As more parents and caregivers return to work, there is an increasing need for Early Childhood Development Services (ECD) to resume operations. But the resumption of operations needs to be well-coordinated and done in a manner that will give the parents confidence that their children will be safe. The assurance in regard to health and safety needs to be provided to the staff as well.
The hiccups and increasing infections amongst teachers and learner’s which have occurred with the re-opening of schools, emphasises that the health and safety of children and staff at these centres cannot be compromised.
The importance of opening ECDs was demonstrated by a court ruling in favour of opening up the facilities. However, as with all things post-lockdown, it will not be business as usual. The ECD facilities are required to follow COVID-19 guidelines and precautions in order for learning to resume.
Amongst other things, the teachers and children will need to have a mask on at all times, except those who are younger than 6 years. Children who are younger than six will be required to wear surgical masks when they are experiencing symptoms of illness while being taken to the sick bay or when exiting the premises. Sending children who do not feel well to school with medication to be administered during the day, will be a thing of the past. Staff and children who are not well, will not be permitted at the facilities and neither will the staff be able to administer medication to your children. This is intended to ensure the safety of all parties. Regular hand washing and sanitising of items and surfaces will be a regular feature at the facilities.
Although some working parents who have no additional support cannot wait to take their children back to a crèche or nursery school, they will need to put in extra work prior to and when taking their children to school. They will need to educate their children on the health and safety measures, wearing of masks and social distancing as well as equip them for the changes they will experience once back.
No longer will parents be able to drop off their children quickly on their way to work. Parents will be required to take their children into the facility, complete the health check/ screening and temperature testing on behalf of their children and where the child does not pass the assessment, take the child back home. This will also apply to the children who are dropped off by private transport providers. There may even be a set schedule for drop off and pick up times in order to avoid congestion. Play times, breaks and nap times may also be staggered in order to ensure social distancing.
These changes, although essential, may prove to be a lot to handle, but children are the ones who will be affected the most and as a result they need support, compassion, understanding and more, in order to be able to deal with these changes. After months of being stuck at home, they cannot wait to go back to school, see their teachers and play with their friends and they may expect everything to be as it was before schools closed.
As much as social distancing continues to be difficult for adults to adhere to, children who have always been taught to love and hug each other will be faced with the difficulty of not being able to hug their teachers or friends whom they have not seen for months. They will need to understand why they can no longer play with their friends as they used to in the past, why they need to sit, play or sleep distances apart from each other.
They will need to be helped to understand why they will no longer be able to share stationary items, meals or even toys with their friends, why their favourite furry toy cannot be brought to school or even why they may not be able to take their art work home as they used to. Parents will also need to help their children understand why they need to be dressed warmer than usual, as the facilities need to be ventilated naturally through opened windows and doors.
Apart from the physical changes, the children will need to be provided with coping mechanisms in order for them to deal with the effects that all of these changes will have on their emotions. We should also not neglect the effect that COVID-19, the lockdown, the news about rising infection and death rates have had on these young children who are expected to carry on as if everything is normal.
As parents and caregivers get ready to send their children back to the crèche, nursery school or even Grade R, let us not forget to appreciate the resilience they have shown during this difficult time and to support them as they face the uncertainty and changes facing them as they brave the “new normal”, which will not be easily understood by them.
“Children are resilient and strong with powerful spirits” – Rhea Perlman.