The last few months have been especially tough on parents with young children – trying to juggle work and home life at the same time. It has also been a challenging time for the children themselves who have been unable to socialise with friends nor see their wider family. A recent report by the National Children’s Bureau found that under-fives are suffering long-term damage from the lack of contact with other children.
However, with the lockdown regulations being loosened, more adults are returning to work and more children are heading back to nursery. What is the best way to ensure children are not affected emotionally by coronavirus? How are nurseries adapting to a post COVID-19 world?
Hannah Tranah, Childcare Development Manager atStoral Learning, a family of 20 nurseries across England, gives her advice and insight….
It is easy to underestimate how much children soak up when we're talking to them. They pick up their cues from everybody around them and they're constantly listening - even if it doesn’t always appear so. They are also very tuned into our anxieties.
So most young people are aware of coronavirus and have some understanding of it. It is amazing how many children talk about corona and it has become everyday language even for little ones.
When our nurseries fully reopened at the start of the month it was lovely seeing them bounce back in with big smiles on their faces. Many of the children had been away from nursery for three months and that is a long time in a young child’s life. There had also been a lot of research which showed that the last few weeks had affected children’s’ mental health.
So, we put a lot of thought into how we would discuss coronavirus with them and what changes we would need to make. However, when they came back it reminded me how resilient children are. Unlike adults they have a wonderful capacity for living in the moment. They ran back in, desperate to share their stories of what they had been doing. We can all learn a lot from our young children – as much as the other way round.
Children don’t spend their time worrying what things are going to look like in a week's time. They just enjoy what is going on around them. Our main priority as professional early years staff has been to focus on the child’s’ social and emotional needs and to try and make things consistent – as well as doing some educational work.
For under-twos it is not feasible to discuss the specifics of coronavirus. For them it is about continuity, routine, and care. In this period of constant change, children benefit from an environment which is organised, consistent and safe which conveys a sense of order and calm.
For slightly older toddlers and youngsters we focus on the importance of hand washing and introduce the idea of germs and how they can cause ill health. We take hygiene very seriously. But we try and make is seem fun for children and introduce it as a game. The idea of singing along is absolutely ingenious. However, we have to avoid Happy Birthday or it can get very confusing for youngsters!
There are some great free books available online which reference coronavirus without sounding too big and scary (listed below). There are also some great YouTube videos which we have found very helpful. We also use a programme called My Happy Mind.
It’s really important to discuss coronavirus openly with children. If they are feeling worried, they might not be able to work out for themselves why this is the case, so it’s good to try and open up those conversations and be able to reassure them.
We’ve had to make some adjustments to the way we work at nurseries and put in operating procedures to make sure everyone is as safe as possible. We keep the children in their bubbles and explain to them why we must have that separation - but it is not practical for them to avoid all social contact.
The staff themselves have also been understandably nervous about coming back to work. We have tried to provide as much reassurance to them as we possibly can too and instil a collaborative and open culture so staff can raise any concerns which can be addressed quickly.
However, on a positive note, it has been obvious how good it is for grown ups’ mental health to be working again. Routine is as important for adults as it is for children. Although it particularly gives children structure and a sense of security.
Perhaps things will never return to the ‘old normal’. But it has been lovely to see how excited the children have been to come back to nursery. Social interaction is vital for all of us. For children it is fundamental for their wellbeing and for their future learning.
Resources to help young children understand Coronavirus
For more information head toStoral Learning.
Here are some recommended child-friendly e-books on coronavirus
And some videos to help your young children understand the pandemic
While we can’t hug:
Rainbows in Windows: