Sara Tateno, Author at Happity Blog
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Sara Tateno

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It’s been a difficult challenging time for our sector and many baby & toddler classes have really struggled to return. This is because there are no clear specific government guidelines for baby & toddler groups. Providers are having to refer to many different documents to work out how to operate covid-securely.

Through our community of thousands of class providers, we have brought together a shared understanding of the existing Government Covid Guidelines, and summarised all the the relevant information that applies to our sector into one place.

The Government is currently reviewing this document and we are assisting with creating more formal official guidelines for the sector for the future.

Baby & toddler classes provide a vital lifeline for new parents. We hope this will help others to re-open their classes, or to avoid sudden closures from their venues.

This is an evolving document as Government Guidelines are changing constantly and we’re continuing to work with Government departments to help secure greater clarity for our sector, and support with re-opening.

To ensure you have the latest version therefore, we are asking for your email below to a) download the latest Operational Guidelines and b) receive updates on any substantial changes as Tiers/Rules change.  You can of course unsubscribe from this list at any time. (Please see Happity Privacy Policy)

This is a collaborative document and we are super grateful to everyone that has helped bring this together so far. If you have comments or feedback to add please email us on [email protected]

NB – If you already list your classes with Happity, you’ll receive updates via our regular sector newsletters, so you don’t need to sign up again. 😊

Please let other providers know about this blog so they too can benefit from these Operational Guidelines.


Summary of government covid guidance for baby & toddler groups

Last Updated – 13 January 2021. Please sign up for updates.


National Lockdown Update – January 2021

Clauses and guidance relating to Parent & Child groups have been removed from the legislation for England’s national lockdown in January 2021. This was published as a legislative amendment – i.e. it was a specific change in policy. 

Although there is a clause for ‘support groups’ which may allow a small number of groups to continue (if permitted by local authorities), the vast majority of groups in this sector are expected to be closed during this period. The wording in the legislation is different from the previous period of National Restrictions (November 2020) where the legislation previously named ‘support for new parents’ as a specific type of support group that was permitted at the time. This line is no longer present. 

The DfE has clarified in a letter to us as follows:

On Monday 4 January 2021, the Prime Minister announced a national lockdown, which came into force on Tuesday 5 January 2021, to control the spread of coronavirus (COVID-19). During this period, local restriction tiers will not apply, including tier 4.

During the national lockdown, support groups, such as for breastfeeding, postnatal and groups for the provision of support for parents and their children, that are necessary to deliver in person, can continue with up to 15 participants (children under five are not counted in the number) where formally organised to provide mutual aid, therapy or any other form of support.

This includes where parents and carers meet other parents and carers with or without their young children. However, this would not typically permit parent-and-child groups focused on social or development activities, such as singalong groups or art classes.

If you run a group that falls within the definition of ‘support group’ at this time, it is strongly advisable to confirm with your local authority before proceeding, to ensure you are not in breach of the law.

Below you will find more information on how to run covid securely when classes are permitted to review, and we will be meeting with a Government minister in mid January. Please be aware that the majority of the document was written in October, prior to Tier 4 restrictions, with the local Tier information included in a separate section only.

Useful Links

* DFE Covid Helpline – 0800 046 8687, contact form on their website: https://form.education.gov.uk/service/Contact_the_Department_for_Education
* Current Lockdown Legislation – https://www.legislation.gov.uk/uksi/2020/1374/schedule/3A
* https://coronavirus.data.gov.uk/ –  check rates and trends in your local area


Introduction

This document aims to reflect England’s existing government guidelines and share how they are being interpreted and implemented by the baby & toddler sector at present.

Happity has coordinated the input of a wide range of practitioners into this document. It draws together information that is currently spread across a number of different guidelines – much of which has not been written with the challenges of our sector in mind.

It aims to summarise how the current guidelines are being used in practice to enable baby & toddler groups to operate both safely, and in a viable manner (financially, if they are commercial and practically, if they are community-run). Practitioners should not use this as an instructive document itself – but rather, as a useful guide as to where they can find information in the official guidelines when making their own decisions over how to run classes.

Disclaimer: the official guidance documents change frequently, and whilst we aim to keep this document updated as much as possible, you will need to refer back to the original guidance linked within. 

If you would like to receive updates via email as this document evolves, please subscribe here.

Context

A number of Government ministers and MPs have stated their support for our sector to re-open and operate, as well as recognised the importance of our sector in supporting the health, wellbeing and development of children and their families. 

The baby & toddler sector faces unique challenges in managing the risks of covid. Unlike other activities, classes involve both adults and children participating together, and can cover a very wide range of different types of activity, including sports, fitness, music, drama, dancing and much more. It includes commercial businesses, as well as a significant amount of volunteer-run or community provision.

Happity has worked hard during the pandemic to secure recognition for the sector and gain new guidelines since first creating this document. Changes that have since come forth include:

Other commonly referred to guidelines for our sector include:

As none of the above guidance was written with our sector in mind, some of the guidelines do not apply to children under the age of 5, or they have not been written for settings where parents are in attendance. Others have been created with reference to groups of adults meeting. 

This means a great deal of care needs to be taken as to how and why each part of the guidelines may or may not apply in our settings – keeping classes safe, whilst enabling a sector, that provides a crucial service for families, to survive.

Local Alert Levels (Tiers)

As of 26 November, a new section was added to the Early Years guidance for Parent & Child Groups, as well as new clauses to the legislation for Parent & Child groups under the local alert tier levels. It states that ‘parent & child groups’ may operate in all local tiers when they apply, subject to the relevant guidance at their alert level and permits parents to leave their homes to attend these classes.

