Childcare choices during Covid-19: a guide for parents

Isabel Mohan

Isabel Mohan, Head of Content

01 June 2020

So, there’s a pandemic on, but you’ve got to work. Whether you’re using childcare for the first time after some time away from work or you’ve been working from home for the past couple of months with a small child smearing banana into your hair live on Zoom, figuring out the best thing to do for your family now that there are more options is a world of pain. Choosing the right childcare setting for your baby or toddler is nerve-wracking at the best of times, but Coronavirus has thrown up a whole bunch of brand new and decidedly un-fun dilemmas so, with many of our tiney home leaders now able to open their doors to families after more than two months away, we’ve answered a few of them…

I’m so confused! Are all childcare settings open now or what?

No, not necessarily. While the government has told all early years childcare providers in England (this varies in other parts of the UK) that they can open to all families from June 1st, this doesn’t mean they necessarily are. While most nurseries are opening their doors, some have a cap on numbers, and all are taking big precautions.

As for our tiney home nurseries, it’s at their discretion. Understandably, many childminders are nervous about welcoming people from outside their own households into their homes while the virus is still around, and have instead pencilled in September for re-opening. Others, though, are delighted to have the opportunity to be back in business and fill their homes with noise and colour after so much time away from the job they love.

If your usual childcare provider, or the one you were hoping to join, is choosing to remain closed, or has sadly closed down entirely, don’t panic, there will be plenty of other options. For instance, at tiney, we’ve seen a huge influx in childminder applications during lockdown, and hope to open hundreds of new home nurseries around London over the coming months. Plus, with many parents choosing to keep their little ones out of childcare until later in the year, spots will potentially be opening up even at settings that usually have big waiting lists. Since the whole childcare sector is struggling thanks to Covid-19, it’s something of a buyer’s market right now - you might be able to strike up a short-term or more flexible arrangement than is normally possible, so do your research.

My usual childcare setting is opening but I’m not ready for my child to return - do I have to pay?

This is entirely down to the business in question and there is huge variation here. Some settings are offering grace periods, where you continue to pay a percentage of fees to hold your child’s place until later in the year, others are asking for full fees as soon as they are able to open, even if you don’t take up your child’s place.

Remember these are usually small businesses - particularly in the case of childminders, who are self-employed - who haven’t necessarily been able to claim any money from the government, so if they are insisting on payment, they probably aren’t just being awkward. It’s been a difficult situation for everyone, so if you’re struggling to pay and don’t know when you will need your child’s spot again - perhaps you’re furloughed or out of work yourself - the main thing is to communicate honestly about your situation and see what can be agreed.

My little one is due to start childcare for the first time and now I’m really nervous about how the settling in process will work...

This is totally understandable. Back in the blissful pre-Corona days, you would’ve spent time in the setting with your little one and their new carer(s) while you all gradually got to know each other. Now early years settings have been instructed to implement a doorstep drop-off policy which, if you’re leaving your baby with someone else for the first time, sounds pretty traumatic - especially when they’ve probably seen very few new faces over the past few months.

There are lots of things you can do to make it less upsetting for everybody, though. At tiney, we’re advising our home leaders to have video calls with families whether they’re joining them for the first time or resettling after all these weeks away, and many nurseries around the country are offering the same thing. Plus, while you might not be allowed to go inside the premises, you could arrange to spend some time all together in an outside space - the garden or outdoor play area of the premises, or just a walk in the park with your little one’s key worker or childminder.

Remember, it’s always more traumatic for you than it is for them; most children, especially the really little ones, are easily distracted by a breadstick and some snazzy new toys… and most parents are easily distracted by comfort food and Netflix (sure, sure, we know you have to work at some point but we’d highly recommend taking your child’s first day away from you after so long as some much-needed you-time while you all adjust to the new routine…).

My child really doesn’t want to go back to their childcare setting. What else can I do to help us all adjust?

All of our worlds have felt very small for the past two months or so, with most of us not venturing more than a few minutes away from our homes. While we may have felt cooped up, most young children will have revelled in all this quality time with the people they love in the familiar comfort of their homes.

Therefore, the ones old enough to verbally communicate might have expressed that they’re not too keen on going back to normal - for them, the idea doesn’t feel normal at all now. Preparing them in advance is a great idea: depending on their age, you could help them come up with a list of the things they’re looking forward to doing with their friends when they go back. You can also explain that this time away from the usual routine was due to the world having a big clean-up, and now that it’s starting to get cleaner, we can see our friends and have adventures away from our homes again.

