Q&A with Stephanie Smith of Healthkids Kindergarten

Located in the grounds of Nelson Hospital, Healthkids Kindergarten has many families that are essential workers. AKO talked to head teacher Stephanie Smith about how the kindergarten has been supporting families during the lockdown.

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What did you and your colleagues do when the Level 4 lockdown was announced?

A lot of our community was anticipating the shutdown. There had been build-up at the hospital that it was coming, it was just a matter of when the different levels would kick in.

My team and I were on the phones for most of the day after communication came out from the [Nelson Tasman Kindergarten] Association. We always knew we’d be one of the last closing our doors because some of our whānau are essential workers.

On Tuesday, we followed up initial texts and email conversations with a phone call to every family to check what support networks they had in place and what support networks they may need.

We had families that had both parents working as essential workers, and single parents who were essential workers who needed someone to step in and do some caregiving for them over the lockdown. As soon as we got that information from the Ministry, we contacted those families because we’d already identified who they would be.

What is happening for those families that need to work during the lockdown?

There are home-based care options. In Nelson, we’ve got Porse and Barnardos. Nelson’s quite a small community, too, which has allowed a lot of families to extend their bubbles slightly – so if they have a family member who is able to take care of the children, that is what’s happening while they’re working their shifts.

Some of the team at Healthkids Kindergarten. Stephanie is bottom left. (Photo supplied.)

What else are you doing to keep in touch?

A lot of our families are receiving phone calls at least once a week, and we’re texting our families and using Facebook Messenger.

Some of our conversations have been up to half an hour talking with one family, because that’s what that family is needing right now. They’re still really relying on us to be their support network because we’ve developed that rapport with them. It’s such a privilege to be able to support families through this.

It’s such a privilege to be able to support families through this.

We’ve got our first Zoom playdate planned for [last] Friday, so we’ve invited all the families to connect with us via Zoom. We’ll run a wee mat time with a song, a story and an opportunity to see each other face-to-face and connect with our tamariki and whānau.

The team created a plan about what we’re going to be sharing with our families through our Facebook page. That same material gets posted on our Storypark page, because families have got different ways that they like to connect with us.

Those daily updates can link with child aspirations, learning outcomes, whānau aspirations and/or cultural aspirations. Being a multi-cultural kindergarten one of our Greek whānau is going to make a video between Dad and son (4) baking Greek Easter buns. That will get shared online amongst other whānau.

We are able to keep weaving in a lot of learning and development and keep those learning plans really alive.

What sort of response have you had in terms of people tuning in?

We’ve had a really good response, lots of encouragement, because the teachers are stepping up outside of their comfort zones when they’re recording themselves as they do their story or their song. It’s really nice when the parents come back to us and tell us that the children really enjoyed watching today’s video, and that they miss us. The families are definitely interacting with it.

Are there other offline resources you’re sharing with families?

We are looking at other ways we can share with offline resources, and we are really fortunate that the majority of our whānau are connected online.
Our association has had a really strong focus on building teachers’ IT capability. Some teachers, who previously would have been quite wary of social media, have been able to get on-board and support the families, because the association has built up that capability. It’s been great for everybody.

Our association has had a really strong focus on building teachers’ IT capability.

When you call families do you often talk with the children as well?

Yes, absolutely, and they’re trying to show you things. Some of us are still using standard phones instead of video calling, and children are trying to show us their new toy down the phone. It’s a lot of fun. It’s been really special connecting with our tamariki, and that’s going to start being even more important as we start looking towards reopening.

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