Well, what a term!
Socrates said, ‘The secret of change is to focus all of your energy not on fighting the old but on building the new.’ The past three months have forced us to embrace change with little choice in the matter, and with little time to think about it. The pandemic has meant that we and our members have had to make difficult decisions quickly; decisions which have had a huge effect on the lives of the young children of Wales. Since the closure of schools, and subsequently the Cylchoedd Meithrin and our offices, we have adopted new ways of working from home and Mudiad Meithrin has had to consider every aspect of our work and methods of adapting it which allows us to continue supporting and protecting Cylchoedd Meithrin, the workforce and families throughout Wales. We’ve seen our co-workers online in very different circumstances – hair up, five o’clock shadow, no make-up, cats strolling past in the background, children popping up on screen to say ‘hello’ and we’ve heard ‘you’re on mute’ at least five times a day! But behind the tumult and the light-heartedness, our members have got to grips with working under very challenging circumstances – and they continue to do so. Since the Welsh Government’s announcement back in March, which recommended keeping small children safe at home, the vast majority of Cylchoedd Meithrin have closed their doors – due to the reduction in numbers of children attending, or due to the number of staff self-isolating. This situation continues and the doors of the cylchoedd remain closed. For the time being the cylchoedd remain silent. Dewin and Doti are isolating in their balalŵn. We have worked hard as a team to keep in contact with our members, through the Support Officers and by sharing important messages online and sending out emails on almost a daily basis to keep committees and staff up to date with what is happening. Of course the greatest challenge has been the speed with which information has changed, literally overnight on occasion; but we took the decision that sharing the information we have is better than complete ‘radio silence’. This of course comes with a risk, but the horde of emails sent to us from Cylchoedd Meithrin and committees praising the support, leadership and advice coming from ourselves is proof that this risk has paid off. What’s next? The next challenge and the next change we face is to open Cylchoedd Meithrin and Day Nurseries. It’s true to say that attempting to reopen is proving more difficult than closure. A number of cylchoedd are facing genuine financial uncertainty, and a flurry of questions are arising: What if we are unable to fill our spaces? What happens if we are expected to restrict our numbers? How will we generate income to pay staff salaries? Usually, the Summer term is the busiest time for the cylchoedd, offering a variety of opportunities to increase income and raise funds to sustain them through the autumn term. We are hopeful that the Welsh Government will acknowledge our concerns by offering financial support to the Childcare and Play sector in the form of grants. We must remember that, unlike schools, the non-maintained sector’s budgets are not protected, and provisions are entirely dependent on fees and grants. Mudiad Meithrin, along with our Cwlwm partners, continue to bring these issues to the table in discussions with the Welsh Government. Another challenge facing us is establishing health, hygiene and safety guidelines in the Cylchoedd Meithrin. How will this look? Do we have sufficient staff? Will parents return? Which equipment may we use? Do we need to change our policies and procedures? How will we protect everybody and ensure children observe social distancing (as far as young children are able!) How can we foster confidence amongst staff and parents, giving them faith to return? An endless list of questions and a mountain of work! Moving on from the old and embracing the new. Cooperation and communication are more important than ever in order to save the communities of the Cylchoedd Meithrin. What about the children?We know that the staff of the cylchoedd regularly keep in touch with their children and families, they are families and the children are overjoyed at seeing the aunties of the cylchoedd online! Mudiad Meithrin has adapted our work and services by moving our offering online, ensuring that the little children of Wales can hear the Welsh language in their homes – Cymraeg i Blant sessions, Ti a Fi sessions, Gŵyl Dewin a Doti and Clwb Cylch. The response has been fantastic, and is evidence that we’ve been successful in ensuring that Welsh is still heard in the children’s homes. I could write a long essay about all our ongoing work and all the support offered, but the truth is that the Cylchoedd Meithrin, their staff, committees and community are ready to face each challenge as it comes. As an organisation we will continue to lobby and cooperate with partners such as the Welsh Government, the Local Authorities, CIW, advisory teachers and Estyn to safeguard and facilitate as much as we can during this period. Our history, since the establishment of Mudiad Meithrin and the Cylchoedd Meithrin almost 50 years ago, has shown that we are ready to focus all of our energy not on fighting the old but on building the new. Without a shadow of a doubt, Mudiad Meithrin’s members will preserve the old (our traditions and our language), but we will be creating young new Welsh speakers in a new period, and under very different circumstances. Leanne MarshHead of Service Development