You know your child best, so work with their childminder or key worker on adjusting in a way that will be most comfortable for them: is it best that they just go for an hour or two at first, or straight back in for a full day? Would having a video call with you while they’re there upset them more, or would it help them realise you’re not far away?

With Coronavirus likely to be an issue for some time, which type of settings are safer overall?

All early years settings are adhering to the same strict guidelines when it comes to hygiene practices, and only you know what’s best overall for your family, but at tiney we naturally feel strongly about the benefits of smaller settings.

With all educational institutions needing to care for children in smaller groups than usual - or “bubbles” - this is something our tiney home nurseries have in place already: the very nature of childminding is about looking after children in smaller groups. It has always been a great option in terms of child development, but Coronavirus has shone a light on the other benefits of home environments.

Smaller settings mean your child comes into contact with a much smaller number of people than if they were in a larger nursery, while still gaining the benefits of socialising with their peers and enjoying a variety of fun and enriching activities. Childminders also tend to be able to offer more flexibility than larger businesses, so it can be a great way to ease into childcare quite gently, particularly if your own employment situation is up in the air.

What Coronavirus precautions should I be looking out for in my childcare setting?

All early years settings have been given this guidance from the government as to how to operate while the virus is still an issue. This covers everything from cleaning and group sizes to transport and catering. It’s up to each setting as to how they implement this guidance - some will follow it to the letter, others will add their own rules - for instance, temporarily banning messy play (too many grubby hands…) and children bringing their own toys into the premises (although most will allow a comforter or dummy). A lot of the extra guidance will be dictated by the space they are operating from - it’s much easier for a large purpose-built nursery to keep parents two metres apart during drop-offs and pick-ups than it is for a smaller setting, such as a childminder working from their own home, so some will have to be creative to make the new rules work for them, for instance by staggering arrival times.

Remember though, many providers have been open to key workers and vulnerable families throughout lockdown and already have some pretty stringent procedures in place. Whatever the set-up, you should be provided with a written policy clearly outlining the steps they are taking to ensure the safety of the staff, children and their families - we have given these to all of our tiney home leaders and they are available on our app. And don’t be afraid to ask questions - nobody will think you’re being too cautious.

Will nursery staff and childminders have to wear face masks? Won’t this be scary for the children?

The government guidance states that face masks only need to used in the event of a suspected Coronavirus case among a child or staff member at the nursery (children who this applies to will be isolated with one staff member, and then will need to be collected as soon as possible before quarantining for 14 days). We haven’t heard of any childcare providers insisting on face masks at other times, and not only because it’s a bit weird for kids, but because, if half of someone’s face is obscured, it potentially compromises communication and language development.

It’s possible that some childcare providers may like children to wear face masks if they go off site on walks or park trips (or indeed school pick-ups if they also care for older kids), but remember masks are not recommended for under-twos for safety reasons, so this won’t be an enforced rule.

If my child is upset, will they still be comforted? And can they still play with their friends properly too?

It’s widely acknowledged that social distancing just can’t possibly be a thing for small children; they are about as respectful of personal space as your average mosquito. If your child needs comfort, they will get it: childcare workers are quite literally welcoming them back with open arms, so don’t worry.

Likewise, children will be able to play together as normal. Ratios haven’t changed, it’s just the overall group sizes that have, but within those bubbles, it should be pretty much business as usual. There may be some things missing from the setting - some are choosing to minimise the amount of soft furnishings, for instance, to avoid the spread of germs this way, but there will be plenty of other fun things in place to make up for it. And anyway, we expect most children will just be pretty excited about the change of scenery after so many weeks cooped up at home with the same old boring toys...

Good luck making the transition, and get in touch if you have any questions!

Isabel Mohan profile img

Isabel Mohan

Head of Content

Isabel started her career in showbiz journalism, where she interviewed everyone from Russell Brand to the Cheeky Girls. After becoming a mum to two kids (and two cats), she grew weary of needing to identify individual Kardashians and instead got a taste for communicating with parents. She spent three years at Mush, the social app for mums (where she also wrote The Mumsition, a lighthearted guide to parenting) and has now joined tiney to sprinkle some glitter across all things content.

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