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Covid-19: Preschools gear up to reopen from June 2 with staggered schedules, small groups, safe distancing officers

SINGAPORE — Rescheduling timetables, liaising with parents for staggered arrival and drop-off times, and making “welcome back” videos to ease children back to school. These are some of the preparations that preschools such as Blue House International are making as they gear up to reopen their doors on June 2.

Children in a classroom at an Eton House preschool, seated at a distance from each other.

Children in a classroom at an Eton House preschool, seated at a distance from each other.

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SINGAPORE — Rescheduling timetables, liaising with parents for staggered arrival and drop-off times, and making “welcome back” videos to ease children back to school. These are some of the preparations that preschools such as Blue House International are making as they gear up to reopen their doors on June 2.

Though it has been a “logistical nightmare” to make the necessary arrangements, Blue House International’s deputy head of school Abhi Prakash said that it is doing its best to adapt to the authorities’ protocols and policies so that students can be safe and feel welcomed when they return.

Preschools will gradually reopen next week, with Kindergarten 1 and 2 classes set to begin on June 2. Children in Nursery 1 and 2 may return to school from June 8 while those in playgroups and infant care centres may return from June 10.

Under the guidelines of the Early Childhood Development Agency (ECDA), which it has termed the Covid-Safe ABCs, preschools should:

  • Do health and temperature checks upon entry for all visitors. This includes parents, employees, students and contractors such as maintenance workers. Health and temperature checks for staff members and students will be done throughout the day as well.

  • Turn away staff members and children who are sick or are serving stay-home notices, quarantine orders or placed on leave of absence

  • Ensure that each individual wears his or her face shield or face mask

  • Clean classrooms and equipment frequently

  • Avoid mixed interactions between staff members and children across classes

  • Stagger drop-off and pick-up times 

  • Ensure staff members and students keep a safe distance from one another

WHAT PRESCHOOLS SAY

Preschools approached by TODAY said they have already put in place measures based on the guidelines set by ECDA, such as ensuring no cross-deployment of teachers across different classrooms, carrying out activities in smaller groups and enforcing strict temperature checks throughout the day.

Some schools have also gone beyond what is required to ensure that classrooms are safe and comfortable for the returning pupils. 

Ms Prakash of Blue House International said that its staff members have used the Google Classroom platform to call the pupils and show them how to wear a mask and reassure the students that they are returning to a safe environment.

Ms Thian Ai Ling, general manager of NTUC First Campus’ My First Skool, said there will be commercial sanitisers at all of its centres to sanitise commonly used items such as toys and stationery. 

At EtonHouse Group, its executive director Ng Yi Xian said that it will be nominating safe distancing officers to keep watch on procedures at its centres.

Two safe distancing officers will also be appointed at the child development centres of Persatuan Pemudi Islam Singapura, its spokesperson said.

Preschool operator Busy Bees Asia, which runs Pat’s Schoolhouse and Brighton Montessori among others, has introduced staggered timings for the use of common areas to ensure there is no congestion.

Play zones with safe distancing markings and signs to show movement flow at the playground. Photo: EtonHouse Group

Writing on Facebook after a visit to My First Skool @ Admiralty Link on Friday (May 29), Social and Family Development Minister Desmond Lee said that many preschools have stepped up cleaning and disinfection of their premises and equipment.

Recognising their hard work, Mr Lee said that parents, too, play an important part in ensuring that these practices become new habits for their children.

“(Parents) can help by reinforcing good hygiene habits at home, monitoring the health of their children and seeking medical attention promptly if they are unwell. Children should return to school only when they have fully recovered," he added. 

WHAT PARENTS SAY

Parents of preschool children told TODAY that though they were anxious at first about their children returning to school, they now trust that the teachers and preschool staff members have taken the necessary precautions to keep their children safe.

Administrative executive Nurhasinah Aslahuddin, 33, has three children attend NTUC First Campus’ My First Skool at 50 Sengkang West Way. She said that the school has reached out to parents to reassure them about the measures put in place, such as using stickers on the floor to space out areas in classrooms and eating quarters.

Ms Nurhasinah noted that these have already been carried out at the centre because some children, whose parents work in essential services, have been attending school.

“So I believe they are more than prepared and I’m quite confident that the measures will be implemented effectively,” she added.

Ms Charlene Tan, 35, who works in sales and marketing, has two children aged 2 and 4 who go to Whole Child Nurture Centre.

She said that since children infected with Covid-19 experience milder symptoms than adults, and it appears that fewer children than adults have been infected by the disease in Singapore, she is not too worried about her children going back to school.

The coronavirus will not be eliminated any time soon, she reckoned, and it would be impossible to completely isolate her children while she and her adult family members get to go out to buy food, for example.

Nevertheless, there are parents who are not completely convinced.

Their concern is that some preschools would not be able to keep up safe distancing effectively due to the large class sizes and small school quarters.

One of them is freelance teacher Esther Wong, 39, who intends to still keep her six-year-old child at home instead of heading back to MOE Kindergarten @ Springdale.

In an email sent to parents, a copy of which was seen by TODAY, MOE Kindergarten @ Springdale said that intermingling across classes and levels will be minimised and children will be segregated in fixed groupings with fixed seating plans in the classrooms.

It added that staff members will ensure that safe distancing is observed as far as it is practisable for all indoor and outdoor activities.

Ms Wong, however, said that the classrooms in the preschool are located next to each other with a moveable partition and they share a common corridor, so she is not certain that interclass interaction between levels and classes can be minimised.

Each class has around 20 to 25 pupils, and the classrooms are fairly small, and she is not confident that children are able to safely be apart during class.

In response to TODAY's queries, Ms Liew Wei Li, MOE's director of schools, said that before the circuit breaker, children at MOE kindergartens were segregated into groups of five to six.

Post-circuit breaker, the kindergartens have reduced the size of each grouping to four children per group.

"Children will remain in their small groups and not switch between groups," Ms Liew said.

"Interactions will be limited to those within the same class and children will be assigned fixed seating, which means each child will have a designated seat and seating arrangements will be spaced out."

In addition, programmes and activities that involve close physical contact among children and staff will be avoided. For example, there will be no sand and water play, Ms Liew said.

For outdoor play, such as activities at the playground, intermingling between different classes and groups will be minimised while maintaining the same fixed groupings as they do in class, she added.

"When preparing to go out or when returning indoors, groups will be staggered and separated to avoid intermingling," Ms Liew said.

"All shared or commonly-handled equipment will be wiped down after use, between sessions or once each group has finished with them, especially high-touch items such as tricycles."

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Covid-19 coronavirus preschool childcare safe distancing

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