Finding the right childcare setting can feel like a huge pressure. And even more so during a pandemic when many settings cannot have visitors looking around. So how can you get a feel for a nursery or childminder in these times of social distancing, staggered start times and strict guidance? Richard Knight from the Early Years Alliance North of England Service Hub has some tips.
Everything is changing rapidly for nurseries and childminders during the coronavirus pandemic.
They are developing new ways of working, communicating and delivering their services during these difficult times.
While adjusting to the ‘new normal’ practitioners, managers and families all have lots of questions – from practical ones about children starting in September to being unsure about visiting a potential new setting.
More emotional questions might come next where providers and parents have concerns about how children will settle into new surroundings, make friends and bond with their key person.
How best to look around?
Starting at nursery, pre-school or with a childminder is a big deal and often where formal education starts. But how can parents choose a childcare setting without being able to have a good look round at local providers first?
Live video tours
With a steep rise in the use of IT during lockdown, many of us are relying heavily on technology both socially and professionally to keep connected.
And it is technology that can help you and your potential new nursery or childminder get together ahead of the new academic year.
Video tours are being used by lots of providers to really good effect.
If they are not offering them, ask the manager if they would consider it.
It should be possible for a manager or member of staff to do a live virtual showaround on a mobile phone using a video conferencing platform.
It would give you a chance to see the set-up both inside and outdoors, just as if you were really there. The video call can be saved and then shared with you afterwards.
This can be an effective way of doing things in terms of time because then you will have a chance to ask questions as you go round during the video call.
Alternatively some nurseries or childminders may have already recorded virtual tours and posted them on their websites or social media home pages. Again it can work really well to help give you a sense of the atmosphere of a setting which is so important when going with your gut feeling.
Once you've seen the virtual tour, you can then contact the nursery or childminder to talk about things further - perhaps arrange a video meeting with managers or staff to discuss your child starting. A one-to-one with the childcare provider is a great opportunity to talk through any questions or concerns you have.
Many settings are offering a visit for parents and children after hours, one family at a time of course. This can be reasonably straight forward - just make sure you follow all the steps that are asked of you. For example, you probably won't be allowed to touch anything. Most toys shoud be put away already but try to make sure your child doesn't touch anything either. Obviously this may not always be possible and it's not the end of the world if they do - it can always be cleaned afterwards. Lots of providers are doing after-hours visits at the moment - some even on a Saturday morning!
Meeting in the garden is an option, out of hours even better. Meetings and discussions can happen on site and at a safe distance. Using outside space means you'll get to ask the important questions and maybe have an opportunity to meet some of the staff team.
If you aren't able to set up video conferencing or don't feel comfortable doing so, just explain this to the manager or childminder and they will be happy to talk to you on the phone. Or even if you have visited in person or via video, managers or childminders should be available for phonecalls to talk through concerns, outline routines and new ways of working. Knowing you can speak to someone will provide reassurance if you're feeling worried about anything.
Case study - Kaleidoscope Nursery in Leeds
"We are offering visits after operational hours (so at 6pm) asking only one parent to attend if possible. Doors are propped open so they don’t need to touch handles etc, they are asked to sanitise on their entry and then not touch anything as we go round.
"We have had children attend after hours with their parents and obviously they love to touch new things so we’ve just cleaned anything they’ve touched after. It’s working well for us but we have a good open setting for it, our other sites are having to do it a little different and be creative!
"Therefore we are also offering virtual show rounds by sending a video of our setting to perspective parents."