Saying ‘Hello’ and Saying ‘Goodbye’: Re-engaging in early childhood education after COVID-19

An educator holds a child wearing a blue hat in a comforting way

Saying Goodbye

When children transition from their families (saying goodbye) to the early learning setting (saying hello) it can be a difficult time, in normal circumstances. If children have had a period of absence from early childhood education and care (ECEC), or if processes or people have changed (such as staffing, the cohort of children attending or set-up procedures), the process of transitioning back to early learning services can be difficult.

COVID-19 has meant that there have been some changes in the way that families drop off their children in the mornings and pick up in the afternoons. These changes in procedures take some time for children to adapt to and understand.

Some early learning centres have introduced new practices such as checking children’s temperatures using a temperature gun aimed at their head. Others currently don’t allow families past the front gate and variations in between. The procedures are in place to keep children and families safe, but the change in routine can cause a disruption to the safety and security a child feels in their early learning environment. Many of the new measures are temporary. They have been put in place as a hasty response to changing and challenging circumstances that require social distancing. Educators are already weighing their impacts on children and on their own educational practice and will also be guided by the pedagogical, ethical and regulatory frameworks that govern practice. These frameworks prioritise child-focused practice, access and transparency for families in their children’s early learning programs and the crucial role of relationships to early childhood education and care. An infographic and blog covers some of these issues on ECA’s The Spoke.

All children will struggle, in some degree, with saying goodbye in the mornings. In these moments, some children might stay close to their parent or carer, some might run away or act like they are fine on the outside, but be internalising feelings of anxiety and uncertainty. Not all children will display physical signs of distress.

Returning to the early learning setting provides opportunities for staff to strengthen their relationships with families and children. Clearly communicating the changes that occur during pick-up and drop-off for parents will make this more predictable when they arrive. Talking to children about the procedure beforehand, and explaining why their temperature must be taken, familiarises the children to the sudden new routine and increases the chances of a smooth transition into the centre.

While temporary procedures are in place, where possible, have the same staff greet the children in the morning. If all of the children have their temperatures taken in the morning, use this time to welcome children in a way they would like to be greeted. One of the morning learning experiences for children aged between three and five is to ask them, ‘how would you like me to greet you in the morning?’

One child might like a smile and hug, while another child may choose an elbow bump. Others may prefer a non-verbal greeting like a wave. Highlight these differences and record their responses so they can be referred back to. This helps children to know each other and develop theory of mind whilst sparking language rich discussions and demonstrated that they have important things to say that a need to be written down. Children, like adults, have differing levels of energy in the mornings and this might be one way to have an indiviudalised warm welcome into the early learning centre every morning.

Additionally, developing a memorable and positive routine creates a welcoming and predictable environment where staff and parents then learn about children’s individual needs; increasing the sense of security and safety and increases the likelihood of a smooth transition for both children and parents to go about their day. Some educators and ECEC services have commented on the effect that reduced busy-ness and sensory overload is having on children’s transitions and are considering how their post-pandemic practice can incorporate openness and warmth for families alongside calmer experiences for children.

Whenever possible:

  • Allow enough time, or extra time, during drop-offs and pick-up to help children transition smoothly
  • Make the routine as predictable as possible by following the same pattern each day, ideally with the same educators greeting children each day.
    Encourage families to talk to the child about the new procedures at the service, why they can expect, and who will be at the centre when they arrive.
  • If a child connects with a particular staff member, have that staff member greet them at the door and encourage families to bring that child to the staff member to say good morning. This transfers a child from one relationship to another.
  • Observe children’s interactions when they arrive at the centre. Are they shy? chatty? nervous? You might like to put words to the child’s feelings. Something like “I can see that you are feeling… bit shy, worried today or excited to say hello.’
  • If a child doesn’t want to say hello don’t force them. Rather take the pressure of them and their parent by saying what you see. For example, you could say, ‘I can see that John isn’t ready to say hello yet, that’s ok. He doesn’t like many words in the morning.’
  • Observe when the child begins to take an interest as they walk in the door, such as other children or a game. Follow this lead and say something related to the child’s interest. For example, ‘Oh, Joey, I see you’re watching what Sophie is making with the dough. If you want to join in, here is some dough for you.’

Saying hello again

Children can find the reunion with a family member during pick-up equally as challenging as drop-off. Applying the same consistency and predictability as above supports children to more easily navigate the transition between early learning and home. Taking the time to share an anecdote of a child’s day helps connect the family to their children’s learning. Ideally, pick-ups should be a positive and successful reunion, where children are ready to say hello to their parents, to share their day and learning and say goodbye to the centre.


This article was written by Greg Antcliff of Antcliff Psychology and Consulting Services. Greg Antcliff presented coaching sessions as a part of the Early Signals. First Responses project.

Early Signals. First Responses is a free program developed by Early Childhood Australia. The program provide educators with the knowledge and support to help children who have experienced domestic and family violence. Register for the online program here.