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NEW WORLD One of the hand sanitiser stations at Ballyglass Preschool.

Oisin McGovern

Given how the Government has struggled to explain the latest Covid-19 restrictions to adults, it’s easy to imagine the difficulties in explaining similar restrictions to small children.
However, the staff at Ballyglass Community Childcare facility are doing their best to keep things as close to what they were for their pre-schoolers while adhering to public health guidelines.
Having reopened for their babies and toddler groups earlier in the summer, the facility welcomed a class of 19 pre-school children for the first time on Thursday.
As you would expect, hygiene is at the centre of most of the new rules.
Fabric mats and non-washable toys such as masks and costumes have been removed, while hand sanitizers have been installed indoors and outdoors.
Children are asked to regularly wash their hands and are taught proper etiquette for coughing, sneezing and disposal. They are also asked to wear a new change of clothes every day and bring a wipeable lunchbox.
While toys can be shared within the group, staff will ensure that they are regularly cleaned throughout the day. Opening hours have also been adjusted in order to allow for extra time for cleaning, as Pre-school Leader Derbhla McHale explains.
“We used to be open 7.45am to 6pm but now we’re open from 8.30am to 5.30pm to give the girls time to wipe down the toys and all the tables and chairs. If the girls have time, they do the floor as well. If not, there’s a cleaner that comes in from 6pm to 8pm to do what we haven’t had time to do.
“The toilets and the changing rooms and the tables and chairs will need the most attention because they’re being touched all the time. Throughout the day we wash toys and put them away and bring out more toys.”
While masks are optional for staff, they are expected to physically distance as much as possible. Similarly, parents cannot enter the building unless their child is in distress, in which case they are allowed inside for 30 minutes before being signed onto the contact tracing sheet. Playtime, drop-off and pickup times are also staggered to minimise mixing between groups
The 19 children in the pre-school group can mix freely among themselves but cannot mix among the playschool and toddler groups, which are segregated by two newly installed gates.
With the help of a grant, roughly €5,000 has been spent on gates, sanitizers, steam cleaners and extra toys.
The sensory room has also been re-purposed as an isolation room to be used if a child shows Covid symptoms.
“If a child has any symptoms of Covid the manager will remove the child from the pod and into the Covid room and the parent will be asked to come and take the child home,” said Derbhla. “If it was the case that the child had a positive result, we’re told to contact the HSE who will give us further advice.
“A temperature would be a big thing [for parents to watch]. They’re asked to take their temperature in the morning before they drop the child in and to keep the child at home if there temperature is up,” she adds.
The reopening of schools has been regarded as a time of apprehension for children, parents and educators. However, Derbhla says that staff and parents are positive about getting back to the routine despite the uncertainty.
“I suppose [the children] being at home for so long that [parents] are eager to get them back into a routine. A lot of parents are saying that they haven’t been following a routine at home whereas in here there is routine.”
“The staff are fine overall. There’s just some that may have people with underlying conditions at home … they’re worried about coming into contact with such a large number of families.
“Other than that, they’re just trying to adjust to the new norm.”