Back to school: Dubai nurseries gear up for first day of term

Bigger 'bubbles' and reduced social distancing to one metre will make operations easier

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Read also: Inside a Dubai school preparing for the return of pupils

Nurseries in the UAE are preparing to open for the autumn term in line with government Covid-19 safety regulations.

Home Grown Children's Eco Nursery in Dubai has two branches – in Umm Suqeim and Al Safa – that are due to open on September 7.

Fortunately, not a great deal has altered since the last academic year, when in order to reopen nursery owners had to adhere to strict Covid-19 regulations.

Children will still learn and socialise in bubbles with their classmates, but will be kept separate from other groups to help reduce transmission of the virus, said Eithne Mulhern, 47, director of education and head teacher at Home Grown Children's Eco Nursery.

"The social distancing rules have changed, and children are now allowed to be one metre apart rather than 1.5 metres," she said.

"Other than that, the bubbles have been made slightly bigger, from eight to 12 pupils in the one to two age group, and from 10 to 15 in the two to three's, and three to four year old's.

"We'll be continuing with hand washing and temperature checks every hour for all the children, as per the regulations, which also require us to record those results, Ms Mulhern said.

"Plus we sanitise any bags that come into the nursery, and we ask parents to sanitise them at home, and to wash their child's uniform every day."

First-day nerves

Home Grown Children's Eco Nursery uses social distancing stickers to mark out play areas. Pawan Singh / The National

For many parents, their child's first day of nursery is one of the most nerve-wracking.

Normally the process is staggered, with parents settling their child into the classroom, staying for a while and playing. This is no longer allowed and parents can only stay for 15 minutes.

This is difficult for first-time parents, said Ms Mulhern from Ireland.

"From a parent's point of view, it is heartbreakingly tough to leave your child on their first day.

"To help, we make sure we're reachable by phone, and we have an app where we send photos to parents, and they get them instantly. We also take videos of the classrooms, so parents can see what they look like.

"The good news is that because there are less adults in the building, it's less confusing for the children, and we noticed last year they did settle more quickly in the classrooms. So there are some plus points."

The atmosphere in nurseries has changed dramatically compared to before the pandemic.

Adults and teachers must wear masks at all times and play areas are regularly sprayed with disinfectant, including sandpits and climbing frames.

Certain toys are prohibited because they are too fiddly to disinfect and staff members have to wear plastic gloves and aprons when feeding babies, while also retaining a distance of one metre.

Even toddlers have to be taught not to play with children who are not in their bubble, something Homegrown has resolved by partitioning the garden using parking cones and tape.

Ms Mulhern said parents have understood things had to change in order for them to reopen.

"We know the parents are behind us and they're backing us, and they're doing exactly what we've asked them. Plus they know that everything that we're doing is to minimise the risk to our children, and to the teachers and to themselves."

Updated: August 27, 2021, 2:27 PM