Should your little one return to preschool before the Covid-19 pandemic is over?

While we're waiting impatiently to hear when daycare centres, creches and playschools can reopen, many parents are still wrestling with the question of whether it'll be safe to send their little ones back to school.

Babies and toddlers need round the clock care, which working parents are often not able to adequately provide while juggling work expectations too.

Some parents also have no option but to go back to the office as the economy reopens, so for those parents it's not much of a choice.

Even if you're able to keep your children at home, there are concerns about their early education and about falling behind in their social, emotional and core developmental areas if they're not engaging with their peers each day.

Parent24 found some research, and spoke to a preschool principle to help parents facing this issue, make up their minds.

What about the health risks?

In Counting the Cost: Covid-19 school closures in South Africa and its impact on children authors Nic Spaull, a Senior Researcher in the Economics Department at Stellenbosch University, and Servaas van der Berg, a Professor in the Economics Department at Stellenbosch University, unpack the issues at hand, and conclude that all children should return to school immediately.    

This paper by UK research facilities concludes that governments worldwide should allow all children back to school regardless of comorbidities, and the Dutch National Institute for Public Health and the Environment says their studies show that children play a small role in the spread of the novel coronavirus.    

The South African Paediatric Association (SAPA) released a statement saying that "children biologically contain SARS-CoV-2 better than adults, are less likely to get sick if infected, have milder disease, are unlikely to die from Covid-19, and are probably less infectious than adults".

The authors agree that although children are "at higher risk of being infected once at school, this additional risk to themselves and others is outweighed by the benefits of them returning to school". 

Consider the risks to others

Andy Bassingthwaighte, principal of Table View Preschool and Creche, told Parent24 that nonetheless, families must consider their own household situation in terms of health risks for caregivers and other factors relevant to each family, before making a decision.  

She unpacks her reasoning by explaining that Covid-19 is not just a two to three months issue, and that  Covid-19 will be around for an estimated two to three years instead (until there is herd immunity or a vaccine), so decisions on schooling need to be made with this in mind. 

So it would appear then that unless you completely isolate your family and don't work or leave the house for several months, possibly years, your little one will eventually be infected with Covid-19.  

So, what are the benefits? 

Bassingthwaighte says that the benefits of sending children to preschool are significant. The early years play a critical role in health, success and happiness in later life, she reasons.

The optimum periods of growth for core developmental areas such as the sensory system, and social, emotional, and language development happen before the age of five, making this time critical for development. 

Social and emotional intelligence is a key factor for success, she elaborates, and the basis for social and emotional intelligence is developed in the early years. Both of these are highlighted as vitally important to individuals' personal and professional growth in the long run. 

Children thrive in a routine with their peers and this plays a huge role in stability and behaviour. And when children are with their peers on a regular basis, she says they become more confident, independent, and develop self-care skills like potty training, eating, and napping more easily.  

Learn to adapt and feel comfortable

Whether you plan to keep your toddlers at home for a few more months, or if you're keen to get them back to care, it is important for parents to understand that the Covid-19 pandemic has changed the paths of our children's lives forever.

Bassingthwaighte says parents need to help children get away from a mindset of hiding and feeling overwhelmed by all of these changes, to instead learn to adapt and feel comfortable with the way forward. 

Have you decided what to do? Do you even have a choice? Let us know! 

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