COVID restrictions inspire a right royal change
At Newcastle’s The Rumpus Room, last year’s COVID restrictions led to a major change in the way they celebrated end of year milestones.
We had been wanting to gradually phase out graduation ceremonies and performances for a while,” says Educational Leader Ella De La Motte. “As per many things in this unprecedented time, change just simply had to occur. We didn’t want to plan an event that would later need to be cancelled.
In September of last year, the NSW Department of Education announced that graduation ceremonies wouldn’t be able to go ahead. The Rumpus Room took the opportunity to announce to parents that they were implementing a new and exciting celebration.
“Instead of mentioning what we are ‘taking away’ or ‘no longer doing’, we focused on the excitement of something new,” shares Ella.
Rumpus Royalty Day was instigated. Children who are ‘graduating’ get to place a special food and drink order and are invited to sit in the staff room with the teachers for their lunch. They receive paper crowns with messages from their teachers written inside, a grazing box for the parents, and a good-bye ‘hug tour’ with the teachers and educators they have spent the past few years with.
The day is very much child-centred, and respectful of each child’s unique personality and interests.
“It is an individual celebration for them," explains Ella. "It is a reflection on how well we know them. Some children would be comfortable having their lunch in the staffroom, others would not. Some would like to sing a song in front of their friends, others would not. It’s about finding what resonates with each child and what will make it special to them.”
Ella and the team always ensure to critically reflect on any event they are planning. She says that they never plan for an event that has not been discussed together as a team.
“We check in to see if this is an opportunity to change what we do. We discuss what will happen if we change it and what impact is likely to happen for the children, our families, and the educators — both positive or negative.”
Reflecting on last year's celebration, The Rumpus Room team found that the children, parents and carers had responded positively.
"We agreed that it was a resounding success story, rather than a stressful, tiring, performance-based event. We will consider how we can re-incorporate some elements such as singing songs in groups and group photos, but without the pressure of a big event, it will be enjoyed by all."
This year, Royalty Day will again be celebrated at The Rumpus Room. It will take the form of a picnic with the teachers in an outdoor area across the other side of the car park where teachers often are found eating their lunch. As it's officially off-site, it will be considered an excursion.
Families will be invited to join the lunch and stay a little longer on the last day and will be given plenty of notice in case they want to co-ordinate their child’s last day with other family friends. Last year families were given a little grazing box to enjoy while at the centre or to take with them.
"We acknowledge that ‘belonging’ just isn’t for children, it is for families too," adds Ella. "We want them to feel like they have a little closure too over their time with us and have an opportunity to chat with all of the teachers who have cared for and educated their child."
Finding the sweet spot where shared celebrations meet individual needs
When children have positive experiences they develop an understanding of themselves as significant and respected, and feel a sense of belonging.
EYLF, pg 23
Appropriate celebrations will take into account the shared experiences of groups of children, while also allowing for individual needs of each child. To determine which events are right for your program and for the children at your service, CELA early education specialist and former preschool Director Kate Damo says the most important step is to involve the children in the planning and creation of the day.
“Ask for their opinions, which events they like and dislike, take ideas from observations of their interests and play, and actively hear what they enjoy in natural conversations,” says Kate. “Once you have done this, critically analyse the celebration by discussing it as a team and gain other perspectives. Each educator will have a unique relationship with the children and be able to offer valuable insight.”
Kate suggests asking reflective questions such as:
- Who will benefit from this?
- Who may this disadvantage?
- What is another alternative?
- What is the best/worst case scenario?
- What is getting in the way of our action?
- How can we do this better?
- Why is this relevant to me/our community?
- How does this benefit us/our community?
- How does this disadvantage us/our community?
(You may wish to refer to this great cheat sheet on critical thinking)
“Situations like a graduation ceremony or concert can place a lot of stress on children as they may feel the need to perform in front of a large room filled with unfamiliar adults,” says Kate. “Whilst some children may shine in these circumstances, the break in routine could make others anxious and unsettled. Not all children enjoy dressing up or standing on stage in front of others. It is important to ensure these celebrations are inclusive and comfortable for all children, leaving them with positive memories.”
ECEC trainer Danielle Bopping suggests that in order to understand the answers to these questions, educators should be guided by the principles and practices of the Early Years Learning Framework (EYLF) and the National Quality Standards (NQS) which echo both the ECA Code of Ethics and the United Nations Rights of the Child.
