When children arrive at Grovelands Childcare in Athlone on Monday morning, they will walk in through a miniature "castle" door – which doubles up as a perspex screen – and into the childcare facility.
It’s their child-friendly answer to an intimidating barrier, which is a new public health requirement aimed at limiting contact between childcare staff and parents.
After more than three months in lockdown since the coronavirus pandemic, there is a mixture of apprehension and excitement ahead of the big reopening.
"We've been meeting and greeting parents and children last week," says Regina Bushell, Grovelands Childcare's managing director. "A lot of the children came running in and were extremely happy to be back, but there will be separation anxiety for younger children.
“They have been been with their parents constantly for the past three months. It’s going to be an emotional time for many of them. There will be a bit of letting go and a certain amount of settling in.’
Parents will typically be met at the door and the screen will allow for communication between staff and parents/children.
Children will remain in pods throughout the day, while staff be required to avoid mixing with others where possible.
Ms Bushell says parents should feel reassured by the extensive safety guidance and training which providers have been required to undertake.
“The good news is that children won’t be restricted in their play or learning experiences compared to the way it was pre-Covid 19.”
Grovelands in Athlone expects the number of children to be somewhere in the region of 30 to 40 per cent of normal levels when they reopen.
This, Ms Bushell says, raises wider concerns over the sustainability of the sector.
“Much more funding will be needed to keep the sector going,” she says. “The support package is just about enough to keep us going through July and August, what about the rest of the year?”