Settling back into your learning service
Having a strategy and procedures in place for transitioning children (and their families) back into your learning environment is of utmost importance right now. In New Zealand, schools and early learning services have opened their doors and welcomed back a large number of children. In Australia, a lot of learning services remained open and operated with reduced numbers.
Many children will be straight back to business as if they never stayed home for several months. They may have had a great time, living their best lives at home in their family “bubble”. They may have had no idea about the pandemic, and as such, the impact of COVID-19 on their emotional wellbeing was minimal. At best, it was a really positive experience and they thrived on having an extended amount of time with their family.
We need to remember though, that this will not be the case for all children. Some may have heard their family talking about the virus, they may have seen photos or videos on the news. They may have had a family member that was an essential worker, and been separated from them for many weeks. Some children may have even had to go out into the world to buy groceries or for a medical appointment. For these children, they have experienced first hand just how dramatically our world changed. The long lines at supermarkets, having to practice social distancing, seeing people wearing gloves and masks, security guards directing peoples movements. It is quite understandable that these children’s experience and understanding of the virus may be quite different from some of their peers.
You may also find that whilst some children will be super excited to be back at their learning service, others may be a little reluctant to separate from their families.
Being aware of each child’s “lockdown experience” can help us to provide children with the care and support needed. So how can we do this when we have a range of different experiences and needs?
If you are yet to open the doors to your learning service, or the children’s return to your learning community has been staggered, you are in luck because we asked some of our global community to share different strategies they have used, to make this transition as easy and positive as possible for the children AND their families.
Tips from other learning services
“Here in Australia, we set up zoom meetings with our returning children and their families so we could see them and hear about what they have been doing. We checked in about routines and anything else we would need to welcome them back. It was also a great way for us to talk about the changes at the centre so that they were aware before they came in. The zoom meetings were with individual children and their families.” – Brooke Townend, Centre Director
We have all rapidly had to take a crash course in online meetings during COVID-19, and as was the case for Brooke’s learning service, it has been technology that has kept children, families and educators connected. Having an online “meeting” with children and their families is such a great idea, and is the next best thing to having an in-person meeting. It is easy to see that Brooke and her team used this as a time to tick lots of boxes! First and foremost, it is a way to reconnect with children and their families. This could be a great time for children to share what they have been up to at home with their family. It is also a fantastic way to gain insight and to help you plan for children’s interests to support continuity between home and centre learning experiences.
Brooke mentioned that her team have used these meetings to not only discuss children’s routines but also to share with the children and their families what has changed at the centre. This means that children are able to prepare for ways that the centre programme will be different to how it was previously. The sharing of information around routines is particularly important for infants and toddlers. A lot can change for younger children in just a week in regards to their sleep, food and toileting routines, let alone in several months! Armed with this information, are well equipped to make adjustments and to be prepared for the children’s return.
“We have been open at level 3 but have a large number of children coming back next week so we are having visits on Thursday and Friday As a centre that only opened late January we know settling a number of children takes lots of emotional energy so we are keeping this in mind when preparing the rosters too.” – Pip Davidson, Puddleducks Nursery and Preschools
The team at Puddleducks Nursery and Preschool in New Zealand prepared well to ensure children’s transition back to their centres’ allowed children time to reconnect with their educators prior to their first day back. Allowing visits staggered over 2 days is a great way to also share any important information between educators and family. A soft transition such as this will allow children to “shift gears” and prepare for day one. This is a great time to also talk with families face to face about the learning services procedures for ensuring everybody in the learning community stays safe. It is also equally important that educators’ wellbeing is considered during the first few days or weeks. Having to settle a lot of children at the same time takes a lot of work, and requires educators to tap into their emotional energy reserves. Keeping this in mind when preparing the staffing rosters is so important for maintaining educators’ wellbeing.
“I’m in Canberra, my service was never closed but we only had about 50% of children who continued to come to care while the other 50% stayed home. Starting next week, more children will be returning as schools will be reopening and as the educational leader of our service, I posted a conversation on Storypark for all the educators to prioritise making connections with the returning children and the ways they can do it. I also reminded them to not focus on activities to do with the children, instead just be always available to them.” Glacy Teves Burgess, Gowrie NSW & ACY Discovery House Early Education and Care
In Canberra, Glacy Teves Burgess and her teaching team focused on reconnecting with returning children. The strengthening and renewing of relationships was a key focus. Essentially, placing importance on being physically and emotionally available for children took priority over any organised activities. With some children being home for quite some time, there may be a time of resettling, so being emotionally available for children will support them to make this a positive experience. Another upside of this is that educators are able to ease back into the changes themselves without the added pressure of planned activities. With some children having stayed in their learning service during the COVID-19 lockdown, have you considered the role they inadvertently play in supporting returning children? They may take on a nurturing role in their play, inviting other children to join them in play, sharing what they know about new rules around cleaning, handwashing and other measures in place to meet hygiene standards.
An important consideration with all of the different ways learning services have prepared to welcome children and their families back, is that connection, communication and relationships are really at the heart of the resettling process. Having maintained contact and regular communication with children and their families has been much easier using Storypark in addition to other technology, and this will no doubt complement the physical return to your learning service.
Whatever your resettling process looks like, remember to take your time and not have high expectations that things will “look” the same as they did pre-COVID19. It may be a time of uncertainty still, but reflecting on what worked well, and what you could do differently are important for your team and community.