If you run classes which accommodate children without their carers present, please refer to the ‘out of school’ guidance.

NB – whilst gyms and leisure centres are allowed to remain open at Tier 3, group exercise classes are currently not permitted in Tier 3, or Tier 4. This also applies to postnatal exercise.

The DfE has clarified that:

‘Parent and child groups that meet for the purpose of exercise for the benefit of children aged under five can take place in premises that are permitted to be open in all local restriction tiers. Groups must be organised by a business, a charitable, benevolent or philanthropic institution or a public body and limited to no more than 15 participants. Children aged under five years of age and anyone working or volunteering are excluded from the 15 participant limit. Group activities for the benefit of adults are not covered by the parent and child group exception.”

When operating in higher Tiers, you may wish to take extra precautions, such as increasing the distancing of families, having more ventilation, and / or taking steps to reduce the duration and volume of singing within classes. If you normally serve refreshments as part of your session, you may prefer to avoid doing this in Tiers 3 & 4.

Can people travel between tiers?

Travel for work is permitted if you cannot work from home. However, the guidance instructs the public to reduce unnecessary travel if they are living in Tier 3 and above, which means carers may avoid travelling to Tier 1 or 2 areas in order to attend classes. 

That said, the DfE has confirmed there is no legal restriction on travel. When in the highest tiers, providers may wish to take steps to discourage travelling, but do not need to strictly enforce this, especially as most providers would not have data on their customer’s addresses normally.

If you or your customers are travelling between areas at differing alert levels, you must abide by the rules of the higher tier.

https://www.gov.uk/guidance/local-restriction-tiers-what-you-need-to-know#very-high-alert

Operational Guidance

  1. Risk assessment and basic mitigation

Class providers should undertake a thorough risk assessment before resuming face to face classes, and follow the core public health guidance, covering the basics of good hygiene and essential mitigation (i.e. washing / sanitising hands, social distance, ventilation). They can contact local Environmental Health Officers for additional assistance with plans and discuss them with their venues. There are also a wide range of covid-safety training courses available online.

  1. Headcount Limits

Parent and child groups can take place with 15 participants, not counting children under 5 or the facilitators working or volunteering in that number.

This is an upper bound only and your actual number limits should be set bearing in mind the space of the venue. It’s strongly advisable to also keep a track of the number of siblings attending, particularly as a single carer for multiple children will find it more challenging to maintain social distancing.

The parent and child group exception doesn’t distinguish between outdoors and indoors and the 15 person limit applies for both.

  1. Social Distancing

The Parent & Child Guidance says:

Settings should follow the advice in this guidance to ensure that participants follow the system of controls, which will help towards mitigating the risks of coronavirus (COVID-19) for all children and adults in the setting. It is important for group participants to maintain social distancing between adults who do not live together and who are not in the same bubble and good hand hygiene.

There is no direct reference to social distancing amongst children. The DfE has clarified to us directly that:
minimising contact between individuals can reduce the number of children, parents, carers and staff required to self-isolate in the event of a group member testing positive for coronavirus (COVID-19). Therefore, whilst participating in these activities parents and children should minimise contact between individuals and maintain social distancing wherever possible.

Social distancing reduces risk of transmission and infection, but there will be some situations where it is not possible. This is likely to occur between young children, who will find preserving consistent distance more challenging (whether indoors, or outside). Where it is not possible for children in the group to maintain social distancing, it is even more important that providers implement other protective measures, such as frequent cleaning and hand-washing.

Most commonly, providers are seeking to maintain a 2m distance between participants by marking out a space for each family that they must stay within during the class, either by tape or by using mats which families stay upon. Distances are measured edge to edge, rather than middle to middle.

This helps to reduce the number of people who may be required to isolate in the case of a positive test.

If this distance is not viable, some providers are taking a ‘1m plus’ approach. This requires families to keep face masks on at all times, unless an exemption applies. There is increased risk with this approach as this places families within the definition of ‘close contact’ (close contact is defined as within 2m for 15 minutes, within 1m for 1 minute, or physical contact). If this is the case, best practice is to make a note of where families are positioned in the room to help assist NHS Test & Trace.

It’s extremely difficult and stressful for parents to enforce strict social distancing amongst toddlers, and it could lead to a poor learning environment. But equally, allowing toddlers to roam freely just as they would do in the past, could pose an increased risk to adults as this makes social distancing harder for carers to maintain.

Class providers therefore need to use their judgement as to how strictly social distancing is required of toddlers in their classes, based on the type of activity and how much it affects the ability of adults to maintain their distance.

Many class providers are taking a pragmatic approach to this and incorporate the principles of distancing into the content of their classes. They encourage children to stay with their adults within their ‘special islands’ and coach parents on how to bond and praise their children to show them how they are expected to behave in class. 

Parents are asked to refrain from leaving their designated spaces as much as possible, but to retrieve wandering toddlers safely and swiftly. Young children in the covid era are more able to remain closeby to their parents, and so far some class providers have reported seeing children wandering, but then quickly returning of their own accord.

For stay & play style groups, providers have implemented social distancing by having ‘zoned’ activity areas and rotating families between areas in small groups, limiting the numbers in any one area at any given time.

  1. Face Coverings

Children under the age of 11 are not required to wear a covering, and children under the age of 3 must NOT wear a face covering.

