Offering help with re-opening NS child care centres

As many Nova Scotians, I ask myself how I can be helpful and useful at this stressful time. I have knowledge, experience, and time but no place to apply it.

I have decided to offer my service as a volunteer to any centre that needs a bit of help with their re-opening process. I have supported a number of ECE teams (Lil’ Jems, Mawio’mi, YWCA), through the process of re-inventing and re-designing their learning spaces within a short time frame. This experience can be useful in a situation when administrators don’t have a choice to postpone change or the luxury of implementing it slowly.

After months of being closed to the COVID-19 pandemic, the child care centres in Nova Scotia will re-open on June 15th. This decision is made to support parents and caregivers who return to work as the Nova Scotia’s economy is slowly re-opening.

Starting from today, directors of child-care centres and their staff will have 7 working days (or 11 calendar days) to get their centres ready according to the COVID-19 Guidelines for Child Care Centres. This is not a lot of time when you have to possibly re-think your space to accommodate small groups, individual play, staggered schedules, and fit in more time for extra cleaning.

I am willing to do simple tasks, like moving furniture, decluttering, and cleaning. I recognize that many centres might be cautious about inviting a person “from outside” as they need to assure their staff that they are creative, capable, and able to do it by themselves. I understand that this kind of experience “in the trenches” builds lasting bonds and strengthens relationships. 

However, if anyone finds themselves in a situation where they might have only one teacher to re-organize their the classroom because the other staff is not available, I can support that teacher and just follow their lead. 

And if you wish to add a few more ideas to the brainstorming sessions, I can share them, too. We all know that we can’t control children, but we can control our environments and the messages they send. After reading the Guidelines, it seems that the focus will be on:

  • A sense of well-being for children and adults, which means we need to shape and accept “the temporarily new normal” so that children feel safe and secure.
  • Acknowledging everyone’s feelings, both positive and negative.
  • New rituals that support a sense of a community.
  • Conversations about what kindness and respect looks like when we can’t always share as we used to. Before, giving someone a piece of playdough was a kind gesture… now keeping your playthings separate means keeping everyone safe. But we can always share ideas and compliments about each others’ work!
  • Clear visual messages that help children make choices that show kindness and respect. We can think about rotating materials and using smaller stations in terms of “taking turns”. We can encourage children participate in putting used toys in a special place.
  • Support for small groups, which means that we need to make sure all groups have enough materials for meaningful engagement and exploration.
  • Side-by-side play with individual materials, which means creating individual stations and/or creating personal baskets and small stations.
  • Transitions and group rotations that allow time for extra cleaning and setting up activities.
  • Taking our learning outside to minimize time indoors, which means we need to decide what palythings can be taken or “live” outside and how to provide shade/cover during hot days.

If you make any significant changes to your environment, I encourage you to start your first day with a “tour of the classroom”. I usually demonstrate a “gallery walk, like in a museum”, with hands clasped behind our backs so we can first only look at things. Tell children about all new and exciting things you prepared for them, and explain the new ways of using things (if that is the case).

If you have arranged a class with small groups, print children’s photos with their group’s ECE, to show everyone who is in a “bubble”. This also creates a sense of belonging, a welcoming gesture, and a practical guide for the teacher (or substitutes).

Also, please remember:

We are in it together and we got this!

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