So, there’s a pandemic on, but you’ve got to work. Whether you’re coming back from maternity leave or have been working from home for the past couple of months with a baby smearing banana in your hair live on Zoom, figuring out what to do now is tough, especially when every mother in law and her dog has an opinion on it. Choosing childcare for your baby or toddler is nerve-wracking at the best of times, but Coronavirus has thrown up a whole bunch of brand new and decidedly un-fun dilemmas, so we asked early years education and childcare experts tiney for their answers to some of the big, complicated questions you may have. 

I’m so confused! Are all nurseries and childminders open now or what?

No, not necessarily. While the government has told all early years childcare providers in England (this varies in other parts of the UK) that they can open to all families from June 1st, this doesn’t mean they necessarily are. While most nurseries are opening their doors, some have a cap on numbers, and all are taking big precautions. 

As for childminders, it’s down to their discretion. Understandably, many of them are nervous about opening up their homes to people outside their own households. Others, though, including many tiney home leaders, are delighted to be back up and running again to do what they love.

If your usual childcare provider, or the one you were hoping to join, is choosing to remain closed, or has sadly closed down entirely, don’t panic, there will be plenty of other options. For instance, at tiney, there has been a huge influx in childminder applications during lockdown, which means hundreds of new home nurseries will open over the coming months. Plus, with many parents choosing to keep their little ones out of childcare until later in the year, spots will potentially be opening up even at nurseries that usually have big waiting lists. Since the whole childcare sector is struggling thanks to the total pain in the bum that is Covid-19, it’s something of a buyer’s market right now – you might be able to strike up a short-term or more flexible deal than is normally possible, so do your research (first stop: ask the local mums on Mush for tips).

I’m feeling so weird and guilty about sending them into childcare while the virus is still around, am I doing the right thing?

Only you know what’s best for your family (and don’t let anyone tell you otherwise!) but please allow us to reassure you: it’s a really difficult time for everyone but if one of the extra stresses for you is fitting your job around your baby, but you want and need to work, there is absolutely nothing to feel guilty about, and you’ll all benefit from childcare. 

Your little one will have a great time in their new environment, they will get to run around and sing silly songs with their fellow mini-hurricanes and get all the care and cuddles they need from people who specialise in care and cuddles. In fact, all childcare professionals will be going the extra mile to ensure things are as normal as possible for the kids they look after. The risk of your child contracting Coronavirus is low, and many would argue that the mental health and developmental benefits of them being in a great early years setting outweigh any risks. 

That said, if you decide to wait a bit longer, nobody will judge you either. If you’re on the fence, then consider starting with a few odd hours here and there and see how everybody gets on.   

OK, so my nursery or childminder IS opening but I’ve decided I don’t want my child to go back yet – do I have to pay?

This is entirely down to the business in question and there is huge variation here. Some nurseries are offering grace periods, where you continue to pay a percentage of fees to hold your child’s place until later in the summer, others are insisting on full fees as soon as they are able to open, even if you don’t take up your child’s place. 

Remember these are often small businesses – particularly in the case of childminders, who are self-employed – who haven’t necessarily been able to claim any money from the government, so if they are insisting on payment, they probably aren’t just being awkward. It’s been a difficult situation for everyone, so if you’re struggling to pay and don’t know when you will need your child’s spot again – perhaps you’re furloughed or out of work yourself – the main thing is to communicate honestly about your situation and see what can be agreed. 

My little one is due to start childcare for the first time and now I’m really nervous about how the settling in process will work…

This is totally understandable. Back in the blissful pre-Corona days, you would’ve spent time in the setting with your little one and their new carer(s) while you all gradually got used to each other. Now, most are insisting on a doorstep drop-off policy which, if you’re leaving your baby with someone else for the first time, sounds pretty traumatic – especially when they’ve probably seen very few new faces over the past few months.

There are lots of things you can do to make it less upsetting for everybody, though. All tiney home leaders are hosting video calls with families whether they’re joining them for the first time or just resettling, and many nurseries around the country are offering the same thing. Plus, while you might not be allowed to go inside the premises, you could arrange to spend some time all together in an outside space – the garden or outdoor play area of the setting, or just a walk in the park with your little one’s main carer. 

Remember, it’s always more traumatic for you than it is for them; most kids, especially the really little ones, are easily distracted by a breadstick and some snazzy new toys… and most parents are easily distracted by comfort food and Netflix (sure, sure, we know you have to work *at some point* but we’d highly recommend taking your little darling’s first day in childcare as some much-needed you-time…). 