For adults, the guidance for Multipurpose Facilities states:

‘On entering a community facility users will be required to wear a face covering, and will be required to keep it on, unless covered under a ‘reasonable excuse’. This could be for a gym class, if users need to eat or drink something, or if they have a health or disability reason to not wear one. Face coverings can be removed if users are undertaking exercise or an activity where it would negatively impact their ability to do so. See guidance on wearing face coverings.’

The guidance on face coverings also provides an additional exemption and allows coverings to be removed ‘if you are speaking to or providing assistance to someone who relies on lip reading, clear sound or facial expressions to communicate’. (See ‘When you do not need to wear a face covering’).

As one of the key purposes of baby and toddler classes is to develop communication skills, this is seen as a valid reason for removing face coverings, especially as the interaction is between a parent and their own child. 

It is also stated in the Early Years Settings Guidance that “face coverings are not necessary when adults are interacting with children, even where social distancing is not possible. Face coverings may have a negative impact on interactions between staff and children.”

Many providers are therefore taking a ‘mask to mat’ approach, particularly if the class is specifically aimed at developing communication skills. The primary purpose of using face coverings is to reduce transmission between adults, so carers are asked to wear coverings at any time they are moving around. They may only be removed if seated, stationary and communicating with their own child. The risk can then be mitigated by ensuring carers are spaced at least 2m apart. This is consistent with official guidance in Scotland specifically for the baby & toddler sector.

The guidance does seem to technically allow for masks to also be removed even at distances below 2m – however, this appears to be very rare in practice, especially as many classes have some level of group singing or talking involved. (See also Singing.)

  1. Shared Resources

The most relevant guidance on how to mitigate risks around shared resources can be found in Playgrounds (outdoor settings), soft plays (indoor settings), and Early Years settings

The Early Years document is particularly helpful with measures listed under ‘Handling equipment and instruments for organised sessions’, and the Soft Play guidance says ‘Roleplay props will also be considered as single-use items and a suitable system must be in place for the handling, cleaning and sanitisation of props to facilitate this’.

In all of the guidelines, the emphasis is on having an extensive cleaning and sanitisation programme, and limiting sharing as much as possible – particularly where it includes props or smaller items that a child is likely to put in their mouths.

In practice, class providers are switching to materials that are easy to clean as far as possible, avoiding soft toys and swapping to disposable materials. They are also making the process more manageable by encouraging parents to bring and use their own props only; either from home or by preparing a kit bag for the class that carers can purchase. 

If props are being provided by the class provider as single-use items, then it’s important to have a good system for managing this, e.g. clearly labelled tubs for used items to go into, ready for cleaning between sessions. If an item cannot be easily cleaned (and is not disposable), then in-line with the guidance for schools and Place of Worship, it could be quarantined for 48 hours (e.g. books) or 72 hours (if plastic) between uses instead. 

“Resources that are shared between classes or bubbles … should be cleaned frequently and meticulously and always between bubbles, or rotated to allow them to be left unused and out of reach for a period of 48 hours (72 hours for plastics) between use by different bubbles.”

Where equipment has to be shared within a session (such as certain larger toys in stay and play style classes), then providers are managing the risk by limiting the number of children that have access to the equipment at any given time – and asking parents to assist with cleaning equipment before and after their child uses it.

Although there is no specific guidance in England on the risks of certain common materials, it’s noted that Appendix 9 of Infection Prevention and Control for Childcare Settings Guidance in Wales (prepared before Covid) states that “play dough and plasticine should not be used during any outbreak of an infection.” Class providers have also switched to using electric powered bubble blowers (if using at all)

  1. Singing

This was previously a particularly difficult area to navigate. New guidance was published on 20 November to set out some principles for safer singing: https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/covid-19-suggested-principles-of-safer-singing/covid-19-suggested-principles-of-safer-singing

Large groups (such as audiences in theatres, or in congregations for worship) must not sing together, due to the risk of accumulated aerosols when conducted over a long period of time.

However, the role of group singing is fundamental in a large number of baby & toddler groups and has a clear purpose in child development. Class sizes are also significantly smaller than in the given examples, and only typically run for 30-40 minutes. Many providers are opting to mitigate the risks of singing with other alternative measures instead, taking into account the local risk level.

Some of the possibilities include:

  • Extended social distancing (min 2m)
  • Singing at a spoken / soft level
  • Use of a microphone for the practitioner
  • Softer background music levels
  • Increased ventilation
  • Keeping face masks on
  • Further reducing class sizes
  • Increasing other types of interaction such as clapping / tapping and reducing the amount of singing content 
  1. Refreshments

It was previously common practice to offer families a drink and a snack during playgroups. However, there is no consistent approach on this at present, with some venues permitting refreshments within their risk assessment, and others that are not.

The guidance for Close Contact Services (such as Hairdressers) states “Salons can provide hot or cold drinks to clients in disposable cups or bottles. Practitioners should encourage clients to only remove their mask to consume the drink. When clients have removed their masks, practitioners should ensure they are socially distanced from the client (2m, or 1m with mitigations).​”

There is also some information in the Places of Worship guidance about how to safely manage the distribution of food and drink.

You may wish to change your policy on this depending on the local restriction level.

  1. Consistent bubbles

A large part of the baby & toddler sector previously operated on a ‘drop-in’ basis, with no advance bookings. As spaces are currently very limited and demand is high, the majority of services have now moved to a system of pre-booking only. 

Many providers are continuing to offer ‘single session’ bookings, as this helps a wider range of families access services. It makes classes more affordable, and helps vulnerable parents who may have trouble committing to a whole term in advance – particularly those who may need extra support with mental wellbeing.

