By Richard Knight - Early Years Service Officer at the Early Years Alliance
When children are starting at a new childcare setting or with a childminder, each provider will have their own settling-in policy, and might approach the process differently. There will usually be similarities however and some of the procedures will be familiar.
Most nurseries, pre-schools and childminders will agree there is usually a two- to four-week settling-in period.
But how do we do this now during the ongoing pandemic, when we need to socially distance in order to keep everyone safe?
Different life - different ways
The common settling-in process might involve lots of short visits and play sessions so that parents, carers, practitioners and child can all get to know each other and share that all-important information.
But it is inevitable that just like everything else, settling-in sessions will need 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.
It is important to consider this transition and value that it is a time when families and key person need to work together in partnership to meet children’s new needs.
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 children starting at new childcare, it is still crucial to ‘meet’ with the setting manager or childminder to discuss children’s details, and for the child to spend time with the key person in some way.
So how best to do this?
By appointment — 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. This is proving a popular idea with some and leaders are booking families in for multiple 20-minute sessions in some cases.
Picnics and outdoor sessions — Other settings are thinking about picnics and sessions with new families in the grounds before they come back in September. Obviously these meetings are planned in order to keep numbers low and practice social distancing.
Using outdoor space — Provision that has been open every day, including the holidays, have seen new children start during this time. Making the most of the outside space has been the key to success for them. Parents and carers are 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.
On the doorstep — 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.
Do the ground work
All About Me form — Nurseries, pre-schools and childminders are still providing new families with their versions of ‘all about me forms’ to gain as much background information as possible. This is then being followed up by a lengthy telephone call with them.
Using technology — Recording and sending out virtual video tours to new parents is working well for some. Others are inviting new starters to video calls to meet existing peers and key persons. 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.
Online story time — Key persons can do a story time at the open setting while new starters due in September can watch the session through a smartphone or tablet at home.
Social media and websites — Use of social media and websites has never been greater. Providers can easily upload video clips and pictures onto the sites for new families to look at as often as they want. This way children can become more familiar with the people and the environment if it is not an option to have a face to face visit. Conversations can happen about the pictures and videos between children and parents.
A surprising and positive result
The reason for doing this preparatory work is to build up to a stage where parents and carers can leave children with practitioners 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."