Now that the reopening of schools is in full swing, government has begun to focus on the Early Childhood Development sector, with the Department of Social Development (DSD) issuing prescribed Covid-19 prevention protocols to be carried out in daycare and after-school facilities across South Africa.
According to the DSD, these protocols have been created under the guidance of the Department of Basic Education (DBE), Unicef and various NGOs, and have been published in "preparation and planning for the re-opening of ECD Centres".
Currently, the Minister of Social Development has not yet set a date for when daycares can start opening their doors again.
And while they are not set in stone, the proposed regulations do give parents a glimpse of what daycare facilities will be like when they reopen.
The new ground rules cover everything from required hand washing facilities to scheduled drop-offs; here's a closer look at what to expect when daycare centres reopen.
The DSD is requiring ECD facilities to welcome back its staff five days before reopening its doors. In this time, staff members must be orientated and trained in precautionary measures such as sanitation, how to teach children about prevention measures in an age-appropriate manner, and how to spot signs of infection.
You will receive written notification
Once the official recommencement date is announced, the DSD is obliging daycare centres to provide parents with the details they'll need to make an informed decision about returning their child to daycare.
These need-to-knows include the ECD facility's new entry and exit process, how to prepare your child for their return, and what safety measures will be carried out.
For working parents, the decision is a no-brainer. Still, since the return comes with a certain level of risk, government wants parents to be fully aware that the decision is "voluntary and the sole decision of that parent or legal guardian".
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Don't be surprised if you're asked to dress your child particularly warmly
Since it's winter, you probably won't be too concerned with the request to dress your child warmly.
However, you might want to pay particular attention to this because ECDs have been asked to keep their facilities naturally ventilated by keeping windows or doors open "even in winter to allow for fresh air".
Face masks are a must, but not for children younger than six
Only ECD staff, parents and other supervising adults are required to wear a mask at all times while at daycare.
Children younger than six-years-old will not be required to wear a mask.
The only instance in which a young child will be required to wear a mask, the DSD says, is if the child presents symptoms of illness, and only when moving between areas of the daycare.
"A child aged two to five years who falls sick or show clear symptoms related to Covid-19 may be required to wear a face mask only for the purpose of his or her movement between the sick bay area and another area such as a bathroom or to exit the premises, for the shortest possible duration of time and under the supervision of an adult. A child is not required to wear a face mask while in the sick bay or isolation area."
According to the DSD, daycare facilities must have "one clean cloth face mask for every six to 10 children to be available when required for children who become sick with Covid-19 symptoms".
Drop off and pick up will be different
The DSD is suggesting that ECDs start arranging "arrival times by age group where practical".
You child's daycare may provide a schedule for arrival times or may request you let them know what time suits you best.
The overall idea is that only a certain amount of parents arrive with their children at a time to keep in line with social distancing and to avoid crowding.
The same staggered approach will apply when parents collect their children.
"Parents and/or accompanying adults must receive information from the school regarding the departure and exit procedures prior to the re-opening of an early childhood development programme."
Your child will now undergo a screening test each day they enter daycare.
According to the new DSD rules, a parent or another adult you have given permission to must be present to answer questions for the screening test.
The staff member conducting the test will use a non-contact thermometer to check temperatures and will ask "standard questions to establish if Covid-19 symptoms are present".
You should receive these questions before the reopening and will be asked to talk your child through the questions to prepare them for the screening test.
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Hand washing and hygiene
ECD's are now required to make "several hand washing facilities and staff available to assist and support the children directly" to stay in line with hand washing safety measures.
Soap and clean water should be used more often than hand-sanitisers, says the DSD.
"It is strongly recommended that hand-sanitiser not be used for children younger than three years of age."
Activities and games will now be focused around physical distancing
It's to imagine children maintaining social distancing, but the DSD is requiring ECD facilities to come up with creative ways to apply this safety measure.
Some of the DSD's suggestions include grouping children according to age and supervising them to keep a one-metre distance from each other.
Marking the floor with tape and re-arranging the classroom is also suggested.
"Activities and games should be planned that enable social/physical distancing to be maintained," the DSD urges, but stresses that these "requirements are NOT a reason to leave children with nothing to do (i.e. no stimulation, activity or interaction)".
No furry toys will be allowed
Toys have also been roped into safety measures with the DSD ruling out the use of "fur-type cloth - like with some teddy bears," and the sharing of toys among children is also not advised.
ECDs have been advised to wash all toys and learning materials at least twice daily.
Items the children will be allowed to bring along with them include:
- Food containers
The children will not be allowed to bring anything home with them from daycare, including their artwork.
Meals and snacks
Children are still allowed to bring along their usual lunchboxes, utensils and snacks, but sharing will not be allowed.
ECD teachers have been instructed to immediately clean all utensils after use and store each child's things separately, disinfecting lunchboxes before they are returned to the child to take home.
Lunch times will be staggered, and again a 1.5-metre distance must be maintained.
"ECD educators and practitioners should integrate this into the learning programme and activities linked to hygiene and health practices," the DSD prescribes.
Even nap time will look different
Social distance applies here as well, and bedding, cots and mattresses cannot be shared.
"Each child should have his or her own marked mattress and bedding... the space should be organised so that children do not share beds, mattresses or mats, and should be at least 1.5 metres apart where feasible."
Read the full DSD document here: Standard operating procedures and guidelines.
Will you be sending your child back to daycare once they open? Are you an ECD educator and concerned about implementing these measures? Let us know!
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