We caught up with David Liley of the Nook Nursery recently to ask what challenges he and his wife Sharon have been facing in their Early Years setting since the start of CoVID-19. Read below how they have adapted and put measures in place to make their beautiful setting as CoVID safe as possible, without losing that warm, family feel.
We have faced three main challenges since the beginning of COVID.
The first was right at the beginning, The Nook Nursery has been part of our family for around 25 years and for the last 21 years we have been the owners. It was on Sunday 22nd March 2020 that we realised that for the safety of children, parents, and staff we had to close the Nursery temporarily.
In 21 years, the Nook Nursery had never closed, and we spent Mother’s Day calling and emailing parents, staff, and family to give them the news. It is a day we will never forget, although we wish that we could erase that memory.
The second challenge has been the uncertainty and wildly varying advice. We quickly re-opened, as did many, other nurseries providing limited services for families who most need our support as part of the battle against the virus.
Government guidelines for Nursery Schools changed three times in a week at the beginning of the COVID lockdown, and now as we enter a period to Restore and Recover, the advice sometimes changes daily. It is, however, unrealistic to expect clear messages from the government, this is a risky time and we all must live with that and make the decisions that are best for our families. We are designing this aeroplane while it’s in flight.
The third challenge is how to safely reset our Nursery, to restore and recover, knowing that some things must remain different for quite some time to come.
How have you ensured you have kept your parents and children updated?
It has been a virtual online life in lockdown. The first rule has been, keep in touch, keep talking. Lots of phone calls and emails about practical arrangements. We became an essential source of information for a whole community of families.
Just like us many families, initially, were not sure what to do, many decided, including key worker families to hunker down and keep the children close by at home. So even when we could offer some limited places, many families decided they would cope themselves. The task then became one of supporting children and families at a distance.
We offer ideas and activities through lots of individual chats with families. Every child and family at the Nook have a member of staff who takes an interest in that individual child’s development. It’s not just a matter of keeping the children entertained, and we tried to keep that focus during lockdown. That involved suggesting activities that would help with physical and emotional development, speech and language, reading, writing and maths.
At the Nook we use an online observation system called Tapestry and we have adapted that for use in lockdown. Tapestry has been fantastic in developing new features to keep parents updated with resources and activities, parents have also sent us their observations of their child using this system. In partnership with parents, in Zoom meetings, we have continued to track children’s development and keep that heading in the right direction. It has helped us stay up to date with children’s development and progress ready for when we see them again and support transitions into school We have provided some BSL, British Sign Language support online for deaf children. The Nook is unusual in having a level 2 BSL signer on our staff. The rest of the staff team have been working hard to develop their signing skills.
Cooking at home has been a great boon for many families. For the children cooking at home is active play, with lots of contact with mum and other family, planning, measuring, mixing, sorting out equipment, then seeing the result, and eating those yummy buns. Oh yes and let us not forget ‘tidy up time’. We are not cooking in the Nursery just now although this is normally one of our activities. Singing, music and dancing have kept us all jumping and moving around. Our staff have online sessions with children and families, we have online storytime and keep up ‘one to one’ contact.
What were some of the main concerns that parents expressed in the early days?
Will my child have to socially distance from their friends? They will want to cuddle everyone?
When the world of Nursery first saw the official advice about re-opening schools and its focus on social distancing, we all had a few chuckles. How do you get a 2yr old to socially distance, are we supposed not to cuddle a distressed child, and best of all, how do we throw a nappy from 2m to make it land in just the right way?
We now operate a bubble system, with one bubble Monday and Tuesday, a deep clean Wednesday and another bubble Thursday and Friday. This limits the number of children and the hours we can offer but it is re-introducing the children into social mixing and learning. We encourage as much social distancing as we can, staff can usually do that with each other. Parents drop and pick up at the gate rather than coming into the building. But it is impossible to have strict social distancing between early years children, so within their ‘bubbles’ they play and learn without social distancing.
We also do not wear masks or face coverings inside ‘bubbles’ unless we need to for nappy changing for example.
Will I lose my place if I don’t bring my child back straight away?
Not at the Nook Nursery and we regard it as bad practice to hear that around the country some Nurseries are almost forcing families to come back before they are ready. Everyone has taken a financial hit in this time and passing that onto parents seems to us to be unfair and unacceptable.
Are the children not allowed to play indoors?
Yes, indoor play is happening, but less furniture and equipment, so more indoor space and less items that might harbour germs. Thankfully, its summer so we have lots of outdoor garden play, in a large fully enclosed garden. Picnic style ‘snack time’ and fun digging and planting, mud kitchen and our Bug Hotel.
If my child can only attend one setting what happens with my funded place?
West Sussex County Council have asked all Early Years settings to exercise flexibility within the funding that we continue to receive. When a child has a temporary transfer to another setting there is currently no funding being transferred between the two settings therefore the original place is being funded and should remain available. That is our understanding of the guidance. Parents have enough to worry about without having to fuss over fees. The Nursery settings should sort out the red tape behind the scenes.
What will the Nursery be like inside for the children?
Still friendly and fun and with as much of the normal daily routine as we can manage. Someone told us this week: “I came up to the gate at the Nook and stopped before ringing the doorbell, all I could hear were children playing and laughing in the garden. It made me think, that’s what we all want to hear again, and it gave me a boost for the future.”
I don’t know what to do over the summer and how to plan for September?
Lots of families seem to be thinking of having the summer together. Particularly with parents working from home. It has been tough in lockdown but parks and other places to visit are opening. Many families are thinking this is a unique time to have together, enjoy these summer weeks and take stock in September. We will be taking a summer break, probably shorter than usual and right now, if there is the demand, we will be opening a couple of weeks early in August to give an ‘Kick Start’ to the new term and to allow settling in. Some families will just want to have a few sessions over that time and we will be flexible……get in touch and have a chat with us.
Do you feel the government gave enough information at the right times to enable you to continue running as a business? Please explain your answer.
We think the support has been really good. At a time when many people have lost their jobs and businesses, it does not feel right to find fault and complain. The Government and the County Council have helped us with maintaining funding for the 15hrs and 30hrs subsidised places schemes, staff furlough and business rates holiday for a year.
The biggest financial hit for us has been losing fees from parents who pay for sessions outside the subsidised schemes. We also decided from the outset to be loyal to our wonderful staff and have guaranteed the jobs of all our staff and supported them financially.
This has not exactly been a time when we have thrived financially, and it would be great to see lots of new children in September to replace those graduating to Primary School. But like everyone we must ‘make do and mend’ and find a way through to protect jobs and the economy and keep on providing a high-quality childcare service.
What changes have you implemented in the nursery to make it as Covid-safe as possible?
We have 2 bubbles of children each week, the staff also work in two teams avoiding crossing between bubbles. We receive the children earlier in the morning at the Nursery gate. The children come in and wash their hands. At the end of the day parents collect their children individually at the gate, we clean several times a day and then deep clean at the end of the day, and in the middle of the week.
What message would you like to share with new starters for September about coming to/ back to nursery?
We are ready, excited, and really looking forward to welcoming you at The Nook Nursery. There are a few changes in place. We are a small setting with lots of space inside and an amazing outdoor space. Come and play and meet new friends.
Sharon and David Liley, Nook Nursery, proprietors.