Photo by Ketut Subiyanto from Pexels

There has been no doubt that the threat posed by COVID-19 is and has been frightening, unnerving and an unexpected time for many, not least of these our children. With lockdown, came a certain degree of social isolation and many questions.

Troubling statistics show that children are developing serious mental health conditions, including Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, because of the COVID-19 pandemic, with social isolation and lack of healthcare and food playing major factors. It is important, now, to focus on the children’s wellbeing over and above any more formative development as this underpins how children will respond and adapt to the experiences they have had and how society as a whole will be affected by the fear, grief and loss that people have experienced.

Though there has been an increase in social isolation from the ‘outside world’, there will no doubt be positive to come from the connection between family during this time. These experiences are not something we could have predicted but are priceless and the life skills that children will have been developing from being at home invaluable.

Photo by Victoria Borodinova from Pexels

Social connection is fundamental to our well-being and its power cannot be under-estimated. It is what builds children’s sense of self, their co-operation skills, their fostering of trust in and respect for others. This is one of the many reasons it has been wonderful to welcome back so many children into nursery over the past weeks. The children have shown an unexpected resilience that is a consistent reminder that we cannot underestimate them!

Within the nursery, we have been working on ways to talk about COVID-19 that are not too big or scary for the children, including using stories and videos, such as the ones listed below. Consistency and routine is important, and we have tried, where possible, to keep this across all aspects of the nursery, whilst ensuring we are following the government guidelines, which were key to the development of our Standard Operating Procedures during this time.

We have also been prioritising work, particularly with the older children, on identifying their feelings and emotions to promote that understanding and resilience.  This is fundamental to our Accelerated Rising Stars programme that will be running during July and August for those children who will be heading off to school in September 2020. By identifying emotions, children are better equipped to understand and manage their own feelings, as well as to interpret other people’s emotions. This will be particularly important as children start school with new people and faces, and having the skills to be able to communicate what they are feeling will make it easier for caregivers to be able to support and comfort them better.

Here are some ways that you can support your child’s understanding of feelings and emotions at home from The Anxiety Relief Project:

  • You can help your child to identify different emotion cues and their causes by role-playing. After making a disgust face you can ask your child, “can you guess what I am feeling?” Then take turns making different emotion faces, followed by a discussion of what things might make people feel that way.
  • You can help your child build a vocabulary of emotions by recognizing and utilizing opportunities throughout the day to identify and label what they may be feeling. For example, you may say to your child: “How are you feeling right now? I know you liked petting the puppy but now we have to give it back and you look sad. Are you feeling sad?” The more you label emotions and the situations that give rise to them, the easier it will be for your children to do the same.
  • Ask your children about emotions that they or others might be feeling. In this way, you provide an opportunity for them to identify, label and express emotions. For example, you might ask, “I heard Reggie couldn’t go to play at the park today because he is sick. How do you think Reggie feels?”
  • Help your child come up with appropriate ways of expressing and handling their emotions. You can do this by brainstorming strategies your child can use the next time they feel a certain way. For example, you may say, “Remember when you got so frustrated when you couldn’t put on your helmet, and remember how you threw it across the room? Next time you can ask for my help or count to 30 and then try again. Can you think of other things you could do?”.
  • Encourage your child to express their emotion. You can praise them when they express emotion in appropriate ways and make sure to point out the ways in which they did so. For example, you might say, “I know you were mad when you lost. But, I love how you told us and took some big deep breaths instead of knocking over the game board.”
  • Use tools such as cartoons, photos, books, and videos to talk to your child about emotions. The next time you are watching TV together, point out characters that feel different emotions, label the emotion the character feels, and discuss the reason for the emotion. Talk about the different facial expressions of the characters. You can also draw similarities to your child’s own life by pointing out times when they felt and behaved that way. For example, you might say, “Look how happy Dora is that she just got a brand-new bike! Do you see her big smile? Remember when you got your new toy? You were so happy too!”

Books about Coronavirus for Children

Lucy’s in Lockdown
Coronavirus: A Book for Children
My Hero is You
The Princess in Black

YouTube videos

While we can’t hug
Rainbows in Windows

 

It’s never too early to talk about race.

