Clapham nursery Abacus Ark keeps spirits high for kids and parents in lockdown

By AlexRoss
May 2 2020, 15.00

A Clapham nursery has adapted to the coronavirus crisis by setting up a nursery for key worker children, putting on daily zoom lessons, and rolling out deliveries of frozen ready meals for kids.

Abacus Ark Nurseries director Anthony Ioannou decided to shut down his nurseries and furlough his staff, many of whom are Spanish and Italian, and had received calls from relatives back home warning them of how dangerous the crisis was, amid uncertainty before lockdown measures came into place.

The lockdown poses serious challenges to the wellbeing and development of children deprived of seeing their playmates and the structure of going into the nursery everyday, as well as difficult problems for parents working and schooling from home.

“We’ve had a lot of cries for help from people saying that it’s just been so tough,” said Mr Ioannou. “Parents have been struggling with that consistency and setting up routines especially when they are trying to organise things themselves.”

The overwhelming challenge for parents, he claims, is keeping their children occupied while they work at home full-time – families all constantly under one roof are struggling.

“Children are not going to act differently when schooling at home, whereas when they walk into a nursery, they know there are rules – this is how it works and they change.”

To help families struggling to cope, the nursery sends out weekly planners and learning packs to add structure and ease parents’ pain.

What is concerning, Mr Ioannou says, is the potential knock-on effect this lack of routine has for the whole family.

“Parents are worrying that they’re not doing what they should be doing for their child, and they’re just plonking them in front of the TV because they just can’t do everything,” Mr Ioannou explains. “Then there’s the guilt that goes along with it, and in turn that’s potentially going to have an effect on parents’ mental health.”

Like with so many other businesses and people, it is these consequences that worry people as opposed to the virus itself.

Abacus Ark Nursery Schools director Anthony Ioannou

After nurseries in Wandsworth shut their doors in the wake of the lockdown, Mr Ioannou, who is also a board member of the Junction Business Improvement District, received calls from doctor families in the area concerned about their children when they had to split shifts.

With the help of three volunteers and his wife, Abacus, which teaches children between the ages of six months to five years, opened its doors to provide day-care for 10 children of essential workers.

The five Zoom lessons a day include a morning livestreaming session, and the rest of the sessions are led by extracurricular teachers, with subjects ranging from dance, drama, sports, music, and even yoga – and its has proved effective.

But how on earth do you get children to concentrate on Zoom?

“It’s bizarre isn’t it?” says Mr Ioannou. “Genuinely bizarre. I had no idea how it would work or whether it would be any good or not.”

Children under the age of two years old struggle with any kind of concentration for 5-10 minutes, and respond better to music and dance – which means the yoga is out of the question.

The toll of social distancing on children is being seen every day by teachers and parents: “They don’t understand it at all, they have absolutely no idea why they are in this situation,” says Mr Ioannou.

“The real issue, and it’s probably more of a psychological problem, is that once the children are three and three and a half, they are used to having their friends around, and they are really struggling missing their friends,” he says.

The nursery addressed this last week with a trial Zoom show-and-tell session for its pre-schoolers, with encouraging effects.

“It was amazing to see how their faces lifted,” says Mr Ioannou. “It was actually off the back of a key worker’s child, who was missing all his friends in the nursery.

“When we told him this was happening he was over the moon. He was laughing so much more than he had been before that.”

The remote yoga sessions, with breathing techniques and teaching relaxation, were introduced with the wellbeing of parents and pre-school kids also in mind.  

The ready meals home delivery scheme, called Free Range Kids, comprising of a range more than 24 different dishes contained in individual 180-200g microwaveable food pots, went live last Thursday as the first Clapham business on

Mr Ioannou, asked parents of his nursery children if they would be interested in a trial two weeks ago – 80 said yes, and within a couple of days over half of them gave 10/10 feedback.

Featured image credit: Stefan Czapski, licensed for reuse.

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