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"Glitter germs" and temperature checks: A day in the life of an early childhood worker in COVID-19.

"Wash, wash, wash your hands, wash them nice and clean! Scrubb-e-ly, bubbl-ey, scrubb-e-ly, bubbl-ey, wash them nice and clean!"

Since March this year, that’s the song I’ve been starting my work day with. The tune is oh so cute and cheerful when you’ve got 20 three to five-year-olds singing along and practicing their very best hand washing technique. 

As you can guess, this isn’t just another fun learning exercise; it’s a key step in keeping all the staff, kids, families and wider community safe from the dreaded C word.

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There’s no escaping the evidence of our changed world. Every day I’m trying to strike that perfect balance between ensuring the children are happily protected, not only from coronavirus, but from the high levels of anxiety and stress hovering in the air.

Instilling an understanding of germs and hygiene into children has always been an important part of being an early educator, so we have always had certain hygiene practices in place... it’s just that now we have extra layers of protection.

When it comes to the babies in the nursery, extra caution is simpler, with all who enter asked to remove their shoes. It’s the older children that we are carefully navigating these strange times with the most; the clever and inquisitive four-year-old that has picked up on her mother’s nervousness at the grocery store, or the cheeky and energetic three-year-old that suddenly can’t share water bottles with their best friend... my heart tugs every time I see that moment of awareness that something’s off.

Nevertheless, we’re adapting to the situation just like everyone else. Each day I send out digital notes to parents, reminding them to take home all bedding, drink bottles, hats and personal belongings to reduce the risk of spreading bugs.

During the height of lockdowns, we moved our drop off and pick up operations to outside the centre in the car park. 

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Upon arrival, every child was temperature checked; with a strict policy that if a child had a temp, they were not allowed in. This is a practice we’ve kept in place for the foreseeable future. 

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My work days usually look like this:

If I’m on a morning shift, I will arrive at the centre with the sunrise, and go through a full safety check of every room and outdoor space to ensure they're ready for children. I’ll then set up the outdoor play area, carefully considering what is placed and set up according to the children’s development needs and interests.

We will then do a headcount of staff to ensure correct child-to-educator ratios, check the roster so we know who's coming in next, and put out fresh fruit for the kids to access as they feel like it. Then we open, and I greet families and children as they arrive, asking how their nights were, answering questions and doing the mandatory temperature checks. 

For the early birds there’s breakfast, and then I’m off interacting with them outdoors - playing games, singing songs and hand washing, teaching them new concepts and ideas.

Often there are those that require comforting - either they are experiencing separation anxiety or just feeling wobbly - completely understandable for a little person in this big world. If a child was upset upon drop off, I will call the family once they’ve settled to ensure they can continue their day worry free.

Next, I’ll check on what extracurriculars are planned (music, dance, yoga, sports, languages), prepare bottles for the babies and settle them down for their first sleep.

Mid-morning I communicate with the educators who will be taking over for the afternoon and begin transitioning; this involves a group Acknowledgement to Country and bringing the children inside for morning tea and a morning meeting. 

Image: Supplied. The kids assist with setting the tables, and we make sure that every one of them has eaten and had a drink (documented in our diary) before cleaning up. We then have group meetings with them to discuss the day ahead before launching into the experiences planned. 

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Throughout it all, we're keeping written observations of key moments, any challenges and general behaviour for each child to keep families informed. If we have extracurriculars planned, these will also be held before lunch!

For a lunch to evening shift, I’ll prepare, serve and clean up lunch; also having my own break which I usually spend writing up observations and planning for the week ahead. We then ensure children have washed their hands thoroughly with the use of our jingle!

Now for the quiet hour, aka nap time!

After the children have had their sleep, we involve them in planning and setting up the afternoon’s activities - they have the chance to add to the monthly plan so that their interests are heard. Then it's time for play.

Before you know it, it’s time to prepare for pick-ups; gathering the children’s belongings, summarising the day’s learning and documenting their highlights while they play outside.

When the families arrive, I’m giving individual feedback and supplying any parenting advice they might ask for. I also complete a reflective journal at the end of every day; what went well, what didn’t, what I need to focus more on with each child.

We’re lucky that the restrictions have eased here in Queensland again, but we’re remaining vigilant with a rigorous daily clean of the whole facility, and continuing to include fun learning activities that emphasise hygiene. 

Image: Supplied. 

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'Glitter Germs' is a favourite; I show my class how quickly germs can spread using a wet hand, glitter and paper place around the room. It’s a great way to visualise something so invisible.

The provider I work for, Little Scholars School of Early Learning, already has a strong focus on nature-based play and outdoor learning which we’ve built upon now. Having the kids in the amazing, large outdoor playscapes means there’s plenty of fresh, unrecycled air and it keeps them active and healthy.

We also usually celebrate occasions like Mother's Day, Easter and Father’s Day with a family event; but this year those special events have either been cancelled or re-organised so they are much smaller and distanced.

I’m glad to be able to say that not every part of life has stood still. We’re still walking through those centre gates at sunrise every day to educate, entertain, support and care for our little friends as they flourish into their own people. People that will soon be all grown up and shaping the world one decision at a time.

This year’s Early Childhood Educators Day feels more significant than ever. Not only are we taking a moment to acknowledge all the usual dedication that goes into this work, it’s also an opportunity to sit back, reflect and be proud of ourselves for doing the very best we could in these tough circumstances.

Skye is an Educator at Little Scholars School of Early Learning, Yatala. For more information, visit mylittlescholars.com.au.

Feature image: Supplied.

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