Local preschool makes Covid-19 safety measures Bear(able) with cuddly secret weapon

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"Children adjust to change so much faster than us, and their bears are now a part of their day." (Supplied/HeronBridge College)
"Children adjust to change so much faster than us, and their bears are now a part of their day." (Supplied/HeronBridge College)

As soon as ECD centres were allowed to reopen under Level 3 lockdown restrictions, many South African parents worried about how their young children could be taught to maintain safety measures like social distancing

Releasing a 60-page Standard Operating Procedures (SOP) manual, the Department of Social Development's (DSD) asked ECD stakeholders to creatively apply physical distancing measures without disrupting their "natural routine and approach." 

After much discussion about how to best help their young pupils adjust to the new normal, the Gauteng-based HeronBridge Pre-Preparatory has come up with a simple and effective solution: Teddy Bear Time. 

                                 adorable girl hugs her teddy

                                Shaylin Kelly hugging her comfort companion 

Since the preschool would now need to minimise physical touch between children as much as possible, the Teddy Bear Initiative was introduced, and parents were asked to pack their little one's favourite teddy each day.  

mom and daughter wearing masks

Makanaka Zinondo and her mom

"Children adjust to change so much faster than us, and their bears are now a part of their day," says Wendy Beyneveldt, the Pre-Preparatory Head at HeronBridge College. 

How it works 

At set times during the day, the class is asked to take out their teddy bears, hug them tightly, then release. The hugging is then repeated a few times. 

adorable girl hugs her teddy

Abigail Sebetola squeezes her teddy

According to the school, the act of squeezing and releasing is a form of Cognitive Behavioural Therapy. When repeated throughout the day, this activity relieves stress in both the mind and the body. 

It's an easy way for children to activate then relax muscle groups, resulting in relaxed breathing, lowered cortisol levels (the hormone responsible for panic) and reduced anxiety.

"Our children have really enjoyed Teddy Bear Time… It has been so lovely to see the children finding comfort", says Beyneveldt, who hopes to encourage other ECDs to give Teddy Bear Time a try. 

"During this Covid-19 pandemic, we need to support our children and our schools more than ever." 

Safety is a priority

To ensure the standard safety measures are maintained, the school has set up a teddy sanitisation station and taking their comfort companions for cleaning and 'temperature checks' has become one of the school's go-to methods for instilling Covid-19  safety standards in an age-appropriate way. 

little girl sanitises teddy bear

Washing her hands and teddy's paws - Rugare Chimhandamba

Little girl get teddy's temperature checked

Temperature taking - Allison Dike and Hannah Shultz

The toys are then returned to the designated areas assigned to each child until Teddy Bear Time comes around again. 

"Pre-Prep children learn best through role-play," Beyneveldt tells Parent24, and that cleaning their teddies serves as "a friendly reminder for our learners as well." 

The school has also asked parents to wash their little one's bears on the weekends or non-school days.

'It can be difficult' 

Despite the restrictions on physical touch, Beyneveldt says that their children are still allowed to socialise under their teachers' watchful eye who remind the little ones to stay within "class squares." 

"Playtime is also done in clearly marked shapes," she says. But it hasn't always been easy. 

"With children between the ages of two to six, it can be difficult to constantly adhere to the physical distancing rules throughout the school day. Children need nappies changed, toilet time and are used to showing physical affection to their friends and teachers."

Other useful tools the preschool relies on are posters, fun songs and even a mascot which they've named, Covi the Bear. The school is determined to maintain safety standards while upholding, "The heart of our school." 

"At a time when things are so chaotic, we want to make sure that we are creating a happy, loving and safe learning environment for all our children, the Teddy Bear initiative helps us to do that." 

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