When searching through the UK government regulations for advice on keeping young children safe in an early years environment, it can be difficult to know how to activate this in your setting. Many underestimate the difficulty in keeping small children apart, preventing them from touching and potentially passing on germs.
Two important points which stand out clearly and are unlikely to change from the current government guidance are:
1. Regular cleaning and handwashing should be employed.
2. Students should be kept in consistent small groups; made up of the same children and staff each day.
Considering these two points, we can make a further assumption that children and staff should be kept as separate as possible from others.
Especially for early years settings, the use of furniture to create zones within each room will come in particularly useful. The use of play furniture to separate areas provides children with a gentle physical reinforcement of the guidelines. These boundaries increase a child’s confidence in the space that they are in and help them to feel more comfortable knowing where it is safe for them to go.
We’ve created a helpful guide, adapting Early Years indoor spaces design guide, to show an example of how this can be done. When you look at this, you’ll notice how specific zones have been created to facilitate different types of learning, each zone is large enough to accommodate roughly 4-8 children and a member of staff without feeling crowded and all zones ensure that a wide walkway is available for safely moving around the setting.
A sanitising station at the edge of each zone for both staff and children to use before entering and when exiting zones will help to keep cross contamination at a minimum and a cleaning station for staff to wipe down all surfaces before moving into another zone will mean that separate groups of children are not touching unclean surfaces. Encouraging children to assist with this task will also help to reinforce the message.
It is recommended that soft surfaces and toys with intricate parts are removed from zones as these can be difficult to clean and pose an increased risk of harbouring germs. In response to this, we suggest using laminate faced or wooden furniture at a low level to provide a physical boundary without inhibiting the children’s ability to see around the room. It is important to ensure that anyone using the zones does not feel trapped in by them.
Here are some examples of furniture suitable for use in an early years setting to provide these kind of barriers:
D25239 – Tall Storage Unit with Display and Mirror Back
D25252 – Mobile Clear View Browser
D25448 – Double Sided Book Display Unit
D25559 – Tall 90 Degree Corner Unit
There are also a number of other items in the early years range of a similar style and material that can be used to outline barriers, one-way systems and different zones, click here to view our early years furniture zones.
To make the zones more interesting for children, use barriers that can hold books, suitable toys and art supplies, this also creates useful storage for classrooms and early years settings which are often lacking in effective storage solutions. This reduces the number of surfaces to clean and means that there is no unnecessary furniture taking up space which could be used to safely distance extra children. These particular products can be moved easily to accommodate different groups of children in different situations and can be cleaned often as they are durable and have a hardwearing non-porous surface.
Making use of outdoor spaces will reduce the risks of any virus spreading and increase the number of children able to return to the early years facility and the use of coverings will mean that these spaces can still be used to facilitate learning and play all year round.
Read more about creating your own outdoor learning environment.
To help protect staff and children, it’s important to remind them to wash their hands and stick to any rules or procedures you have in place. This can be done with posters and positive reinforcement such as the encouragement of children to help clean down equipment. Making these reminders will ensure that parents have the confidence to send their children back to nursery and begin to get used to the new normal.
If you are in any need of help planning or reimagining your early years setting to make it safer for returning children you can get in touch with our Design Team who can help you to plan and advise on suitable furniture and cleaning instructions to be followed.
Alternatively, click here to find out how we can help with the return to nursery.