With restrictions now making way for all Melbourne families to return to early learning, parents and carers will no longer need to be permitted workers or apply for permits for their children to attend early childhood education services.
Many children and families will be excited about heading back to centres, but there may also be some anxiety, concerns or adjustment difficulties during the transition.
Along with helping children and families to settle back in, ensuring centres are COVID Safe is a priority for all childcare services. The coronavirus pandemic has affected the way we live and work, and the mental health and wellbeing of many. As we move into a new normal, supporting one another has never been more important, so take the time to get yourself and your centre’s community in the best position to go forward with minimal stress.
Returning to early childhood education
Early childhood education services can now reopen for all families, and while this is exciting for many there is likely to be a transition period too. New routines, or getting used to previous routines can take some time, but with a few strategies in place the transition can be eased. As well as affecting children, transition challenges could also extend to parents and carers or educators and staff. This might be related to fear due to the pandemic or simply getting used to a change in routine.
Taking steps to reduce potential stress as your centre reopens is important, and the first step is to be aware of what your staff, children and their families might be experiencing.
For most children it’s likely that attending childcare services will be the first time they will be away from their primary carer in months. Needless to say, this could cause distress for parents or children, or both. Minimise separation anxiety with consistency at drop off and pick up as well as a comforter item if necessary such as a badge.
With such heavy restrictions imposed throughout Melbourne for such a long time, many of us have not been around people outside of our immediate families. Being in social groups may be intimidating or anxiety-inducing, but exposure over time will help. Try working in smaller groups where possible and offer plenty of time for children to take some quiet time as needed and consider offering a quiet space with some books.
Sleep and wake times may have changed during lockdown, and it can take a while to get used to a new schedule. Creating extra rest times could be worthwhile for some as we get back into the swing of things.
Fear of the virus
Children or adults could be feeling fearful of catching COVID-19 which could make them reluctant to head out of the house much. Signage, hand sanitiser stations, distance markers and masks show those attending your centre that you take infection control seriously and are actively minimising their exposure risk.
How you can ease the transition back
The pandemic has put a lot of pressure on all of us and had a notable impact on mental health and wellbeing. Encourage those around you to access wellbeing resources and take care of themselves. There are plenty of mental health and wellbeing strategies that could help. Incorporating strategies such a yoga, meditation and mindfulness into the daily routines could be incredibly helpful in making the adjustment back to childcare smooth.
As well as being patient and supportive, these tips can help everyone transition comfortably:
- Be flexible: Shorter days, more rests, extra hugs — keep an eye on how everyone is traveling and try to be adapt where possible.
- Talk openly: Be open and honest about what’s been happening in the world and encourage children to ask questions. This resource is helpful for talking to children about the virus.
- Visual reminders: At home and in centres, use a planner to show children what is coming up for each day so they know what to expect. This will help familiarise them with their routine and feel more secure.
- Renewing relationships: Reconnecting with one another is important and while it may be a quick process for some children, for others it will take longer. For a week or two consider incorporating activities that are specifically committed to helping everyone renew their relationships.
- Focus on patience: Just as heading into the pandemic was an adjustment that took time, so too is getting back to a new normal. Be patient with others and with yourself as we all navigate the return to early learning.
A safe return to early learning
To reduce risk and keep everyone safe and well, all centres are now required to have a COVIDSafe Plan in place to operate. High standards of hygiene and infection control are always a focus for early learning centres, and now more than ever before. According to the Victorian Government guidelines, it is essential that your plan demonstrates how you will meet all of the requirements set out by the Victorian Government. must outline:
- Your actions to help prevent the introduction of coronavirus (COVID-19) in your workplace
- The level of face-covering or personal protective equipment (PPE) required for your workforce
- How you will prepare for, and respond to, a suspected or confirmed case of coronavirus (COVID-19) in your workplace
The Government has provided guidelines and a template to assist centres in putting this COVIDSafe Plan together.
Infection control for a safe return to early learning
COVIDSafe Plans should include physical distancing rules and requirements around good hygiene practices such as regular handwashing and hand sanitiser stations. ‘Workforce bubbles’ are recommended where possible, rostering the same people on together to decrease contact between different staff members.
While masks are required to be worn in most sectors, early childhood education settings are a little different. Staff can choose whether or not they wish to wear a mask while working with children, however when staff are working in other areas of the centre they are expected to wear masks. This could be working on reception or moving through staff rooms and foyers. Parents and carers should wear face masks for picking up and dropping off children.
The Department of Education website has a number of resources to support your infection control COVIDSafe strategies, including posters to display that remind those working in or visiting your centre to wear their face masks and maintain physical distancing.
Continuing to provide children with the best start
Early childhood education may have some changes in place, but the sector is in good hands with so many committed educators and centre owners and directors supporting families.
The team at our Registered Training Organisation Selmar, is adding some extra joy to the return to early learning with some exciting news being announced on Wednesday 7th of October, through the Selmar Facebook page. Make sure you check back in then, to find out what it is!
As early childhood education resumes and we transition to a new normal, the sector will work together to provide the best outcomes for all children, families and educators.
Take care as you return to doing what you do best — providing the best start in life to children throughout your community.
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