In the Holiday Clubs and Out of School guidelines, the idea of ‘consistent bubbles’ is promoted as being one way to reduce the risk of transmission. It is also mentioned in the Early Years guidelines as a way to mitigate the risk around singing groups.

However, this approach represents a big shift for the baby & toddler sector where classes typically run once per week, rather than daily (as in the case of Holiday Clubs or Early Years groups).

Implementing a ‘bubble’ approach would have a substantial impact on the number of families that can be served by any one class – and the wider impact on health and society of this needs to be taken into account. For example, a 10-week term of 10 spaces in normal times could potentially reach up to 100 different families on a drop-in basis, running once per week. If the sector was to follow a ‘consistent bubbles’ policy, it would mean that the same amount of provision is now only able to serve 10 different families, whilst having only a limited impact on minimising risk.

Instead, it would be more appropriate to issue guidance to carers to a) limit the number of different classes they attend in any given week, b) space these out rather than attending classes on consecutive days, c) where possible, attend classes with the same small group of friends to reduce the number of different individuals they are exposed to (noting the area specific guidance depending on alert level).

  1. NHS Test & Trace and QR Codes

All classes should maintain a record of attendance to assist NHS Test & Trace and update their Privacy Policy accordingly. (See Guidance on Maintaining records for what to collect and for how long). For most classes, the best way to manage this is by taking bookings in advance through an online system like Happity.

QR Codes are designed to help assist Test & Trace. In most instances, class providers will be operating in venues that already have a QR code displayed – so it will not be necessary to generate their own code (unless they prefer to – in e.g. an especially large venue).

It is up to your participants as to whether they wish to use the QR codes. However, in hospitality venues, it is legally required for attendees to provide contact details – either by allowing you to keep a record of their attendance in your register, or scanning the code if not. If they do not provide contact details for an event in a hospitality venue, they must be refused entry. 

  1. What to do if Someone Tests Positive

Contact the DfE helpline for advice – 0800 046 8687, Monday to Friday, 8am to 6pm

Saturday to Sunday, 10am to 6pm. They will be able to assist you with information to send to your customers. The incubation period for covid19 is around 5-6 days on average, but can be more or less; and positive cases may be infectious from up to 2 days before experiencing symptoms. Class providers that have had good social distancing, hygiene and cleaning measures in place, have typically not been required by Test and Trace to close their classes.

Last updated 18 December 2020

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‘Mummy… when you die, will we have to get you out the door and bury you??’.

TRUE STORY. Kids can be brutal. When my 4 year old asked this at the dinner table, I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry! But seeing as he’d started the conversation, we had to talk about it as best we could…

We asked our resident Clinical Psychologist, Dr Zara Rahemtulla, to help share some tips on what to say when children (inevitably) ask questions about death, so that you don’t get caught out like I did. Although he meant this in the most innocent, literal way, the panic and confusion I felt upon hearing this was real.

The whole situation prompted a lot of reflection on my part – as well as the impetus to get my own will and end of life plans sorted. We have also reached out to a top online will provider, Guardian Angel, to help give other parents peace of mind and to raise money for our chosen mental health charities – MIND and PANDAS Foundation. Find out more about our half price offer here.


Dr Zara’s Top Tips on What to Say When Your Child Asks About Death

You are not alone if you find the prospect of talking about death and dying impossible. Usually in our Western, British culture we avoid talking about these concepts, and go to great lengths to ensure we don’t have to discuss them with anyone. But our world has changed in recent weeks and for many of us, its now a part of daily life.

Talking about this topic is a complex and personal task. People have different beliefs, cultures and family stories that must be honoured, heard and understood. My intention with these tips is not to tell people what to do, but to help provide some guidance, reassurance and understanding when faced with answering these questions from children – especially pre-schoolers.

1) Acknowledge their questions

The first thing we need to remember is that children have already had some exposure to death in various contexts already – they see insects die when playing outside, and they may hear about it in their story books, nursery rhymes and cartoons.

They already know that death exists, but they are not developmentally sophisticated enough yet to understand its permanence – or its context within their own lives. They take their cues from us, so trying to avoid their questions or pretending that they don’t need to know about it, may make them feel more worried rather than less.

Help support them by being open, and let them know it is OK to talk about the subject.

2) Stick to simple, factual explanations

Its best to give brief, simple explanations to your child. Be factual and use practical language.

For example, you could explain that when people die “they stop breathing, eating, talking, going to the shops” – referring to familiar functions that you know your children will understand.

Avoid saying things such as, “grandad has gone to sleep” or “grandma has gone away” – children will take these phrases literally and may then be scared to go to sleep because of what it might mean to them in their minds. Equally, the phrase “grandma has gone away” may then make a child feel anxious whenever someone “goes away” for a holiday, to work, and so on.

3) Be calm and reassuring

Alongside the above, children will also need extra adult reassurance and care when the concept of death has been highlighted within their lives. It is normal for children around the age of 3-4 to ask questions such as, “When will you die?”, which catch you off guard. Be ready to answer with a calm and reassuring answer, and one that is again concrete and simple.

Possible answers could be, “It sounds like you might be worried that I won’t be here to look after you. I don’t expect to die for a long time”/ “I expect to be here to take care of you for a long time, most people live for a long time.”

If they are older, or probe more about who would look after them, or how they might survive without you, having a will and guardians in place so they know they would be looked after by “Auntie Helen” or “Granny” could be useful (more on end-of-life planning below).