Studies have shown that at birth, babies look equally at faces of all races, but by just 3 months old, they are starting to look more at faces that match the race of their main caregiver (Kelly et al, 2005). By the age of 2, children start to use race to reason about people’s behaviours (Hirschfekd, 2008), and to choose playmates (Katz & Kolkin, 1997), with expressions of racial prejudice often peaking between the ages of 4 and 5 years old (Aboud, 2008).

Within the nursery environment, we have a responsibility to promote an understanding and acceptance of ALL cultures and actively seek to embrace diversity across all elements of the care and education we provide. We seek to actively challenge gender, cultural and racial stereotyping and to help children gain an understanding of communities beyond their own immediate experiences.

The Fundamental British Values in the Early Years Foundation Stage are about actively promoting mutual respect and tolerance of all people. It is important that we accurately reflect our culturally diverse society to foster this respect for other cultures and to ensure that children from Black and Minority Ethnic groups relate to their environment and take pride in their ethnicity. The ways in which we do this need to be age appropriate, purposeful and meaningful. Here are just some of the ways we embrace diversity:

  • Reflecting all skin tones in our resources, books and displays
  • Learning and including the different languages that children within our setting speak
  • Introducing every day resources that bring awareness of different cultures into our continuous provision – such as traditional decorations and materials, home corner resources and musical instruments from around the world
  • Celebrating religious and cultural festivals in a simple and practical way
  • Actively challenging behaviour that stereotypes and lacks tolerance

If we fail to talk to our youngest children about racial inequity in our society, we are contributing to the early development of racial biases that research has already shown is in place (Winkler, 2017). However, we CAN and SHOULD be seeking to challenge this. Explicit conversations with children aged 5 – 7 years olds about interracial friendship can dramatically improve their racial attitudes in as little as a single week (Bronson & Merryman, 2009).

If you are at all worried about how to discuss race and racism with your children, here are some top tips from CBeebies and BBC Womens’ Hour about where to start:

  • First and foremost, educate yourself first
  • Talk about diversity and use diverse books with your children
  • Avoid using skin colour as a way to identify others
  • Don’t claim to ‘not see colour’
  • Showcase diverse role models, rituals and history
  • Highlight those who are creating positive change

 

 

In anticipation of our nurseries opening from Monday 1st June, we have created a set of  Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) that have been designed with the health and safety of our children, staff and parents foremost in our planning.

Please note this is a working document and will be updated as and when required.

Specific procedures that might be of interest to parents include:

 

  • The measures we will take to achieve physical distancing;
  • Measures around practicing good hygiene throughout;
  • Rules around drop off and collection;
  • Responding to a suspected or confirmed case;
  • The use of PPE at nursery.

Dear colleagues,

Beneath the very visible impact that the COVID-19 crisis is having on our daily lives, these past few weeks have also precipitated a period of deep soul-searching – for us as individuals, as a society, and as an organisation. Amidst the intense, real-time decision-making that we’ve tackled on a daily, and sometimes hourly basis, we’ve also had to ask ourselves some deeper questions:

  • What really matters most to us?
  • How are we supporting the response efforts?
  • What does the future hold?

As individuals, we’ll have different responses to the questions above. That’s what makes us unique. But collectively we all form part of Storal Learning, an organisation which you, our staff, are the heart and soul of. As such we’d like to share with you some of our inner thoughts on the questions above.

To address what really matters most to us, and how we are playing our part to support the response efforts, actions speak louder than words, so let’s reflect on some of the actions we have taken across the country:

  • We are extremely proud to have kept 15 of our 20 nurseries open for key worker families and for vulnerable children. By providing fantastic care for the children of key workers, we are enabling doctors, nurses, delivery drivers, teachers and other emergency workers to go into work and play their essential role in keeping our country safe. The NDNA recently published figures showing that only half of all nurseries remain open for key worker children and we have managed to keep open 75%;
  • When the nursery and school closures were announced, we are proud that we acted quickly to reassure staff that we would pay their full wages for March, even before the Government’s Job Retention Scheme was announced, and before we knew which nurseries would remain open beyond 20th March;
  • We are proud that we have taken the stance not to charge non-eligible families any fees after 31st March and until the end of the closure period. Other settings and groups have taken a different approach, as I’m sure you’ve read in the news. We pass no judgement on their choices. These are exceptionally difficult times for businesses. We just did what we instinctively felt was fair and right;
  • We are proud that we took the decision to continue with our performance-linked pay review in April, despite the economic uncertainty. Moreover, we decided to honour our commitment to paying all Level 3 qualified nursery staff, who have performed in line or above expectations, a salary above the statutory minimum wage, and ensuring pay transparency for all our staff;
  • And congratulations to 11 of our colleagues across the organisation who have deservedly been promoted during the semi-annual promotion cycle, a signal of our continued commitment to career development, even at the toughest of times. We’ll be sharing these details with you in the coming days.

