July 8, 2020

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Daycares put the social in social distancing

Kassandra Bailey, early childhood educator in training, sanitizes markers at the Stanley Knowles Children's Centre on Thursday. (Mikaela MacKenzie / Winnipeg Free Press)

Kassandra Bailey, early childhood educator in training, sanitizes markers at the Stanley Knowles Children's Centre on Thursday. (Mikaela MacKenzie / Winnipeg Free Press)

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From stickers to "zombie walking" to handwashing songs, Winnipeg daycare operators have been getting creative in encouraging physical distancing and good hygiene among their young charges.

Child-care centres in Manitoba are now allowed to operate at full capacity, provided they meet an updated set of COVID-19 pandemic-related health guidelines released by the province this week. While the new guide relaxes some rules around group sizes and space sharing, the health advice about physical distancing, handwashing and cough etiquette remains — which for most centres means having a bit of fun.

Colourful discs are affixed to lunch tables to give kids space during meals, and tape is being used to create distance markers indoors and out. (Mikaela MacKenzie / Winnipeg Free Press)

Colourful discs are affixed to lunch tables to give kids space during meals, and tape is being used to create distance markers indoors and out. (Mikaela MacKenzie / Winnipeg Free Press)

"For children, they will likely not understand what it means to be socially distant," says Jodie Kehl, executive director of the Manitoba Child Care Association. "Making it fun it turns it into a bit of a game."

At Stanley Knowles Children's Centre, staff have gotten crafty with items they already had on hand. Colourful discs are affixed to lunch tables to give kids space during meals, and tape is being used to create distance markers indoors and out.

"Most of our cues are indirect," says director Lisa Hrechkosy. "We have put painters tape up on the walls next to the washroom that’s six feet apart so... they instinctively just see that and know where to line up — that's worked really well."

The new provincial guidelines remove capacity limits as long as groups, of no more than 30 children, can be kept separate within a daycare. That means more than one group can occupy the same room, as long as children aren't intermingling and there is a four-metre gap between groups.

Stanley Knowles is preparing to increase to 72 children (from 48) on Monday, but the centre is still a ways from operating at its full licensed capacity of 125.

"We’re optimistic. We want to get to that place where we are operating and providing care to our families but, of course, doing it in a safe way," says Hrechkosy.

The daycare at the Winnipeg Military Family Resource Centre, which serves CFB Winnipeg members, relies heavily on its morning screening questionnaire to create a safe, carefree space.

"The secret is good screening and then social distancing when we can, and washing hands," says director Lois Johnson. "If the child has no symptoms, then we’re treating them normally."

Staff have adopted "zombie walking," where children line up with outstretched arms to create distance between each other, and handwashing games, such as soaping, wetting and rinsing in five-second intervals.

Distance markers will be the norm in Manitoba daycares. (Mikaela MacKenzie / Winnipeg Free Press)

Distance markers will be the norm in Manitoba daycares. (Mikaela MacKenzie / Winnipeg Free Press)

"We are not making it seem unusual for them here, because that’s the worst thing we can do for the kids," says Johnson. "It’s the reassurance that the world is still a good place."

Kids Incorporated, which has spots for more than 350 children across three nursery school sites, is aiming to get to 50 per cent capacity over the summer. Executive director Karen Ohlson has learned to take things slow when it comes to implementing provincial changes.

"There has been a fair amount of errors on the part of the government, in terms of sending out information that’s inaccurate," Ohlson says. "We’ve been misinformed and then it makes us look like idiots that don’t know what we’re doing, that’s been frustrating."

This week, the province reinstated direct contact between nursery schools and licensing co-ordinators, which Ohlson hopes will improve communication going forward.

"Those co-ordinators are our lifeline, generally, to information that might be confusing or conflicting," she says.

eva.wasney@freepress.mb.ca

Twitter: @evawasney

Eva Wasney

Eva Wasney
Arts Reporter

Eva Wasney is a reporter for the Winnipeg Free Press.

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