Children rely on their parents to both validate their feelings and relieve their worries at the same time, so by using these confirming and simple phrases, we can help meet their needs.

4) Give it time

If a loved one has passed away, it may take some time for children’s emotions to catch up with what has happened. It’s also normal for children to show no emotion when told that their grandparent has passed away, yet become overwhelmingly upset over their LEGO tower falling over.

A wonderful friend of mine recently reminded me that children’s thoughts and feelings take time to percolate as they slowly put together the pieces of our complex lives. Therefore the golden rule with children is that we must give them time. Give them time to come to us with their questions about death, give them time to show us their big feelings and give them time to speak openly about has happened.

Although I offer some guidance within this blog, what we haven’t talked about is the messiness and unpredictability of death and dying.

When a person loses someone they love, what they experience goes beyond what can be put into words. The experience can be felt deep within the body and expressed in such a multitude of ways that it can catch someone off guard and leave them feeling overwhelmed.

It’s this confusion and overwhelm that is likely to occur in children (as well as adults), which is why allowing space and time for conversations about death is so very important.

Dr Zara x


End-of-life planning

As a parent experiencing this situation, it raised a lot of questions about my own personal attitude towards death.

Why did I feel anxious discussing it with him? 

Why was I trying to brush away thoughts about my own ‘end’ – pretending (to myself at least) as if I’m going to live forever, when I know that’s certainly not true?

I’ve never felt comfortable thinking about death, and as a result, I realise I’ve fallen short on my own end-of-life planning. I hold my hands up. 

In recent weeks, I lost someone dear to me to covid-19. For me, it has never been clearer; to feel at peace with death, we need to accept it is a part of life, to come to terms with it, and to make our plans for it.

More than half of us do not have a will.

As Dr Zara shows above – it is really up to us as parents to break this cycle – to be open, and let our kids know it is OK to talk and think about death. It can be a positive thing too – we won’t be here forever, so how do you want to make the most of life? How do you want to be remembered? What legacy and memories will you leave behind? It’s a reason to be kind.

For parents, end-of-life planning is especially important. If a child is left without a legally appointed guardian, it’s up to the courts to decide who should look after them and it’s not always a straightforward process.

With our busy lives, it’s all too easy to make excuses. 

Too expensive. 

Not convenient. 

No time.

I’ll do it later.

But we believe EVERYONE should have access to a will. 

That’s why we’ve reached out to our friends at Guardian Angel – a top online will service provider – to raise money for charity and to ensure every single one of us has access to an affordable, legitimate will. It can be created in minutes (if you already know your wishes) and completed from the safety of your own home.

For every will completed using Happity’s exclusive offer code, Guardian Angel will donate £20 to our chosen mental health charities – MIND and PANDAS Foundation.

It costs just £45 for a simple single will, or £65 for a joint will (half their normal prices and saving hundreds of pounds vs. traditional lawyers).

Read 5* Reviews of Guardian Angel on TrustPilot.

They have experts on hand to help advise you every step of the way, and human-being professionals who’ll review your will before it’s finalised. There’s also a panel of 9 law firms who can help if you need more complex arrangements.

How To Get Your Half Price Will

  1. Register an account at GuardianAngel.network
  2. Answer the questions if you can – or take a note if you want to think it over
  3. Enter the code ‘HAPPITYEVERAFTER’ at checkout
  4. Show you care – share this offer with your friends and family.

As long as you register your account by 31st May 2020, you’ll be able to use this offer. You can start it now and come back to fill in the gaps later.

Start your will today. Do it for your loved ones, for your children – and for peace of mind for yourself.  No excuses now. 😉


Disclosure – Guardian Angel did not pay to sponsor this post, but they have kindly made a donation to PANDAS on our behalf. Whilst we believe in the importance of this service and cause, Happity will earn a small fee from their referral programme for any completed wills.

What worrying times we find ourselves in! For many of us, our livelihoods are at stake. Most insurance providers are not covering the loss of earnings from classes closing – and there is no support (as yet) from the government for the self-employed. 😟

Happity has always worked 100% remotely – we’ve tested all the online tools as a team, and we understand some of the challenges that come with working online.

For many of you, I know it may feel quite daunting seeing a business you’ve built up over years potentially closing it’s doors – but we’re here to tell you – it really doesn’t have to be that way! Over the past few days, we’ve been busy trialling the technology and working with class providers to create an online experience equivalent to ‘real life’ classes. We have a vital role to play in reaching out to parents who are possibly facing weeks, if not months, of isolation at home.

Below is a guide on how we would suggest you set up with Zoom and then integrate with the Happity system.

If you are reading this ready to set up, it would be worth reading the below, but we’ve got a quick set up ready for you below.

Quick Set Up

If you’re not yet a Happity Member please register here (or if you already have registered head to your dashboard to enable [email protected])

If / once you’re a Happity member, you need to set up zoom, set up regular classes in zoom, then hook these up to the Happity booking system. This should only take an hour or so, but if you’d like to use our virtual VA service at £18+VAT per hour to set you all up just get in touch ([email protected]).

Zoom

Our tool of choice is Zoom. Having used many different tools, we’ve been using this as our primary tool for the past 3 years and can vouch for it.

It has some great features we think are ideal for running baby & toddler classes – and we’ve also trialled it in a live setting with children.

Read on if you would like to continue your ‘business as usual’ – just in a virtual venue instead of a physical one! We’ll show you how.

