When the first minister announced Scotland was entering phase one of the route out of lockdown, outdoor nurseries were among those facilities given the green light to reopen.
But daily life is not what what it used to be, with reduced capacity, increased hygiene, small groups and physical distancing of adults all factors that now have to be considered.
As the children begin to return, one Fife nursery spoke of its delight at being able to welcome back them back, as well as the challenges they’ve faced in the new reality.
The new normal
The Secret Garden Outdoor Nursery in Letham was one of the facilities to take the decision to welcome back children when it was safe to do so.
From the moment the government announcement was made, Sarah Latto, care manager at the nursery, was hard at work planning how the day would look like when it eventually reopened.
She said: “It took several weeks of communicating with parents, basically saying we’ve been given the go-ahead and this is what things will look like, are you interested in coming back now?
“There are some families who are shielding and others who felt it wasn’t the right time but the majority of them took it up.
“We have a very large document of our Covid-19 safe operating procedures which obviously includes if a child or staff member is showing suspected symptoms, then they have to go home.
“There is staggered drop off and pick up times as well.”
A key part in the decision to reopen was whether or not the nursery would be able to give the children the same level of attention they got before lockdown.
Sarah said: “It’s really important that we can still provide a level of care that is warm and nourishing.
Our concerns were that this was not affordable or sustainable for us and we had to take some time and figure out a plan.”
Sarah Latto, care manager
“We very much wanted to operate within our ethos and see did the parents.”
Naomi Ellis, who works as a childcare practitioner at the outdoor nursery, added: “It is not fully back to normality as there are two separate groups but it’s lovely to have the kids back in the woods.
“The kids have been fantastic and it’s great to have that, they are remembering all the things they used to do.”
With reduced group sizes having to be put in place to ensure the safety of the children, it also means more staff have been needed each day to supervise the groups.
This, Sarah admits, is something the nursery has had to think long and hard about and not every outdoor nursery has felt it was possible to achieve because of the financial implications.
“Traditionally outdoor nurseries like ourselves will work with groups of 12 to 18 children and we always have two adults with a group at any one time, she explained.
“That’s a one to six ratio. But the new guidance suggests that we needed cohorts of up to eight, which is one adult to every four kids.
“Our concerns were that this was not affordable or sustainable for us and we had to take some time and figure out a plan.
“Eventually we opted for extra adults to help support and I’m also based on site as the fifth person if anyone needs support throughout the day.”
For the time being, the new way of operating appears to be a success and Sarah is hopeful nursery life will return to full normality come August.
She added: “Bringing in extra staff to help support the groupings is something that we will have to consider going forward but we’re hoping that this is only going to be up until the end of the summer holidays.
“We’ve been quite fortunate that it’s worked of us, we’ve not made any money from it but we haven’t lost any either.”
Communication is key
The Scottish Government had received some criticism from the hospitality industry last month when publicans were surprised not to be given approval to open beer gardens as soon as Scotland entered phase two.
And whilst Sarah believes communication from officials could also have been clearer for those working in childcare, she admits the government is in a difficult position having to deal with the ever changing science.
It took several weeks of communicating with parents, basically saying we’ve been given the go-ahead and this is what things will look like, are you interested in coming back now?”
She said: “Our connections with Fife council have been really positive and whenever we email the early years team there, they have been very quick to respond.
“In regards to government guidance, we have found it to be not overly specific and clear. But I think that’s also they don’t really know what they are dealing with either.
“I can’t really fault them for that. The advice could’ve been clearer but there is no hard feelings there and we all just have to do our best in this situation.”
When the nursery first contacted parents to get their thoughts on bringing their children back, they found that many were in favour of move.
Helen Elder, whose five year old daughter attends the nursery, was among the parents who chose to let her child return when it reopened.
She admitted she had her reservations about a potential return at first, but the past week has proven to be a success for both her mum and daughter.
Helen said: “We were not sure about sending them back and it’s been an adjustment but she’s really enjoyed being out in the woods.
Dad Matthew Prowse was also happy to see the nursery back up and running, admitting the novelty of lockdown had begun to wear off.
He said: “After being stuck in the house for all these months, it’s nice for them to be back out here.”