The past few weeks have also demonstrated that leadership comes in different forms across Storal. A nursery practitioner, whether furloughed or working at nursery, taking the initiative to read stories or make learning videos to spark the imagination of children at home has been a leader; a senior practitioner who has stepped in to run the nursery on behalf of the management team has been a leader; a manager who believes it is their duty to go into nursery every day, even when there are only 1 or 2 children attending, has been a leader; an Area Manager who skipped their child’s bedtime on many consecutive evenings early in the crisis to ensure that they could provide timely updates to staff and parents has been a leader; our Finance and HR team who have worked round the clock to ensure minimum financial disruption to staff and that payroll is run on time have been leaders.

Leadership is not about titles or age; it is about stepping up when instinctively you know your contributions, regardless of how small or big, will help your colleagues and those who we are responsible for – which for ALL of us includes, first and foremost, our children.

And amongst all our leaders who have stepped up during our country’s hour of need, we would like to extend particular admiration and gratitude to our colleagues on the front line who have continued to go into nursery, day-in-and-day-out, with a positive attitude and a profound sense of duty. You are true heroes. Every Thursday at 8pm, when we clap for our carers, we are also clapping for you!

Like it has for us, your mind may also have been oscillating between feeling very anxious to feeling completely inspired, at multiple times during this period. While we are all taking precautions to protect our physical health, please remember to give proper focus to your mental and emotional health too. We hope that you found the recent Well-being email and the Storal Learning Staff Support Toolkit useful – don’t forget to refer to it if you ever feel you need some hints, tips or advice. We also have our Employee Assistance Programme for when things may feel a bit overwhelming – just call 0333 000 2082 for free and confidential support.

Here are just a few examples of the fun activities that have taken place across our nurseries over the past few weeks, which we hope will give you inspiration:

  • Rainbows have become the universal sign of hope and gratitude during this crisis. Tiggy-Winkles in Cheshire shared theirs with their local supermarket and hospital and we know many of you have yours posted on walls and windows at nursery.
  • From activity packs to video messages and puppet shows, staff have really shown their creativity and love for their children and families. At Ickle Pickles, even our furloughed staff have voluntarily sent videos of themselves reading stories for the children, so the children don’t forget their faces;
  • Wilmere Lane in Cheshire shared a lovely activity with their parents, involving making a ‘thankful paper chain’ – writing down something that they are thankful for/makes them happy and hanging them around the house to focus on positive thoughts;
  • Archway in Dorset created a display of their children keeping busy at home to give their children a sense of belonging and to still feel part of the nursery when they return from isolation;
  • Ashby Day Nursery was very busy the week before they closed, filming enough story sessions with the lovely Emma to post one story a day for a month. These have been extremely popular with the first story session on the 26th March receiving 1.4k views on the nursery’s Facebook page!
  • Families at Tiny Tots have been participating in online drama and music sessions at home, as well as enjoying a virtual tour of Longleat Safari Park, while children at nursery have taken part in a cinema day with popcorn, whilst watching the animals roam;
  • The management team at Old Crofts Bank, in particular Marie, who has swapped her nursery uniform for painting overalls, with the hope of inspiring the children and, indeed, the staff when the nursery re-opens.

Now is perhaps as good a time as any to remind everyone that nominations for the Storal Awards close on 31st May. This is a wonderful opportunity to recognise your peers, not just for their heroism during the crisis, but for their extraordinary work throughout the past 12 months. Voting is open to all employees across the company and you can nominate more than one person!

Nominate someone today!

So, what does the future hold? In the short term, although the shutdown has been extended by a further 3 weeks, we can seek hope from the curve flattening out and by what’s happening on the continent. On Wednesday children returned to schools and kindergartens in half of Denmark’s municipal districts; Austria allowed DIY stores, garden centres and shops with an area of no more than 400 sqm to resume trading on Tuesday; and in Germany, schools are set to reopen on 4th May. We know that any re-opening is likely to take a gradual approach, but these are positive developments.

