Nursery staff won’t wear face masks as children found them ‘really frightening’

Staff at a London nursery won’t wear masks when they reopen as young children find them ‘really frightening’, the CEO has said.

Anne Sheldon, who runs The London Preschool, in Wandsworth, tested out the masks with key workers’ toddlers and babies as they prepare to reopen classrooms from June 1. She told that the children were ‘really quite scared’ during the trial runs.

She continued: ‘When you work with really young children, your facial expressions are so important and that includes them being able to see your mouth. So wearing masks means a lot of learning falls away there, as well as much of the reassurance we give children through smiling or our happy faces.

‘Also for language development, it’s really important children see how your mouth moves because they learn to talk by copying. We did think we might have to wear face masks until we realised the children are quite scared of them.’

Ms Sheldon said the nursery will only wear masks when dealing with an ill child, as government guidance dictates. She added that visors, which the team found to be ‘more successful’ with children, will also be available for staff in that scenario.

The London Preschool, which employs nearly 50 members of staff, will see a staggered return of children, aged six months and up, in small groups, described as ‘bubbles’. Each bubble will always be led by the same staff, with children able to enjoy a range of art activities, reading and games.

Ms Sheldon said staff are ‘really excited’ to come back to work, but she understands parents might still have their hesitations. The nursery has currently waived their terms and conditions so ‘no one is penalised’ for choosing not to return.

She said: ‘It’s a parental choice and we understand that their children are their most precious possessions. It will be a difficult decision for them and we want parents to trust us.’

Boris Johnson confirmed the reopening of schools in England during a nationwide address on May 10. However, the government has since been locked in a stand off with teachers’ unions, who have expressed their concerns over safety.

However, UK experts have also warned that lockdown restrictions could be causing more harm to disadvantaged pupils’ education, while also leaving some vulnerable children in danger at home. The British Medical Association also dropped their opposition to schools reopening today.

One Year Two teacher expressed her fears to, stating that her pupils will feel ‘scared and unsafe’ in socially-distanced groups recommended by the government. She also can’t see when teachers will be able to take their own breaks during the day.

Speaking anonymously, she said: ‘Children don’t learn when they don’t feel safe and the guidelines are suggesting stripping our classrooms and putting into place “bubbles”. That makes me feel intimidated, but if you’re 3ft tall, you’re going to feel scared, distracted, worried, unsafe.’

The teacher said she thinks children should ideally return in September, calling summer the ‘hardest term’. She explained: ‘They’re completely out of routine. Realistically, how can I make them feel safe enough to learn in 6 weeks?’

She added: ‘All educational research shows lecturing is not an effective or active form of learning. Yet this is essentially what must occur given these guidelines.

‘I just feel that this is a political stunt and does not benefit my children. I personally feel there is little academic value and that it will impede on social and emotional growth.’

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