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  • Dr Gemma Handelsman

Top tips to get started with Coronavirus family lockdown with nursery aged children

As a working Mum of two nursery children (aged 3½ and 1), I was overwhelmed earlier this week when I was told both children had to be off nursery (for runny noses, they are both otherwise well!). Whilst I fully supported this decision, I was unsure how to get started on preparing for full time childcare alongside working from home. I rightly suspected however that other families would be in a similar situation within the week, so in reality we are just a few days ahead of you.

I am also an Educational Psychologist, supporting families and schools with children who have additional needs. There are many principles from my professional training that I could apply to planning for the weeks ahead. Therefore, as a Mum and psychologist, below are my top tips to get started with nursery aged children. They are a work in progress, and I will try to share further tips as I make mistakes and learn from them…

  • If it’s a feasible option, divide childcare with a partner, especially if you both are expected to carry on working from home (I appreciate this is not an option for everyone). We have decided to work half a day each. This gives your children a change of person and you a well-deserved break (from the kids!). If you do this, my tip would be have a good handover at lunchtime (so there isn’t too much, “but Mummy said we could…”) and make it clear to your kids who is working when (we encourage our 3½ year old to say “have a good afternoon at work Mummy” as we switch over).

  • Create a structure to your day, broken down into short chunks of time. Keep mealtimes, nap time and bedtime the same every day. Alternate seated activities with moving activities, and get fresh air and exercise at least twice a day. Not only is this good for them; it makes the day seem much shorter and manageable for you.

  • But use the structure very flexibly – don’t end an activity while they are still engaged! Skip sessions if something more exciting or necessary crops up. Things you don’t do today can reappear tomorrow! For me, the structure is more to manage my own feelings of ‘how am I going to fill the day!?’ rather than because nursery children need the structure.

  • There are a lot of ideas now posted online. Don’t get overwhelmed and feel you need to print off lots of worksheets and get imaginative with household items right away. Just save the links for now. Similarly, if you’ve bought or got stashed away extra craft materials or games, do not get them out on day one! Keep using familiar toys and activities until boredom sets in, then gradually introduce new things. If everything is new and exciting on day one, then day two is boring by comparison!

  • Where possible put away activities/toys after they are used as you go along, so that each time they come out they are fresh and exciting (rather than having been in eyesight all day).

  • Give older children new responsibilities – laying the table, folding the washing, using the dust buster, safely prepping snack, etc. Usually we don’t have the time to show and teach them these every day life skills, now we do!

  • Build in ‘Mummy’s/Daddy’s break time’ – playing independently is an important skill. If need be, start with this being just 1-2 minutes and set a timer; increase the time gradually as they have success. Explain that it’s breaktime and this means you and they are going to choose different things to do, but when the timer is finished you will play together again.

  • Resist having your phone in sight during the main activities of your day… just as you would in a meeting at work. This can be hard, so forgive yourself, but you’ll notice the difference in your interactions when they have 100% of your attention.

  • Create a meal plan (or at least plan the night before) so you have an idea how long food prep will take and whether the kids can help out (or whether meal prep time should be scheduled during Facetime with family or other screen time!)

  • Social interaction is very important for young children. Arrange virtual playdates if you can’t leave the home – set up video calls so your kids can chat to friends whilst both drawing, building Lego models or playdough. If possible, link up to a bigger screen, rather than just a mobile phone. Help them show their friends what they are doing. Resist just chatting to the other parent and enjoy listening in to their conversation. We haven’t done this yet but are looking forward to it!

Please let me know if this has been helpful and if you’d like more practical tips to support you in the weeks ahead.

Keep well,


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