Regardless of our individual views on whether schools and settings should be returning in June or not I think it’s safe to say that no one working in Education expected the return to start with Early Years!
That said – it looks like we are going to be living with this virus for some time to come so at some point we have to think about how we can best do this.
Everyone’s situation is going to be different, both in terms of what your setting looks like and how it is staffed but also the expectations of Leadership teams and possibly parents. It’s definitely going to be tricky and no doubt challenging, in ways we might not even know yet!
For every question asked there seems to be a multitude of possible answers – and we have to remember that this is unprecedented. No one knows all the answers. But we do know this; we are resourceful, we are a community and we always try and do what’s best for our children.
It’s almost impossible for anyone to outline the practicalities of how this might work but it is really important that whatever plans we make, we ensure that we are following the latest guidance. I have put some useful links at the end of this post.
I’m conscious that within my readership there are schools, nurseries, playgroups, childminders and others so I’ve focused here on how we can ensure that this group of children who are in Early Years during the recovery from the pandemic still get the absolute best out of these precious early years.
I have had lots of correspondence from Early Years practitioners who are worried that their learning spaces are going to look like a Victorian classroom with chairs, tables and lots of tape!
Whilst we need to keep ourselves and the children safe, I don’t think that is what is expected or needed.
The current Government guidance does tell us that:
“Settings should use reasonable endeavours to deliver the EYFS learning and development requirements as far as possible in the current circumstances, as set out in the guidance on the temporary changes to the EYFS requirements in light of coronavirus (https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/early-years-foundation-stage-framework–2 ). This means continuing to provide an environment that invites learning across all 7 areas as far as is practicable during this time”
So, we need to keep the ‘essence’ of what we have always done and look for creative ways of implementing it.
It’ll be interesting to talk to these children in years to come about their memories about this time. For some of them it will have been a few extra weeks at home with a multitude of new and exciting activities and adults available and able to ensure that every day is filled with awe and wonder.
For many others it will be the opposite and may well have been a really difficult time. And I know all settings and schools have been trying to keep in touch with their children to make sure they have been supported as far as possible, which in some cases has been really difficult.
As more children start to return we have much more control over how this looks and feels for those children. It’s going to be a bit strange and probably very different from what learning looked like back in March… but it’s possibly weirder for you than it is for them. If we can ensure that it’s relaxed and fun and full of opportunity for awe and wonder then that will make a huge difference.
I would imagine most children will have heard things talked about or news concerning the pandemic and many will have been aware of the worries and anxieties of the adults they live with. It goes without saying that lots of children over the country will also have experienced a death in the family and many more lived with someone who has been extremely poorly.
There will need to be lots of opportunity to talk about what’s been going on. This is where open ended resources come into their own! We know that to make sense of things young children need to talk, question, question again (!), act out, focus their play around and gradually manage to feel comfortable with things they may have heard, seen or experienced.
Using tried and tested Small World resources like mini me figures (make some new family versions) and opportunities to role play will be helpful. Remember, role play does not have to mean a small ‘home corner’ space. Role Play provision is just the opportunity for children to engage in their own self directed investigation and articulation of the world they inhabit. Whether we create a ‘space’ for this to happen or not – we are going to see lots of it.
Alongside that we need to focus more than ever on the things that provide comfort. So familiar routines (where possible), stories the children know and love, songs etc.
Some resources will have to be removed from our spaces, for now. But there is lots that we can do to personalise the environment for the children who are in it. Using their images and their creations to make the learning environment feel like it belongs to them.
Paramount in all of this is our safety and that of our children. Whilst we will have lots of opportunity to be at our most creative in the environments that we create, it is not a time to take risks.
All the talk about ‘catching up’ is making me anxious and I’m not even in a setting! Yes, these children have missed a few weeks of school/nursery, but they have many years left! The most important thing from an education point of view is that they are given the opportunity to rehearse, revisit and for some re learn those key skills. The last thing we should be doing is hot housing phonics or numeracy in an effort to make sure they keep up.
For Early Years children (and arguably those going into Year 1 in September) these children need more play than ever, not less. We have to be more creative and go back to what we know – children learn through play and following their own interests.
The guidance tells us that we can’t use a ‘sand pit’ and we probably won’t have our usual sand tray and let different groups of children play in the same sand. We probably can’t share malleable materials and will have to wash construction more than we already did. But, neither do we have to sit young children at a table and expect them to do more formal ‘work’!
Items that can’t easily be cleaned, like a sand tray/pit can be quarantined and rotated (please refer to the guidance for timings). Multiple smaller areas of provision can be created to be accessed within ‘bubbles’. We can put sand in a tyre, a suitcase, a box.
All of the resources we give children will have to be thought about carefully, but this is also a great opportunity to review what we provide for our children and why.
We can look again at the skills and experiences children can experience in Areas of Provision. Once we have thought about that, then we can match essential resourcing to essential learning.
The same goes for almost every area of provision. Yes, keeping children in their ‘bubbles’ is going to be much harder than any politician can imagine (I think herding cats might actually be easier) but we’ll find a creative way. A fun way. It’s going to have to be a game or a challenge.
It is REALLY important to accept that, it won’t always work. We’ll make mistakes, we’ll learn as we go along. But that is okay. It’s a big ask!
Before I sign off for the weekend I also want to add that in my opinion the best thing about social media is the ability to connect with like-minded people and share ideas. Now, more than ever we need to harness the power of our community and share our ideas of how we can make this work.
EVERY single one of us has been affected on some level by this horrible pandemic. Keep in contact, share things that inspire you, articles that help and accounts that make you feel better not worse. If you find something you think everyone needs to see/read let me know and I’ll share it too!
We need to support each other. You are not alone.
Have a good weekend
Preparing for the wider opening of early years and childcare settings from 1 Junehttps://www.gov.uk/government/publications/preparing-for-the-wider-opening-of-early-years-and-childcare-settings-from-1-june
Early Years Foundation Stage Corona Guidance Disapplications