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As centers across the world start to reopen or start planning on reopening, there have been many questions around how to social distance within the classroom and re-introducing children back to the routine of childcare. Ideally, you want to follow the requirements that your government has set out. Do your homework and make sure you know what these requirements are and that it is possible for your teachers and children to start returning to childcare safely.
Many centers are doing a “slow” or “soft” opening. Some centers are still open and have been helping with essential service families and some have been closed for a while. Here are some tips on ways to social distance within the classroom and center based on our conversations with the HiMama community:
Work With Reduced Ratios
Working with fewer children in the classroom will help ease any anxiety as the children re-enter daycare and also help create a control group. This way the children, teachers and families are safer while returning.
This may need to come in the form of hiring more staff or temporarily de-enrolling some children. It is hard to pick and choose families to welcome back, but with limiting the number of children coming and going, it will help contain any outbreaks from recurring.
Same Group of Children and Teachers Every Day
The idea here is to restrict the amount of people crossing paths with one another because each additional person is another chance for exposure to COVID-19. Carefully assign your classrooms and keep the teacher and child assignments consistent as much as possible.
Alter or Halt Daily Group Activities
Within the classroom, it is best to limit the contact that the children are having in large groups. Plan activities that the children can stay spread out and do on their own for the time being.
Stagger Playground Times
Limit the number of groups outside on the playground at one time so there are less people crossing paths.
Move Cots & Cribs 6 Feet Apart (If Possible)
With having a limited number of children in the classroom at this time, spreading out their cots at nap time to allow for more personal space.
Only Children and Staff Allowed Inside
Have parents sign their kiddos in and out at the entrance to your facilities without actually coming inside. This is much different than what they’re used to, so sending parents a picture once their child is inside and settled can help to reassure any anxiety with this process.
Stagger Arrival and Pick-Up Times
Give parents specific time windows so you do not have too many families coming at once. If the timing does overlap, ensure that everyone stays at least 6 feet apart.
Take Temperatures Upon Arrival
Verify that no child has a fever when they arrive at your center for some extra reassurance that no one is bringing any illness into your facility.
Cancel or Postpone Any Planned Events
Wait to have any gatherings until it has been deemed safe to do so.
Wear Masks (When Age-Appropriate)
Safety of the children, teachers and families is on the top of everyone’s list so make sure to not place any face masks over babies faces or children under the age of two as the suffocation risk increases dramatically. If you are a center that is wearing masks and having the older children wear them, take the time to make sure that everyone is wearing it correctly. And of course, wash your hands every step of the way!
Set Up Social Distancing Pods
Having a smaller number of children in the classroom allows for creativity with how to set up and maintain social distancing while still allowing for conversation and interaction with peers. Depending on the size of your class, the age of the children, and the number of children you have, you can separate the classroom into “pods” for each child. Think of these like mini apartments for each child where they have all of the supplies they’ll need.
You can lay painter’s tape down on the floor and have the children help you name their special area. Within each pod, try to give each child the same amount of toys and creative supplies. An example list could be: several books, paper, crayons, trucks, blocks, personal sensory bin, animals, and access to a table. You want to set the furniture up so friends can see each other but are intrigued to stay in their area. Using a child-size bookshelf or storage unit to separate two pods while allowing the children to still sit and chat with each other at a table while playing is ideal.
The hardest part of the pods will be keeping the children in them, but if you help them create a personal space while encouraging conversation from afar the children will catch on. Modeling this will be key and reinforcing that their pod is their space and because of this they need to stay in their space in a positive way will help create a good experience for the children. As the children get used to the new playing set up, teachers will have to encourage open play and keep the children busy.
Here’s a great example of social distancing pods from Roberta Webb Child Care Center:
How Parents Can Help
As children return to the classroom, there will be lots of anxiety and scared feelings. Work with your families to help ensure that this is an easy transition. If possible, have parents follow the routine of the center while at home. This will help ease anxiety as the children will know what to expect. Communicate with the children via phone or video calls, so they know your face and reconnect with the relationship you have with them. Have parents start talking about going back to daycare and reminding their children of the fun things that happen as to create anticipation versus feelings of anxiety. Model the excitement of going back and remind them it is a safe place and that you will be coming back to get them.
These are challenging times and change seems to be happening at a rapid pace. Be mindful of the changes that impact your families, children and teachers as we open society back up and start to return to normal. Anxiety is high, emotions are high and we so desperately want normal back. Take the time to create steps for parents and teachers to maintain health and safety so we all can move forward together.
We would love to hear from you about what your center is doing to maintain social distancing — let us know in the comments!