Support for settling children

There will be many different scenarios taking place within early years settings right now.

Baby with a mask on - Simon House Day NurserySome will have been open throughout the pandemic for vulnerable children and key workers' children and are gradually introducing more, some will have closed, some will have now recently reopened and others will be looking to reopen again soon.

Here, our early years experts look at a range of lockdown experiences and how you can best support children to settle in to nursery life again.

Whether children have been at nursery throughout the pandemic or returning after a number of weeks off, the provision is going to be different to what it was like before - with potential changes to staffing, the environment and in the drop off and collection procedures as well as the introduction of smaller groups, often referred to as ‘bubbles’ of children. In these changing times there needs to be a strong emphasis on children’s personal, social and emotional development so children can feel safe, secure, valued and settled in order to learn and develop. 

Personal, social and emotional development (PSED)

PSED involves helping children to develop a positive sense of themselves, and others; to form positive relationships and develop respect for others; to develop social skills and learn how to manage their feelings; to understand appropriate behaviour in groups; and to have confidence in their own abilities (EYFS, 2017, P8).

There has been positive feedback about some children running and skipping back to nursery excitedly after so long off, however some children have also gone through separation anxiety and needed extra support to resettle.

If you are about to reopen again soon you will need to be prepared for both situations, including anxieties from parents too. These feelings or behaviours may be displayed through:    

  • Clinginess to primary carer
  • Tears, upset, extreme tantrums
  • Sickness
  • Withdrawal e.g. not wanting to join in with activities
  • Disruptions around sleep, nightmares
  • Food refusal
  • Inappropriate behaviour
  • Regression, for example toilet accidents.

See our 'Separation anxiety & transitions' factsheet here.

Dinosaur social distancing markers - High Meadows Day NurseryChildren's interests

Children will need time to become familiar with any changes to their usual environment and time to play and engage with their peers to build up strong attachments and re-establish or make relationships and friendships. Try to find out as much as you can from parents and children about up-to-date interests so these can be incorporated in the environment where possible.  

Making relationships

Children play cooperatively, taking turns with others. They take account of one another’s ideas about how to organise their activity. They show sensitivity to others needs and feelings, and form positive relationships with adults and other children (EYFS, 2017, P11).

Use the small groups as an opportunity to build on these skills and encourage children to talk about their feelings.

Children that have been out of settings for a while may need lots of encouragement again to share and play co-operatively. Use the small group time to role model these fundamental skills and engage in ‘playing games’ that require these skills. Smaller groups will also enable children to develop their self-confidence and self-awareness. 

Self-confidence and self-awareness

Children are confident to try new activities and say why they like some activities more than others. They are confident to speak in a familiar group, will talk about their ideas, and will chose the resources they need for their chosen activities. They say when they do or don’t need help (EYFS, 2017, P11).

If you are limiting your resources you could consider using photos so they can choose what they would like out next time. You could also use video technology to communicate with other groups in the setting if they are missing other staff or peers not in their group. 

Resettling children in to their new environment and routines may take time, considering and supporting children’s feelings and behaviour within the small groups will help this transition. Spend time talking about what children did whilst at home, encourage parents to share photos and consider creating a photo boards. This will help the children see familiarities from home and help to form conversations. 

Managing feelings and behaviour

Children talk about how they and others show feelings, talk about their own and others’ behaviour, and its consequences, and know that some behaviour is unacceptable. They work as part of a group or class, and understand and follow the rules. They adjust their behaviour to different situations, and take changes of routine in their stride (EYFS, 2017, P11).

There will be changes in some children’s behaviour as a result of the changes. Observe these and look at reviewing your behaviour policy. The behaviours children may show may be a result of how they are feeling in these uncertain times and they will need lots of support, empathy and reassurance.

Ensure there are lots of opportunities for children to share how they are feeling, using feelings boards, books and activities to further support this. Talk about the new routines and rules around social distancing and hand washing and make these fun - you could use role play to act out situations.

See our tips in our 'Supporting nursery children to manage their feelings and behaviour' blog post here.

Every setting is unique and will have their own way in making the changes work for them. We know that the government guidelines are changing regularly and it is important to keep up-to-date with these and amend practice accordingly. We do not know at this current time how long these precautions will need to be in place, but we know that supporting children’s personal, emotional and social development is fundamental in building resilience and helping them through this stage.

The relationships you build with them and activities, experiences and memories you are creating for them will enable them to continue to learn and develop the best they can at this crucial stage in their lives.

For activity ideas and more useful links for supporting children, see our summer edition of Nursery News magazine for members here.

For more support on helping ease staff worries in regards to coronavirus and the changing environment, see our blog posts here.

See all NDNA coronavirus support for nurseries here