These standards and philosophies pay particular regard to the themes of respecting children’s agency, ensuring consultation and collaboration with children and families, and seeing children as capable and confident individuals who are able to positively contribute to the world around them.
“Another key component of our role is to act as advocates and not just for the children that we educate and care for, but also for our profession,” says Danielle. “This means we often must educate the families in our service and the wider community as well. On reflection, some services may realise they have created, over time, a certain level of expectation with regards to what parents anticipate seeing at events like graduation."
The National Quality Framework tells us that we are required to work in partnership with families, to build reciprocal relationships with them and ensure we inform and consult with them about their child’s learning and development.
Danielle adds that this does not mean we should ignore our experience and knowledge as early childhood professionals, acting in the best interests of each child, in order to please the families.
“It is our role to consult with families and inform them and educate them as to why we have decided to critically reflect on practice and review previous traditions or practice. When you choose to agree to something you KNOW is not in the child’s best interests, just because a parent wants it, you cease to be an advocate for the child.”
What do we need to consider to be COVID safe?
Whilst COVID restrictions have eased for many, we must acknowledge that there are families who may not feel safe gathering in large groups. Some parents may not be vaccinated, or may not want their children exposed to large numbers of adults from other families. Some children may be more comfortable with their immediate family in attendance, or just sharing a celebration with peers and educators.
At St John's Catholic Preschool and Daycare in the western Sydney suburb of Auburn, where attendance dropped to less than a handful of children dudring lockdown, many families are finding it challenging to get back out into the community again. End of year celebrations will be shared live via Zoom for families who want to attend virtually, and will also be recorded for families to watch at a time that suits them.
This year really presents an opportunity to reflect on what has always been done and see if there are new opportunities to bring in new ceremonies and traditions. Additionally, services must adhere to the current restrictions regarding celebrations or in-house events. Current advice from the NSW Department of Education states that for areas that no longer have stay-at-home orders, a celebration at a service must include:
- A Covid-safe plan,
- Utilising outdoor space only,
- Physical distancing,
- Hygiene practices for every visitor, including handwashing and masks,
- Ensuring every visitor checks in using the Service NSW QR code,
- Enhanced cleaning measures after visitors leave the service.
For families that don’t feel comfortable participating in a celebration due to a variety of reasons, consider incorporating them in different ways. For example, you could help them to join through a Zoom call, share photos of the event, or make celebratory packs with the child through the day to take home and give to their family so both the child and family still feel included.
Here are five COVID-safe ideas you might consider, with input from children a vital ingredient:
1. Focus the day around a favourite theme or topic
Ask the children what they have loved exploring or discussing over the past year and organise the event around a favourite theme or topic. For example, if there was a particular book or activity that the children loved, have that as the theme for your celebratory day.
2. Organise a picnic
Invite immediate family members to join educators for an outdoor picnic at a park nearby. Ask families to bring their own lunch or make individual packs for each group to avoid any sharing. Place photos around the picnic area of memories of the past year so children can reflect on their learning experiences and share these with their families.
3. Have fun with water
Invite children to help plan water themed games and experiences to be shared throughout the day. Allow children to wear or bring their swimmers to the service, if they would like to. Some water game ideas include turning a playground slide into a waterslide, water balloon toss, toys in water troughs, large buckets of water for the children to put their feet in, and sprinklers for the children to run through. If some children don’t want to be involved in wet activities or get tired quickly, consider having an alternative like painting or fun sensory stations. Be sure to conduct a risk assessment first and plan for adequate supervision of water activities.
4. Create an art exhibition.
Decorate an outdoor space with the art that the children have completed over the past year to celebrate their talent with families. If children are comfortable, they can talk about some of the art they created with the group. This can also be combined with an outdoor picnic.
5. Host a disco
Decorate an outdoor space, play the children’s favourite music, and let them dance the day away. If you are considering inviting families, you will need to host the disco outside to ensure you are COVID safe. Cater for all needs by ensuring you have quiet/down time spaces for those who don’t want to dance or join the disco.
What are you doing to celebrate the end of this year and how is it different from previous years? We would love to hear your ideas and thoughts in the comments.