Save our Toddler & Preschool Classes: An open Letter to the Scottish Government

Recently the Scottish Government restricted toddler and preschool activity classes/groups to only 5 adults (including instructor/teacher) in any indoor venue. Strangely, this rule also applied to baby groups (under 12 months) but was lifted after some media fanfare and public pressure.

We believe this should be extended to children’s activity groups from 1 – 4 years for a multitude of reasons, not least children’s and parental wellbeing and the simple fact that running at four families is not viable for the majority of activity providers.

You can add your voice to this issue and sign the petition here: https://www.change.org/p/scottish-government-save-our-toddler-preschool-classes-help-to-increase-the-nos-allowed-in-each-class

Here’s is the letter we wrote to all MSPs with the simply request to reconsider the guidelines that have no scientific backing and continue to unnecessarily put strain on families and business owners across Scotland.

Dear Member of the Scottish Parliament,

I write this letter to plead with you on behalf of the several thousands of children who have been needlessly restricted from activity groups, on behalf of parents in desperate need of support and puzzled over contradictory guidelines that seem to doom their children to be deprived of the tools they will need for their physical, social and mental abilities to succeed in school and life. I write this letter on behalf of the future of Scotland; our children.

I am specifically protesting and asking for reconsideration to the guidelines that limit children’s groups to only 5 adults or parents per activity class.

These guidelines threaten the wellbeing of our children. Numerous studies have been conducted, countless scientists have asserted that group play, peer to peer interaction, is essential in the development of children between the ages of 1 and 5.

[For simple reference please see Family & Community Health: April/June 2015 – Volume 38 – Issue 2 – p 180-194 or, National Academies of Science, Engineering and medicine; Child Development and Early Learning: A Foundation for Professional Knowledge and Competencies

Or, OECD (2018), Engaging Young Children: Lessons from Research about Quality in Early Childhood Education and Care, Starting Strong, OECD Publishing, Paris. Or, the journal of Socioaffect Neurosci Psychol. 2015; Social interaction is associated with changes in infants’ motor activity, or the three related studies conducted by researchers at the University of Washington’s Center for Mind, Brain & Learning (CMBL) published in 2003 in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences

Or, every article published in the Research on Children and Social Interaction (RCSI) is an interdisciplinary international peer-reviewed journal that publishes high-quality research on the interactions of children and young people.]

Their communication language, motor, and emotional regulation skills are crucially developed through social interaction and guided play. The years before a child begins school are a critical stage for their emotional and social development. How will our children learn to interact with others if they are denied the chance to practice their social skills?

Science developed over decades of careful study is being passed over in favour of the lack evidence that exists to show that toddlers are at risk of catching and spreading coronavirus. This is unacceptable and heartbreaking for hundreds of thousands of families.

It is especially bewildering when the guidelines themselves are so contradictory. Children between the ages of 1 and 5 may come to watch a baby class, which is apparently safe to do so even when it has been decided that if those same children were to gather in a class of their own, suddenly danger would appear? There is no scientific difference between the risks of children under 12 months, and the risks of children between the ages of 1 and 4 concerning Covid-19; why are they being treated differently? Do our toddlers not deserve the same care and development aid that our babies do? Do they not deserve at least the same consideration as those desperate for another pint who are permitted to meet with friends in pubs?

While we appreciate the unprecedented situation the Scottish Government are dealing with, it is tragic to see that the economy is prioritised over the future of our nation, over the wellbeing of our youth and the

hundreds of thousands of lives that will be disrupted because of missing education and learning opportunities activity groups provide. The government is charged with the wellbeing of its citizens and yet it feels like it is choosing to condemn parents and young children. The greatest tragedy will be the damage wrecked on the most vulnerable children. The weak and struggling will suffer the worst, the gap between them and their peers will widen, and they will suffer the impact for years.

It is not only the wellbeing of the children that the government is failing. The welfare of parents is not being taken seriously. Many parents feel isolated and overwhelmed. Toddler classes are the only source of social interaction and support for many parents. Yet they must watch as groups gather in pubs and restaurants and shop in overcrowded supermarkets, whilst the carefully monitored toddler classes with strictly enforced social distancing and sanitised equipment are illegal. Parents are being forced into debilitating isolation. I cannot understand why struggling mothers cannot seek the support they and their children need in a safe, sanitised, socially distanced environment when those who are at a 4x (those over 30) or 8x (those over 45) higher risk can mix freely in restaurants and pubs.

Furthermore, it is simply not viable for a children’s activity business to run within the current limits forcing many businesses to close down. Under the current guidelines, many jobs will be lost, adding more families to the list of those devastated by the illogical, insensitive guidelines. Simply suggesting that activity providers open more classes, is a gross misunderstanding of not only how our sector operates but basic business economics.

What answer can you give to the parents forced to suffer alone, to the children who will not develop their emotional capabilities, their language and motor skills they need and to the families who can’t pay their bills because their companies are being forced to close?

This letter is written in deep disappointment wrought by these laws. This letter is written out of immense confusion over contradictory guidelines and laws which cannot be based on scientific evidence, laws which fly in the face of decades of scientific research. This letter is written out of anger and frustration over the prioritising of a few sectors of the economy over the wellbeing of the quarter of a million parents, the hundreds of thousands of children between the ages of 1 and 4 and the struggling owners of childcare businesses.

I implore you to right the wrong, to end these unnecessary restrictions and hand hundreds of thousands of children, the bright future that is being stolen from them.

Yours faithfully,

Andy Georgiou
Founder Director, Institute of Children’s Activity Providers (ICAP)

The Institute of Children’s Activity Providers (ICAP) is a professional membership body for the children’s activities sector. We support providers through advice and thought leadership; best practice and compliance; education and networking; and we champion and promote collaboration in the industry.

By becoming a member of ICAP you’re joining a community of like-minded professionals and business owners in the children’s activity sector working towards excellence