By Anna McCallum
Although many nurseries invite new children into their settings all year round, it is the norm for the first few months of the school year to have the highest proportion of newcomers. With the large amount of school leavers gone we require an influx of children to take their places and keep nurseries ticking over, and this year is no different. In fact, this year many nurseries will need new children more than ever as the impact of COVID has ultimately left most nurseries quieter than previous years.
With that being said, in my nursery we are lucky to maintain high numbers of children and have been welcoming many fresh faces through the door this first half term. During this period of creating relationships with new children and parents I have considered some potentially helpful tactics and advice which I have found useful in my setting.
Welcoming new children can be a joyous and emotional time for all nursery staff, as we create new bonds with more incredible children, we intuitively know which ones will be quicker to settle than others. All children will have a different experience of starting nursery, some will run through the door beaming with confidence, while others will come in kicking and screaming and reluctant to leave their parents.
It is important to gather as much information as possible about a child before they start so you can get to know them before you even meet them. Use registration forms to learn about their likes, dislikes, interests, family members and social history. For example, some children may have never been to a nursery or playgroup before, some may have never left their primary caregiver, some may have a very disruptive homelife, and it is so helpful to bear this information in mind when settling new children. You can pre-empt what resources you might need and be empathetic when remembering what their life is like outside of nursery life.
Many anxious children pick up on their parents’ mood and will be on edge before they even lay eyes on their new nursery. For many parents they are leaving their babies for the first time and will probably be feeling a lot more emotional than the child is. Creating positive relationships with parents and being reassuring is one of the best ways to ensure a calmer transition and allows for effective communication throughout their time with you. You are not only welcoming a child into your nursery; you are welcoming a family.
This can be an incredibly stressful and taxing time for practitioners, so I urge managers and other staff members to help each other as much as possible. To ensure a quick and long-lasting connection it is usually up to the child’s key worker to help settle specific children, but it really does not hurt to allow other staff to step in once in a while. A screaming child is many peoples worst nightmare, so having to encounter this multiple times a day, many days in a row can drain even the best practitioners, so please, enable staff to ask for help and step in should they need a break.
Getting back to basics can be surprisingly helpful, so I recommend a quick staff training session specifically focused on how to effectively settle children. I have seen many staff trying their hardest, using loud animated voices to talk at children, or dangling a variety of brightly coloured toys in a child’s face, but it comes across as so overbearing for young children. I like to remind staff to use soothing vocal tones and distract, distract, distract! Not by cramming toys in a child’s face but by paying with a child. Get down to their level and continuously talk to them in a calming manner, explaining what you are doing or asking them questions. It never fails (for me anyway!).
I think the biggest piece of advice I can give is to always make sure a child goes home happy.
This is true for any child but especially newcomers. If a child goes home crying, their last association with the nursery will be a negative one and so when they next arrive at your setting, they will remember those worrisome feelings and will instantly be upset upon return. I have seen children throw a tantrum for the best part of an hour but they have finally been consolidated for the last 15 minutes of their session and the next time they came, they did not shed a single tear.
Many people assume nursery staff are some sort of wizards and can easily calm the fussiest child like magic, but the reality is often the result of hard work, training and experience. No child will voluntarily leave their parent in favour of a new, bizarre place full of complete strangers, so it is no wonder many of them struggle at the start. Some children settle within their first day whereas others can take weeks and there is never really anyway of knowing how a child will react. By finding out as much as we can beforehand, working together as part of an empathetic team and being a consistent and calming presence, we can make each child’s transition as positive and comfortable as possible.
Please share your experiences of welcoming children into your own settings using the hashtag #mynurserylife.