Early-learning providers ‘confident’ return to classrooms will be a success
Pre-schools to reopen for children registered with the State’s Early Childhood Care and Education scheme
Karen Clince: “We know that what’s best for children is not to be in a lockdown environment at home, but to be back in a normal environment with their friends.”Photograph: Alan Betson
Montessori-owner Fiona Treacy-Bowe was feeling apprehensive but confident as she carried out final preparations ahead of the return to in-person learning this week.
Just over 42 children will return to Cherry Blossom Montessori, Castleknock, Dublin, today (Monday), half in the morning and half in the afternoon, after a two-month break away from the classroom.
“The staff are nervous but confident we are doing all we can,” Ms Treacy-Bowe said. “I have split us up into ‘pods’ and have done absolutely everything possible to keep the pods separated.”
The children have been warned to bring warm clothing as they will be spending most of their time outside in the garden attached to the pre-school, she added.“I am very lucky; I know a lot of services cannot do that,” she said.
The employment wage subsidy scheme has been a “godsend”, enabling her to hire additional staff to facilitate the pod system.
Her pre-school learners had been participating in Zoom lessons twice per week, and they received daily activity and storytelling videos from the teachers.
“We have been very much involved with them, so it is going to be so much easier for them to adjust this time. The stress levels are way down.”
As with the return to schools, the national public health emergency team (Nphet) has recommended a phased reopening of the childcare and early learning sectors.
Some childcare providers had already reopened for the children of frontline workers, but many pre-school services were due to return today for the first time this year for children on the Early Childhood Care and Education (ECCE) scheme. The ECCE scheme is the State’s pre-school programme in which over 100,000 children are enrolled.
On Friday the deputy chief medical officer Dr Ronan Glynn wrote to parents and guardians of children due to return to early education assuring them that the risk of Covid-19 has been “carefully weighed against the very real harm that can be caused by sustained restrictions” to services.
He urged parents to avoid congregating outside services, and to refrain from organising playdates.
Tigers Childcare, which has centres across Dublin, has been open for the children of essential workers throughout Level 5 restrictions, but the numbers are due to increase from today.
Managing director Karen Clince said her staff naturally had some worries and concerns, but they have confidence in the effectiveness of the “pod” system.
Cases of coronavirus were confirmed at some of Tiger’s centres, but each time they were contained within a pod and did not lead to a large outbreak, Ms Clince said.
It was clear from the children who have already returned to the childcare centres that the lockdowns were having a “concerning” effect on their development, she said. This had motivated her staff to carry on with their work.
“We know that what’s best for children is not to be in a lockdown environment at home, but to be back in a normal environment with their friends.”
Elaine Dunne, chairperson of the Federation of Early Childhood Providers, said she was “quietly confident” the return of childcare and early-learning services would be a success.
“Yes, staff have anxiety. It wouldn’t be normal if they didn’t…But we know what we are doing, and we are doing it well.”
The federation hopes the Government will recognise the dedication of early-learning workers by moving them up the vaccine prioritisation list. The industry’s workers are currently in the 11th priority category, due to be vaccinated alongside all essential education providers who are at high risk of exposure.
“We have prioritised the Government, the economy, the children and the parents, so I think it [priority vaccination] is a no-brainer,” she said.