With so much of the world changed by the pandemic, many families see baby and toddler groups as a lifeline that ensures their children are getting all the social contact and development opportunities they need.
Along with offering essential learning opportunities though, many are worried whether baby and toddler groups are allowed to continue in lockdown because they can also provide childcare in some cases.
Although childminders and nurseries were allowed to stay open during the third lockdown, there wasn’t crystal clear guidance initially about what the new restrictions meant for baby and toddler groups, as they work slightly differently.
Now everything has changed again, as the government’s roadmap out of lockdown has been announced. Kids finally have a date for when they can go back to school after lockdown and there’s information about when university students can go back. But what do the new rules mean for baby and toddler groups?
Are baby and toddler groups allowed to continue in lockdown?
Largely, baby and toddler groups have not been allowed to continue during the current lockdown.
Registered early years providers have remained open, but these groups have been mostly told to close as parents or carers often stay with the child, so it’s not a childcare setting but rather a social or educational one. Any social mixing outside a household or support bubble was banned under the regulations, which came into place on January 6, alongside the closure of schools and colleges.
Some are open though and will continue to remain open as the set-up is different and the baby and toddler group works as a form of childcare.
Under the government’s roadmap, it looks as though baby and toddler groups where parents or carers stay with the child will not be able to reopen for a while. The Early Years Alliance have said that from March 8, “providers will be able to offer wraparound childcare for all children where it is needed to enable parents or carers to work, seek work, attend education, seek medical care or attend a support group.”
However from March 29, “parent and child groups will be able to take place outdoors with a limit of 15 attendees (children under five years of age do not count towards the attendee limit)”. Following this, indoor parent and child groups “with a limit of up to 15 people, not including children under five” will be able to open up. This won’t happen before April 12 though, when the next stage of lockdown restrictions will be lifted.
Are baby classes allowed during the second lockdown?
Baby classes, such as those gymboree-style classes that include sensory play, music sessions or art sessions, are closed during the third lockdown throughout February and into March, to comply with the government’s new guidelines.
Gymboree Play & Music, which has centres throughout London and in Warwick and Leamington Spa, Bristol, St Albans and Solihull, has confirmed that they are closing as a result of the latest lockdown. A statement on their website reads, “As you will not doubt have noticed, we have had to close all our centres across the UK due to the national Lockdown announced yesterday. Once again we are devastated not to be able to see you and your little ones in class, but we know lockdown is the best way to stop this virus once and for all.”
Other baby classes, such as anti-natal classes that help parents prepare for childbirth, went online during the first lockdown and it’s thought that it will continue for this one. Due to the risk of coronavirus during pregnancy, many of these classes haven’t taken place in person for almost 8 months.
Baby and toddler groups are not allowed to continue in lockdown because essentially, baby classes such as these focus on the social, cognitive and physical development of little ones – sometimes with parents and carers in attendance too. For this reason, they are not explicitly considered ‘childcare services’ and there is too much inter-household mixing, leading to potential for the virus to spread.