Working together as a sector to reach more parents

For parents new to video conferencing, there’s going to be a bit of a challenge. It’s all too tempting to switch off your video and not show your face to the world! So we’re advocating for industry-wide standards amongst all class providers in the baby & toddler sector to make the online class experience a genuinely good one – worth paying for, and to make the transition over as easy as possible.

Once parents have attended one class, they’ll feel safer and more comfortable attending another that uses the same technology – because they’ll know exactly what to expect and how to use their settings.

In fact – we’ve also written a blog for parents which you can share with your customers to help them navigate their settings – it’s been written to be relevant for anyone hosting classes on Zoom. (Please let us know if you have an ideas for improving this!).

Any bookings made for virtual classes via Happity will automatically be sent these instructions in their email confirmation. We’ll also send them the link for the class – both upon booking, and 15 minutes before the class starts.

Getting started with Zoom

It’s really easy to get set up with Zoom and start using it in the simplest possible way – though we do have some tips and tricks for enhancing the experience!

When you sign up for Zoom, the FREE version allows you to host classes up to 40 minutes long. If you need to host a longer session, the pro version is c. £14 per month once tax is included. Bear in mind that with children at home, you won’t have a 100% captive audience so a slightly shorter session than normal may be preferable anyway.

Once you have signed up and installed the app, you can literally click start a ‘new meeting’ – send this link to your attendees and you’re good to go!

Although Zoom technically allows you to host up to 100 participants, we really recommend keeping your classes small and interactive if this is how you would do it in real life.

Zoom lets you see all of your participants on screen at once, using the ‘Gallery View’. Our booking emails also asks parents to add their children’s names to the screen (blanked out below) so that you can interact directly with them during the session. Many kids are used to speaking to grandparents through technology, and they respond so well when you talk to them and know that you can see them. This is where the value of a live class really comes into it’s own – it’s so much better than watching something on YouTube!

Photo by kind courtesy of Little Folk Nursery Rhymes

For parents, it will look more like this:

Photo by kind courtesy of Little Folk Nursery Rhymes

During the class, it’s then really important that you use the MUTE ALL button that can be found in the ‘Participants’ window.

Your customers will not be able to hear you clearly unless you do this – but do encourage your customers to unmute themselves in between songs and get involved!!

Top Tip – You can also increase the volume of yourself vs. the other participants in the room. Click on the up arrow ” ^ ” shown next to the mute button in the bottom left hand corner, and choose ‘Audio Settings…’

Untick the ‘Automatically adjust microphone settings’ box, increase your ‘input volume’, and then tick ‘Automatically adjust microphone settings’ again. This will ensure that your volume is generally louder – whilst also automatically adjusting so that you don’t accidentally deafen anyone. 😅 It’s also great to have this setting, as you can then have the occasional song where everyone unmutes and joins in together. Zoom does a nifty thing of jumping around to display whoever is singing loudest, making for a lovely interactive session!

Equipment

You don’t really need much equipment to get started with your online classes if you have a device with a microphone and camera! However, your biggest challenge with this is going to be having a consistent internet connection, so if you are using a computer DO get a physical wire to plug into your internet, instead of relying on WiFi. Also, having other members of the house streaming Netflix whilst you’re broadcasting a class is a definite No Go!

Setting up your space to make it look good makes it feel a bit more special for your customers and sets you apart from the other participants. Display your logo and have some bright coloured props! Put up a backdrop if you can and make it look unique to you. (If you’re technically inclined, Zoom also allows the option to add a virtual background too!)

On sound – test it out with someone friendly, but generally there is no need to sing through a speaker if you’re in a quiet space and have got a reasonable microphone (and turn up your settings as above).

A Quick Note on Pricing Your Classes

We suggest keeping your prices similar to your normal classes, but consider setting a price for the whole family to attend together instead. Each family will still only take up 1 square of your screen in Gallery View, so unlike in a physical venue, having more children to a household won’t affect the quality of the class delivery for everyone else.

We are also revamping Happity to help direct local parents towards their ‘nearest’ virtual classes – our aim is to help these people become ‘in real life’ customers when all this madness is over! Can you imagine how excited the kids will be when they get to meet you in person?? 😄 Keeping your prices similar to your normal classes will mean you can keep the groups smaller, more interactive, and help parents know what to expect from a real life class.

Making the admin manageable

Using Zoom at it’s simplest is easy peasy – but using it in this way is not quite so manageable when it comes to the admin side! Using the above method, you won’t have a room ID until you start the meeting – you’ll have to make sure to get this link over to each of your customers in time for the class to start each week, and support your customers with changing their settings when they log in.

Luckily there are some great settings in Zoom you can use to make this more manageable!

We’ve also enhanced Happity to make it possible to manage bookings for virtual classes, sending your parents an automated email with your links both upon booking – and before the class starts. We have also made it FREE to join Happity from anywhere in the UK for 1 year during this time of crisis.

Schedule a Regular ‘Room’ for Your Virtual Classes

By setting up a fixed weekly link for your classes, you’ll be able to give your customers advance notice and reduce last minute panic! This will also help your regular customers access your classes from week to week.

By doing this, you can also make use of some of the more advanced features – like adding your logo to the screen, automatically making sure that cameras are switched on, automatically muting participants on entry (if you want to), and using the waiting room feature so that you can check your registers.

How to set up ‘rooms’ for your virtual classes
1) Go to Zoom.us – preferably on a desktop or tablet
2) Click on ‘My Account’
3) Choose ‘Meetings’ – ‘Schedule a New Meeting’

4) Use your class name and select ‘recurring meeting’. Then in the drop down select “no fixed time”.

This creates a unique Zoom link for your classes.

