The effects of the lockdown on our youngest children can be easy to underestimate. The only place that they are able to socialise outside their family is in the nursery. Since we opened in September, we have done a lot to nurture the personal, social and emotional aspects of the children’s development, so that when they are able to socialise more widely, they will be confident and happy to do so. Some of them talk about ‘the virus’ and that it makes them sad not to see Granny or not to be able to go swimming or have their friends to come and see their den at home. We can not give them an answer when they ask ‘when will the virus go away?’, but we can support them in thinking about all the things they can still enjoy and in looking forward to a time when they will be able to do all those things they miss.
We have been particularly mindful that the youngest children coming to us (aged 1) have not known life without lockdown. Mums, Dads Bumps and Babies, Tiny Tots Stay and Play groups have all been cancelled. This means that babies have been unused to socialising with others of the same age, they have been unable to get to know their wider family and many of them have not been cared for by anyone except their parents. Parents have not been able to have the usual face to face informal chats where they pick up good tips from each other, where they reassure each other that a certain behaviour is quite normal or they offer to mind the baby whilst their friend gets a quick afternoon sleep. This has been especially tough for first time parents, and first born children. For these families the settling in sessions have been particularly important. We take time explaining to the ‘older’ children (those who are aged two or older) that the new babies will need time to adjust. The Stepping Stones children have been absolutely amazing – sensitive, caring and on the whole very patient. They have taken turns to come and introduce themselves to the new family, often bringing a toy they think that the baby will enjoy and playing for a few minutes so that they make that connection with someone who will become one of their new friends. Parents of Stepping Stones children should be very proud of them!
One of the things all the children have missed in this last year has been opportunities for parties and celebrations. When you are two, three or four, birthday celebrations matter a lot and each birthday is an important milestone. But at the moment children aren’t able to invite friends for a party at their home, so we decided that we would have a birthday party at the nursery for each child who had a birthday during lockdown. This means that on their birthday they have a special time when they are celebrated by all their friends singing Happy Birthday, they are the first to choose from the spread of party food, blow out the candles on their birthday cake, play party games with their friends and unwrap a present. It isn’t the same as having a party at home, but every child needs celebrating and we hope it helps to realise how precious they are to all their friends.
We, like the rest of the world, are longing for the day when we can see family and friends again safely and can go out and socialise. Until then we will do all we can keep the youngest members of our community safe and joyful!