In the second in our series of practice sharing blogs during Covid-19 restrictions, Beth Rodgers from Cairngorm ELC provides us with fascinating insights into how she and her team prepared for the return of children:
Uncertain and unprecedented times call for creative measures and allows us the opportunity to be brave and take a leap of faith out of our comfort zone.
As Charles Darwin once said:
‘It is not the strongest of species that survive, nor the most intelligent. It is the one that is most adaptable to change.’
This has been the thought process for our team throughout the closure period. Key questions we asked ourselves were:
1. How can we adapt to the current situation and enhance the service we offer, whilst ensuring the safety of all of children by following national guidance?
2. What training opportunities can we access, albeit it in a different format than before to ensure that professional learning remains at the heart of our practice?
3. What spaces could be developed to enhance and maximise the experiences for our children?
4. How can we ensure that the wellbeing of our children, through nurturing and positive interactions remains at the heart of all we do?
5. How do we ensure that we take parents with us on our journey of change?
Outdoors, outdoors and more outdoors. With the correct clothing and resources no weather is ‘bad’ weather. Embrace the elements… puddle jumping on wet days, dancing in the wind on windy days and staff embracing their inner child!
We were lucky enough to access some great outdoor training for staff prior to re-opening, which was supported by Education Scotland’s ‘Enhancing Professional Learning in STEM’ and this allowed staff to build confidence and prepare for a predominantly outdoor service.
We created a whole new outdoor space, utilising as many natural resources as possible, whilst really thinking about open ended materials which allow for lots of opportunities to be creative. Big piles of sticks, log, cones etc. have seen our children build dens, create their own role play areas, obstacle courses and many, many more. Spaces to relax and rest can be achieved outdoors – our Bell tent has been a revelation!
We have embraced our local environment, and walks and local exploration feature heavily in the daily life of Cairngorm Early Learning.
Scary times and change are hard enough as an adult, but put yourself in the shoes of your children. Don’t underestimate the impact of cuddles and reassurance and that sense of belonging and safety that comes hand in hand. Think carefully about your groupings. Who do the children know well already? Are your key workers systems in place? Is there a safe space for children to feel relaxed and comforted? (Yes, even a tent outdoors can achieve this!)
Settling back in sessions have been a must for us and allowing children (and parents and carers) the time to take these at their own pace has been of paramount importance. Whether this means a child has one session or ten, you must look at each child individually and work from there.
We have updated our Care Plans to recognise the huge impact that COVID-19 has had on their lives and are utilising the Leuven Scale to track wellbeing over the weeks and months ahead, ensuring that we are responding to individual needs.
Think creatively about your communication with parents/carers. Are they still getting the information they need on a daily basis to make them feel secure in their child’s care? Never forget that this is a scary time for parents too and this needs the same level of thought and planning. We decided to buy in online software for parental communication and journals, ensuring that despite the reduction in face to face interactions with parents and a move away from a literal ‘open door’ policy, parents feel no less informed or part of their children’s experiences.
Using child friendly prompts about hygiene and the social distancing measures have also ensured that none of our messages have been threatening or scary. Being child friendly has been key.
Little and often has been our mantra when it comes to resourcing and changing them regularly to support cleaning and hygiene practices.
A sand tray/tuff spot with a thin layer of sand and interesting mark making materials or small world toys can be just as exciting a tonne of the stuff. This has allowed us it to change it for each cohort with as little waste as possible. Water taken from a water butt with a tap for play, as and when required, and then disposed of has also helped ensure that hygiene measures are followed.
Ensure you have a comprehensive rota system for cleaning. We have found that a basin of sterilised water close by throughout the day allows us to pop resources into it immediately again use ready for a thorough clean at the end of the session. Clear guidance for staff regarding this has also been crucial.
Most important of all, be kind to each other.
Most important of all, be kind to each other. This experience has affected everyone; staff, children and families alike. Be patient with each other, support each other and remind yourselves that you have one of the most important and privileged roles out there. Be that source of comfort and love to your children and the rest will fall into place from there.