Covid-19 has managed to ensure that all areas of our lives have been affected. The pandemic has ravaged life as we know it across the world; nobody is ignorant of that fact. Yet, whilst it has had a global effect I am more moved by the impact it has had locally and it is clearly not going to go away very soon. Parents of Pre-School children are in a position where they are having to choose between a nursery place and a place at home alongside parents who are working from home; whilst it may not be ideal, the whole family is under one roof and ‘safe’.
I sympathise (and empathise) with the parents of toddlers at this very difficult time. Many years ago when my first son was born, the interest rates were peaking at 14%; we had just stepped onto the first rung of the housing ladder and it took both of our wages to simply pay the mortgage, bills and eat. When our son got to nursery age, there was no other option but to take up that place. We could ill afford the price but we needed to work to keep the roof over our heads; we had ‘Hobson’s choice’.
There was no choice involved for our first child, it was a necessity. And many parents would be feeling the same way now, I have no doubt, but for very different reasons. Why would you run the risk of sending your precious little one into a nursery where they could be potentially exposed to the Covid 19 virus? Of course, the time is going to come (and much sooner than you will anticipate) when your child will have to start at Reception class and holding that decision in abeyance could be prudent, but time waits for no man and the sands will run out. Putting off that decision about joining the School of your first choice might be too late.
Interestingly, life at home with mum and dad could be more detrimental than going to a nursery.
Studies by The Sutton Trust  and The United Nations  highlight the concerns of parents in attending childcare settings.
The Sutton Trust report quotes that, “68% of parents of 2-4 year olds reported accessing formal early education or childcare (preschool/nursery, childminder or school) in the period before March. However, with the start of lockdown this changed radically. Of those who had formal arrangements, just 7% of children continued to attend throughout the lockdown period.” The rationale for the lack of attendance was dominated by health reasons (unsurprisingly), whether that be concerns about increasing transmission of the virus, and/or bringing it into their own home.
They conclude that the welfare of children was severely damaged as a result of the pandemic.
“There are some children who have been at home with both parents who were trying to juggle work with looking after their child and attempting to home school. These children have not had a positive experience, they have had no social interaction with other children, have lost confidence and have been living in a very stress filled environment”.
The United Nations agree, “Children are not the face of this pandemic. But they risk being among its biggest victims. While they have thankfully been largely spared from the direct health effects of COVID-19 – at least to date – the crisis is having a profound effect on their wellbeing”.
And this is the tipping point; this is where you, the parent, have a decision to make, weighing up the concerns around the transmission and contraction of the virus versus the mental health and wellbeing of your most precious commodity.
Having had no choice in my own case, I venture that you most certainly have and you should exercise this with due diligence. Does your nursery, for example:
1. Have a good reputation? Do current parents speak highly of it?
2. Have stringent, robust and effective policies and risk assessments in place? Not just for Covid but for the day to day running of the setting, including what happens in emergency situations.
3. Offer freshly prepared nutritious meals, adhering to your requests for food allergies and dietary requirements?
4. Provide appropriately aged play-based activities, designed around the interests of your child, for their holistic development; introducing reading and writing at the right time?
5. Provide extensive resources for the children, particularly outdoor space?
6. Provide suitably qualified staff, a qualified teacher perhaps? Are they passionate about children, more specifically do they show this towards your child?
7. Provide assurances that, should we return to lockdown, your Nursery will provide a full online home learning programme?
If you can say yes to all of the above, then maybe you have answered the niggling doubts that have been playing on your mind?
I leave you with one final thought from the UN:
“This is a universal crisis and, for some children, the impact will be lifelong. The risks to child mental health and wellbeing are also considerable”.
Mr Chris Bouckley – Headmaster