regarding funding and securing the nursery’s future gave me many sleepless nights. Weekly chats with the staff team were such a support and I have built good relationships with other owners as we support each other. The support from the parents has been amazing.
I feel it is right for us to reopen as soon as we are allowed. Some of the staff are happy to join me and some are not. We need to be respectful of the choices that parents and staff make, recognising that neither is right or wrong and offer continuing support to those at home. We are expecting about 10 children out of 25 to come back in the first wave. Others are waiting to see how it goes and we will keep children in small groups and have invested in partitions to divide our large hall. My main concern now is sourcing affordable PPE which I hope will be sorted soon.
If I were to offer advice, I would say make your decisions based on official advice – not social media or press reports. Keep clear dated records so that you can justify why you are doing what you’re doing. Finally, be kind to yourself and remember you are doing an amazing job and you will look back on this time with pride in all you have achieved in this unprecedented time.