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.
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 – 28th November 2020. Please sign up for updates.
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.
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.
However, the baby & toddler sector faces unique challenges in managing the risks of covid and there have been no specific guidelines for this sector. 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.
At present, the most commonly used guidelines in our sector are:
- Guidance for the safe use of multi-purpose community facilities
- Protective measures for holiday and after-school clubs, and other out-of-school settings
- Actions for early years and childcare providers
Also often referred to:
- Guidance for the safe use of places of worship
- Performing arts
- Providers of grassroots sport and gym/leisure facilities
- Face coverings: when to wear one
- Maintaining records of staff, customers and visitors to support NHS Test and Trace
As none of the above guidance has been written with our sector in mind – some guidelines do not apply to children under the age of 5, or they are not intended for settings where parents attend. Others have been written 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.
As of 26 November, a new section has been added to the Early Years guidance for Parent and Child groups specifically. Section 5.7 states that ‘parent & child groups’ may operate in all local tiers, subject to the relevant guidance at their alert level. Groups must take place in a covid-secure venue and be operated by a formal organisation.
There may be some grey areas within ‘parent & child groups’ that are still as yet unresolved, so in these particular cases it will be important to confer with your local authorities. For example, whilst gyms and leisure centres are allowed to remain open at Tier 3 generally, group exercise is currently not permitted. There is therefore a conflict in the guidance for postnatal classes. The wording in the Early Years guidance also refers to groups running in Early Years setting and community spaces, but doesn’t account for class providers that own their own venues. Soft play centres will be closed in Tier 3, but doesn’t account for guided baby gym sessions where numbers are significantly smaller and social distancing can be more easily maintained.
For classes which accommodate children without their carers, please refer to the ‘out of school’ guidance which says ‘Currently, supervised activities, training and education for children can continue to operate at all restriction tiers both inside and outdoors.’
Carers attending classes will need to take care to follow the wider local restrictions in their social interactions.
- In Tier 1, parents can attend classes with friends and they are allowed to have socially distanced interactions with one another (i.e. within the Rule of 6, individuals can interact in groups of up to 6. The classes themselves may host gatherings of more than six, determined by the venue size. For more info see ‘Headcount’ section below).
- High Alert (Tier 2): parents must not socialise with others indoors; the Rule of 6 continues to apply in all outdoor spaces
- Very High Alert (Tier 3): parents may only socialise with others in outdoor public spaces such as parks, countryside etc. (up to a maximum of 6).
In the highest Tier, extra caution should be taken to ensure households do not mix during class. You may wish to increase distancing of families, ventilation, and the use of face coverings, as well as 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 at Tier 3.
NB – There are restrictions on travel for those living in Tier 3, and carers must avoid travelling to Tier 1 or 2 areas to attend classes (travel is only permitted for a limited number of necessary exceptions, such as work, education or healthcare). If you are travelling between areas at differing levels, you must abide by the rules of the higher tier.
- 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.
- Headcount Limits
Parent & child groups are exempt from the rule of 6 and may accommodate up to a maximum of 15 adults, operating in covid-secure venues. Children under the age of 5 and practitioners do not need to count towards this limit.
This is an upper bound and should be set bearing in mind the space of the venue. It’s also strongly advisable to also keep a track of the number of siblings attending, as a single carer for multiple children will find it more challenging to maintain social distancing.
- Social Distancing
Wherever possible, class providers are seeking to maintain a 2m distance between participants, most commonly 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.
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.
In England, the general guidance is that children are still required to socially distance. However, the DfE has acknowledged to the Early Years Alliance “Young children and children with special educational needs may not be able to understand the need for social distancing and may also seek close interaction with their peers or adults to provide reassurance at a period of disruption to their routines.”
It’s also noted that there’s no mention of social distancing for children in the updated guidance for ‘Places of Worship’ which states: “This includes, but is not limited to, activities such as mother and baby groups with multiple adults supervising children. In these situations, adults should maintain social distancing with other adults from different households.”
Class providers are therefore using their judgement as to how much 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.
It’s extremely difficult and stressful for parents to enforce strict social distancing amongst toddlers, and 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.
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. In Medium risk areas, where families are allowed to meet other households indoors, families might be put into small groups of up to 6 and rotate zones together for the duration of the session (space permitting). However, in higher alert areas, families must not socialise with other households whilst indoors, and in the Very High (Tier 3) areas, families cannot socialise with others in private outdoor spaces either.
- 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.)
- Shared Resources
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)
This was previously a particular 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
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.
- 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).
- NHS Test & Trace and QR Codes
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.
- 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 28 November 2020