But it’s important we level with you. The economy is currently going through an unprecedent shock and much of the employment gains that have taken place over the past decade have been wiped out in a matter of weeks. Even once shops and businesses start to open, with less people in work, the requirement for childcare may reduce. As businesses have grown more accustomed to remote working during this lockdown period, we may start to see more parents working from home and potentially adjusting their childcare requirements.

But there is also reason to be cautiously optimistic about the future of the childcare sector. As the Chancellor has said, the economy was fundamentally strong before the COVID-19 outbreak, and there is reason to believe that the sharp fall in economic activity will be followed by bounce back, albeit not as sharply. Moreover, even if demand patterns do change in the short term, this crisis has highlighted just how important our sector is to the functioning of the economy, and indeed to nurturing future generations. Not a day goes past without some mention in the press about the importance of nurseries and early years education.

When it does come time for parents deciding which nursery to place their child in, or indeed, for practitioners deciding which company they would feel proud to work for, we hope our collective team efforts during this period have demonstrated our true colours and will stand us in good stead. Never have the benefits of being part of a larger group been more apparent than during this crisis. Our team at Central Support and our Area Managers have quickly had to become quasi-experts in all areas related to the new Government guidance. We simply could not have responded the way we did without them. Moreover, through the collective pooling of resources and prudent financial management, we know that we will weather this storm, and all of you should take comfort from that. Moreover, with the dedication we have observed over the past few weeks across every level of the organisation, we are confident that we will emerge from this crisis as a stronger, more cohesive organisation.

We’d like to end our letter by sharing a few observations. While the news has a habit of focusing on the worst in society, this period has also showcased the very best in us, with countless small acts of kindness that have melted our hearts and reminded us of the importance of compassion, selflessness and a spirit of generosity. Thank you to Cook, the food retailer where a few of our parents work, for donating a full array of delicious meals for our children and staff at Ickle Pickles to enjoy; to Morrisons for donating more Easter Eggs than the team at Rocking Horse could possibly eat in a lifetime; to the parent in the South West who insisted on paying April fees, even though his child is not eligible to attend, just to show his support for the nursery and the staff; and to the parent at Rocking Horse, again, for providing us with such a generous quantity of hand sanitizer that we were able to share our supplies with parents and the local care home which the children used to visit before the virus struck. The list goes on and what it so clearly shows is that there is goodness to be found everywhere. And, let’s not forget Captain Tom!

Thank you, all, for everything you do. We truly hope that we, and most importantly all our children, will meet again, soon.

Take care,

Ashwin Grover & Varun Chanrai
Managing Directors
Storal Learning

A letter from the Managing Directors – 17.04.20

We have some new updates following the government’s decision to close all schools, colleges and nurseries from Friday 20th March to contain the spread of the Coronavirus (COVID-19).

From Monday 23rd March, all our nurseries will only open for vulnerable children and those of key workers needed to support the country in these crucial times.

The government has now specified who falls under the term key worker as those employed in the sectors below:

  • Health and social care including and support staff
  • Education and childcare
  • Local and national government
  • Food production, distribution and sales
  • Public safety and national security
  • Transport
  • Utilities including gas, water and telecoms

Please see here for a full breakdown and further guidelines from the government.

Our nurseries will be closed for all other families until further notice and we will not be invoicing parents for April fees as they seek to make alternative childcare arrangements. We will continue to keep you updated with our plans and intentions so please check your emails and nursery Facebook pages for the latest information.

The response from our families has been amazing so far and we would like to thank you all for your ongoing support and understanding during this time.

And a huge thank you to our wonderful and dedicated staff who have really risen to the challenge! You truly are Early Years Heroes.

Our chosen charity for 2020 is Young Minds charity. Storal Learning have made a commitment to end the stigma surrounding mental health in the workplace and recognise the importance of mental health support and its access for all. 2020 will be a wonderful opportunity to also extend this out to the children in our care, the families that we support and the young people who will be entering our settings now or in the near future, either as staff or as parents. You may have also seen the many advertisements on television about the rise in child anxiety – this is an amazing opportunity to support a charity that are seeking to reverse this.

We will be organising fundraising events over the course of the year to work towards our goal. If you’d like to help us reach our target, you can contribute on our JustGiving page.

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