5) Untick ‘Require meeting password’
6) Choose Video Host – ON, Participant – ON
7) Audio – Both


8) Meeting options – Tick ‘enable waiting room’ – this will allow you to view the names of your participants before letting them in and give you an opportunity to check your register before starting each class. By using the Waiting Room feature, you can also add your own logo to Zoom and make it look fancy when people click the link and are waiting for the class to start!
9) Click ‘Save’
10) IMPORTANT: Make a note of your Zoom URL for this particular time slot! You need it to put into the Happity booking system as it will email this link to participants when they book, and again 10 minutes before the start of each class, asking them to join – it will also email you with the link and a list of your customers too, so that you can start hosting it.

Taking Bookings & Promoting Your Class

If you’ve been used to taking cash on the door, you’ll now need to find a way of taking online payments. It’s possible to take free transfers via Paypal, but you’ll need to track your registers manually – and make sure parents choose the ‘friends & family’ option to avoid the hefty fees.

If you’ve chosen to use Zoom to host your classes virtually, you can join the ‘[email protected]’ programme for FREE – we’ve waived membership fees for a year during this crisis. We’re doing a lot of publicity to help raise awareness of virtual baby & toddler classes as a service, and have already appeared on BBC5Live to promote it this week, with more media outlets lined up.

We’ve already revamped everything on Happity make it ready to support bookings for virtual classes – and we’re in the process of making changes to Happity’s popular search facility to help parents find and book online classes.

Our features will make it easy for you to manage your registers, including sales reports, email confirmations and reminders, teacher logins, and the ability to contact all your customers for any given class via email or text. We’ll also help you build your email marketing list.

Anyone sharing Happity pages can tag @HappityApp (and #findyourhappityathome) and we will share on our stories to get people booking!

If you’re already a Happity customer, please click here for instructions on how to set up online bookings for your virtual classes.

If you’re not yet a Happity Member please register here (or if you already have registered head to your dashboard to upgrade – ignore the £37.50 membership charge, we have waived this for a year but haven’t updated the info as more important things right now!).

A quick little note

Although you might think we must be a big bad tech company, Happity is run by a small team of 4 parents who work from home and passionately believe in community and doing the right thing. As a small business just like yours, we’re fighting for survival in these difficult times. We will support any of our members needing help getting set up with their online classes.

We charge just 3% commission on bookings (including VAT) and this goes towards covering the cost of hosting, providing customer support and building the technology. On a £5 transaction we earn 12.5p. (Stripe charges 1.4% + 20p – a payment processor similar to Paypal but better and cheaper! It pays out to your bank account every 3-5 days).

Register with Happity here.

We really hope you found this blog helpful. All we are asking is that you share this article with other class providers if you found it useful.

Happity is a platform helping parents to find local baby & toddler classes. Our passion is connecting people and promoting mental wellbeing amongst vulnerable new parents.

https://www.happity.co.uk
Follow us on @happityapp and tag us with #findyourhappity

Why should you use an online booking system? And when is the best time to start?

When you’re in the early stages of your setting up your kids activity classes, an online booking system can feel like a big investment. But an online booking system can give your business a strong foundation to grow from – it can do so much more for you than ‘just take bookings’.

It has the potential to transform your business, allowing you to grow faster, with less effort, and at minimal cost.

Here are some tips and tricks on how you can make the most of online bookings and supercharge your business.

  1. Build your list
    Your booking system can seamlessly capture email addresses from all customers with a GDPR compliant opt-in. It makes it easy to send out info to your existing customers and remind people to come back to you. With online bookings, you’ll find your email list quickly builds up into the hundreds and thousands – with no extra effort! You can then use your list to announce the start of a new term, projects you’re working on, special events and offers – or even on a more regular basis whenever you’ve got spaces available.
  2. Be efficient with marketing
    By taking bookings in advance, you can easily track at a glance which classes are undersubscribed or selling more slowly than you’d expect. It gives you an opportunity to focus your marketing efforts on the quieter classes and make sure they don’t operate at a loss.
  3. Do a priority pre-sale
    Give your existing customers a priority booking period before the start of term with a secret booking link. Send three or four emails to drive early sales – first to announce the pre-sale and when the booking period will open, the links on the day of opening, and then 24 hours before the priority period closes.
  4. Create social validation
    Use the opportunity to publicise whenever classes are ‘sold out’ and when you’re down to the ‘last few spaces’. This has the effect of creating more demand, because it shows your classes are popular and that other parents like them. Social validation and scarcity helps to encourage parents to book quickly and early.
  5. Know what works
    Your booking system should help you track and analyse how your customers found you. This helps you know which marketing channels are working well for you and where to spend your marketing budget and time in future.
  6. Review your business
    Use your booking system periodically to get an overview of the sales for your classes. How is each one doing? You can see which are profitable, and which ones have been a struggle – as well as track what type of tickets your customers are buying. A good system will also give you data on how old children are when they start with you, and how long your customers stay for. Armed with this knowledge, you can find ways to improve your timetable or change your marketing strategy.

Besides all this, a booking system will save you many hours in admin, as well as £££s in lost payments and customers.

Parents are able to purchase quickly and easily at the time they’ve heard about you. It reduces the risk of a no-show. And in particular for the under-5s sector, this can be important for a mum’s mental health. Booking allows her to make a commitment to get out of the house.

Skipping on using an online booking system might save you just £15 per month – but costing many times that in potential lost sales and time. There are extra features a booking system gives you too – like automated reminders for your customers, and a quick easy way to contact everyone in the event of last minute changes to a class.