What Coronavirus precautions should I be looking out for in my childcare setting?

All early years settings have been given this guidance from the government as to how to operate while the virus is still an issue. This covers everything from cleaning and group sizes to transport and catering. It’s up to each setting as to how they implement this guidance – some will follow it to the letter, others will add their own rules – for instance, temporarily banning messy play (too many grubby hands…) and children bringing their own toys into the premises (although most will allow a comforter or dummy). A lot of the extra guidance will be dictated by the space they are operating from – it’s much easier for a large purpose-built nursery to keep parents two metres apart during drop-offs and pick-ups than it is for a smaller setting, such as a childminder working from their own home, so some will have to be creative to make the new rules work for them, for instance by staggering arrival times.

Remember though, many providers have been open to key workers and vulnerable families throughout lockdown and already have some pretty stringent procedures in place. Whatever the set-up, you should be provided with a written policy clearly outlining the steps they are taking to ensure the safety of the staff, children and their families. And don’t be afraid to ask questions – nobody will think you’re being too cautious, there’s a flipping pandemic on!

Will nursery staff and childminders have to wear face masks? Won’t this be scary for the children?

The government guidance states that face masks only need to be used in the event of a suspected Coronavirus case among a child or staff member at the nursery (children who this applies to will be isolated with one staff member, and then will need to be collected as soon as possible before quarantining for 14 days). We haven’t heard of any childcare providers insisting on face masks at other times, and not only because it’s a bit weird for kids, but because, if half of someone’s face is obscured, it potentially compromises communication and language development.

It’s possible that some childcare providers may like children to wear face masks if they go off site on walks or park trips (or indeed school pick-ups if it’s a childminder who also cares for older kids), but remember masks are not recommended for under-twos for safety reasons, so this won’t be an actual rule.

If my child is upset, will they still be comforted? And can they still play with their friends properly too? 

It’s widely acknowledged that social distancing just can’t possibly be a thing for small children; they are about as respectful of personal space as your average mosquito. If your child needs comfort, they will get it: childcare workers are quite literally welcoming them back with open arms, so don’t start conjuring up images of them snivelling alone in a corner; this simply won’t happen! 

Likewise, children will be able to play together as normal. Ratios haven’t changed, it’s just the overall group sizes that have, but within those bubbles, it should be pretty much business as usual. There may be some things missing from the setting – some are choosing to minimise the amount of soft furnishings, for instance, to avoid the spread of germs this way, but there will be plenty of other fun things in place to make up for it. And anyway, we expect most kids will just be pretty excited about the change of scenery after so many weeks cooped up at home with the same old boring toys… 

If I need to work but I don’t want to (or can’t) put my little one in childcare, can I hire a nanny?

The government quietly gave nannies the thumbs-up a few weeks ahead of other childcare options being allowed to open, on the proviso that they worked for one household only. Of course, it’s the most expensive choice, but if you’re out of other options and want the security of your child being looked after in your own home, by only one carer, it’s a pretty appealing one. A few things to bear in mind: you should try to find a nanny who can get to you on foot or on their own wheels, as public transport is still best avoided.

Also remember that if you’re working from home and your nanny is also trying to care for your kid(s) there, it might be challenging for everyone. We recommend noise-cancelling headphones and some heavy hints about just how much your little one enjoys spending the entire day in the local park… 

Wait, so I can invite five mates round for a barbecue and I’m allowed to hire a nanny, but my mum can’t come over and look after her beloved grandchild?

Right now, this is indeed the case, but the guidance is changing all the time. We have, however, heard examples of parents drawing up a contract with their relatives so that they can legally hire them as childcare. Sounds crazy, but could be worth doing if you’re in a real pickle and as long as the family member in question is in good health and has familiarised themselves with the government guidance. 

Nope, sorry, I’m not doing any of this, you can’t make me… I want to stay at home with my kids forever more. How can I turn this into a career?

You’re not the only one who feels this way – while lots of people are eager to get back to their old jobs, quite a few have been enjoying all this time at home caring for and educating their little ones; during lockdown, tiney have seen a huge influx in people wanting to train as childminders and open their own home nurseries. Whether you’re currently a stay at home parent, work in childcare or teaching or actually do something else entirely but have realised a career in early years education could be your calling, it’s worth checking out the info below.

tiney are reimagining childcare: if you find children fascinating and are looking for a flexible job you can do from home while caring for your family, find out more about training as a tiney home leader