By Richard Knight - Early Years Service Officer at the Early Years Alliance
Settling a child into a new nursery or at a new childminder can be a daunting thought for parents at the best of times. And in this time of the coronavirus outbreak even more so.
How are parents and children supposed to be feel comfortable with a new childcare provision and a new key person when we are supposed to be keeping our distance?
While childcare providers have their own settling-in policies they generally agree that there is around a two to four-week settling in period.
So how are childcare providers doing this now?
Different life - different ways
The common settling-in process might involve lots of short visits and play sessions so that you and your child can get to know the setting or childminder and share that all-important information.
But settling-in sessions are going to look different in this new way of life we are all adjusting to.
All children cope with change and new experiences in their own way, and some do better than others.
And your provider will be thinking about this transition and will be keen to work with you, your child and your child's key person in order to meet your child's specific needs.
Rest assured, childcare providers are working hard and thinking creatively to develop dynamic ways to make the settling-in process as personal as possible in these somewhat changed times.
Prior to your child starting at new childcare, it is still crucial to ‘meet’ with the setting manager or childminder to discuss your child's details, and for your child to spend time with their key person in some way.
There are various ways to do this.
Some providers are looking at using the end of August or very early September to have a series of days before the children officially start back, opening the doors by appointment only so children can come in for a 1:1 meeting with their key person and explore their new play and learning environment.
Some providers are doing picnics and sessions with new families in the grounds before they come back in September - planned in advance in order to keep numbers low and practice social distancing.
Providers who have outdoor space have been utilising this with parents and carers bringing children into the outdoor play area, where key persons will take over and join the children to say, ‘See you soon’ and wave families off. This has been working to good effect so far.
Other ways to meet new families is to do doorstep visits to all the new starters' homes. So far proving successful for the providers who have tried this idea out.
Have a talk with your provider to find out how they are doing settling-in.
Doing the ground work
If your provider sends you an 'All About Me' form, asking for details about your child make sure you give them as much background information as possible. This will help your provider to learn about your child - their likes, dislikes, habits, food preferences etc This should then be followed up by a lengthy telephone call with your provider.
Take advantage of technology
If your provider has made a virtual tour or invites you to take part in a video call then take advantage of what is on offer, if you feel comfortable.
Lots of providers are using video conferencing platforms to have virtual settling-in sessions. It's a great way for parents, children and staff to meet up and exchange information while keeping completely safe.
Keep an eye on the providers' social media channels as well - it will help to give you a feel for the activities they do and how they communicate with families.
A surprising and positive result
The reason for doing this preparatory work is to build up to a stage where you can leave your child with the childminder or key person at the front entrance - keeping in line with guidance that parents cannot enter the building.
After initial worries about how the children would cope without parents physically coming into the environment - many providers are reporting that children have actually settled in quicker than before and keypersons are noticing how resilient children are.
Embsay with Eastby Pre-school Playgroup in North Yorkshire:
"We invite new families into our setting to visit and have a look around when all the other children have gone home for the day. These after-hours visits are working well for us and it means we can meet children face to face and lots of information can be shared between us and the parents and carers.
"We social distance and the settling-in visits only happen one family at a time.
"We also follow strict cleaning and hygiene practices to ensure the setting is a safe place. We are hoping to prepare a virtual tour clip for our website soon."