It’s worth bearing in mind not all booking systems are equal. The best system for you depends on the type of classes you run, and the kind of tickets you want to offer. Some systems might be better for appointments, whereas others are better suited to summer camps – or classes at a single location.

We built Happity Bookings for baby & toddler classes. It can handle trials, sibling discounts, drop-ins, term bookings and much more. It gives parents a personalised map of your locations and seamlessly integrates with Happity Search for free marketing. Our booking pages are optimised to appear top of Google for things like ‘baby classes near me’.

Whilst you might not need an online booking system in your first couple of months of your business, it is a good idea to introduce one sooner rather than later. Without a system in place, the admin overhead can quickly get out of hand. You may find yourself keeping days free just for admin when you could have been running classes – or spending time with your family.

If you’re already in this situation, we can help. Our affordable concierge service can get you set up and ready to take bookings within 24 hours.

If Happity Bookings isn’t the right one for you but the choice is overwhelming, check out our blog on what to look for in a new booking system. 🙂

Christmas is well and truly on it’s way!🎄And with the cold weather arriving, now is the perfect time to try out new baby classes. If you’re a new parent and not sure where to start, then come along to one of our Happity Little Christmas events and take your pick of FREE baby & toddler taster classes!

Come along to selected Mothercare stores from 3rd-6th December and discover what baby classes are all about.  With over 5,000 classes listed on Happity, we are the nation’s experts when it comes to baby and toddler classes!

We’ve handpicked a selection of our favourites to showcase the range of classes available, including baby signing, sensory play, postnatal fitness, music & movement and baby massage. We’ve got something for everyone. Choose your free taster session from one of our fantastic event partners – including Sing & Sign, TinyTalk, Jo Jingles, Monkey Music, Boppin’ Bunnies, IAIMs Baby Massage, Sling Swing, BusyLizzy and Hartbeeps.

Read on to find out more about each of our partners and session dates. Pregnant mothers are also welcome to come along and watch. 🙂

New to baby classes and not sure where to start? Then join our  Happity Discovery Day on Thursday 13th September to discover a range of five different FREE taster classes to try out or observe!

From baby signing to postnatal fitness, come along to Mothercare Greenwich and discover what baby classes are all about.  There’s something for everyone. Pregnant mothers are welcome to come along and watch!

From Maternal Unemployment, Comes New Beginnings

Heavily pregnant with my second child and facing redundancy, I was at a loss. I love being a mum and thought I was looking forward to time off, but work was a big part of my identity. I struggled when people assumed I’d stop working (that thought made me want to run in the opposite direction!). But I didn’t know what I wanted to do, or what I could do to fit around my kids. With over a decade’s experience in strategy and business development, the roles I was finding on ‘mum job boards’ weren’t quite cutting it.

I got thinking. We’d just moved house with our two-year-old and I was looking for local activities. A mum near our old house had put up a simple website that listed activities for under-5s, but there wasn’t anything like that for our new area. Why were there no modern websites for mums? Why are parents stuck in the ‘90s with old-school message boards and desktop directories that don’t work on our phones?

I started to wonder just how much the world was missing through a lack of female entrepreneurs and women in tech.

As much as I wanted to create a modern website for mums, I didn’t have a clue about technology or startups. It struck me that there hadn’t been innovation for mums, precisely because mums like me don’t have the tools to make them happen (plus we’re busy with our babies!). I started to wonder how much the world was missing through a lack of female entrepreneurs and women in tech.

I decided to turn down that attractive offer of being a stay-at-home mum. I was going to start something.

To mark #workthatworks week,  we’re lifting the lid on what flexible working means to us. Our Meet Team Happity blog series, shows just what a team of parents can achieve – without the 9 to 5.

Sara’s story, Founder of Happity

Sara lives in Forest Hill with her husband, daughter (5) and son (2)

I started working on Happity…

I had the idea in 2015 when I was 7 months pregnant with my son and we’d moved house. It was only about 15 minutes away from where I’d had my eldest but I didn’t know where to find local baby and toddler groups in the area. I couldn’t believe there still wasn’t one great platform making this really easy for mums all over the country. At the time I didn’t know the first thing about tech and spent some time battling self-doubt (with a newborn baby!) before deciding it had to be done.  A year later, I’d retrained as a web developer and my son was ready to start nursery. I’d been exploring a number of startup ideas but there still wasn’t a great platform solving this particular problem, so I started building Happity then and it’s been an incredible journey since!

It’s Competition Time!

To celebrate the launch of our #findyourhappity campaign we’ve partnered up with some amazing baby class providers and Le Salon and invented a new kind of playdate – the PAMPER PLAYDATE.

We know that parenthood leaves us all feeling a little frazzled and how hard it is to carve out that bit of “me-time” to get back your mojo.  So thanks to the generosity of our fab partners, we’ve brought you the chance to win a home manicure for you and a friend, plus everything you need to entertain the babies in one incredible package worth over £130. 

Read on for your chance to win. Terms & Conditions apply.

Welcome to the brand new Happity blog and (drumroll, please) our first ever social media campaign! We’re asking: how do you #findyourhappity? On paper, being a mum has the worst job description ever. Long hours spent satisfying every random whim of an unreasonable boss, with no holidays or sick leave. But in real life, despite the many (many) tough times, there are some awesome little moments where you’re suddenly on top of the world – life is all sunbeams and you’re a happy mama. You’re not quite sure what hit you, but suddenly your heart is overflowing and you’re glowing with pride.