Although the Niagara Nursery School and Child Care Centre had hoped to be in its new, expanded home by the end of the year, like everything else, plans have to be flexible during a pandemic.
In the meantime, the nursery school is fortunate to be able to take advantage of the beautiful green space surrounding its facility, says executive director Candice Penny.
Behind the community centre, youngsters can spread out and make the most of the outdoors, having fun looking for bugs, playing ball, ring-around-the-rosie, and other games with their friends.
“We’re outside the majority of the time, about six hours a day. We have such great outdoor space, and we’re making the most of it. We’re very fortunate with what is available to us.”
Even when the cold weather arrives, she says, “as long as everybody is dressed for it, and it’s not too harsh, we’ll be outside as much as possible.”
Inside, the school space and routine has changed, but kids “have shown how adaptive and resilient they are,” says Penny.
“Our day is different, and we have a very different-looking classroom. But we still have the same great, loving, warm and caring atmosphere.”
Cleaning was always an important part of their day, she says, “but it’s on another level now,” with extra staff to help, so they don’t have to worry about cleaning and being with the kids at the same time.
The large area carpets have been removed, as have the soft furnishings, pillows and “cozy things,” she says. The use of toys is monitored, and children must wash their hands between use. The toys played with in the morning are put away for deep-cleaning, and a new set is brought out for the afternoon.
Instead of nap-time blankets being brought from home, they are provided at school, bagged up and labelled with the child’s name, and washed after each nap with soap, water and disinfectant, says Penny.
Most snacks are eaten outside, where kids can spread out, but at meal-time inside, children sit at the ends of tables, to give them more space.
“We are trying for physical distancing, but with our age group, it’s difficult,” she says. “At more high-risk times such as naps they’re spread out. Outdoors, during play time, it’s okay for them to interact.”
Parents have to go online to answer health-related questions daily, and temperatures are checked as children arrive.
Before-and-after school child care is offered in separate rooms, she says, and again, kids spend as much time as possible outside.
The nursery school has 18 children registered now, but will be up to its full complement of 24 by the end of the year.
The waiting list, she says, is 122, and growing. Most parents are on the list for about two years, ahead of when they’ll need it. “We advise them to get on the list early. About 40 of those on the wait list are ones we can’t provide space for now.”
The relocation and expansion of space is anticipated to alleviate the wait, but “construction has been delayed by COVID, and we have no updates right now.”
Those using the community centre have seen the future site beside the library marked off with yellow tape for some time — construction was expected to start in the spring.
The majority of the funding is expected to come from the Province, with a contribution from the Town and Region. The nursery school also plans a fundraising campaign, but again, because of COVID, it too has been delayed.
“We have to take it day by day, and be positive,” says Penny. “Right now, we’re just happy everybody is coping so well.”
During the closure last spring, until the end of August, there were regular Zoom sessions for parents and children, to keep the kids “engaged and connected,” she says. Birthdays were celebrated online, children were encouraged to share information about their pets, and hear the familiar nursery school songs and stories.
“It was a bit of an adjustment for some of the kids, but a lot of them loved it. I don’t know what we’d do without technology.”
Staff and board meetings have also been held virtually, and are likely to continue that way through the winter, she adds.
“If there is one benefit to this, it’s been to a work/life balance. Technology has been such a useful tool,” says Penny.
“But personal connections are also important, for all ages,” she says. “It’s wonderful to be back together, safely.”
As the two-year term of board members wraps up, Penny says, “we have been so grateful for all the hard work and support our current board has provided our school over the last two years, especially with regards to COVID-19 and our expansion plans.”
The board of directors is an integral part of the school, she says. “We are very grateful to have directors that are so dedicated, and have a true passion for our community.”
In saying thank you to the board for all that they have done during their term, Penny says, “we look forward to seeing what new community members may be interested in coming aboard and for the next two years.” Anyone interested, she adds, is encouraged to reach out via email at email@example.com.