Deciding what software to use for your business is a big decision, especially when you are the manager of a child care center -- and not the head of an IT department.
Child care manager software can reduce your administrative load, improve your parent experience, and give you accurate insights into your business. But what tasks should you try to manage with software, and what benefits can you expect to see from different features?
Whether you are looking for billing solutions or enrollment management, there's a lot to sort through. That's why we've broken down nine essential features of child care software you can use in your program, and how each one can help you inside and outside the classroom.
1. EnrollmentEnrollment software is a powerhouse for managing your classroom roster because it takes heavy administrative lifting off your shoulders. It can:
- forecast for future sessions, allowing you to see how many (or few!) spots you will have available so you can allocate resources appropriately;
- allow parents to quickly update information when needed by updating their child's profile from any connected device — great for families that keep children in your care from one session to the next, who won't have to manually fill out another set of forms; and
- act as a roster hub that staff can access anywhere, giving employees the convenience to write notes and check their classroom status from the comfort of home or a coffee shop.
Giving a digital upgrade to your child care enrollment forms means secure and convenient roster management at your fingertips.
2. BillingBilling can be a high-stakes hassle for child care centers — coordinating payments, creating invoices, and getting everything squared away on time is no easy feat. With billing software, you can:
- automate billing so invoices automatically get sent to parents on a date of your choosing through a safe, secure platform;
- offer convenient methods of payment, such as autopay and direct deposit, that make payment easier for families. No more remembering checks or cash to hand off during drop-off; parents can connect their accounts and never worry about being late; and
- send bill reminders to parents before their payments are due, right from the system they pay in — no more emails getting buried.
This is just the surface of what digital billing can do for your business. Read more about how you can alleviate your billing pain points with software.
3. Virtual child profilesChild care software will create a virtual child profile for every child in your care. Virtual child profiles take the place of paper files that collect application and enrollment forms; notes; pick-up and drop-off permissions, and anything else that you need to know about a child in your care. Profiles can:
- store emergency information, including contacts, medical information, and allergies, that can be accessed with a tap on any connected device. In an emergency, being able to pull up a child's information from anywhere in seconds can make all the difference;
- keep track of additional staff notes for each child in one central location, so staff can get the full, historical picture of a child at any time — particularly helpful for conducting parent meetings, welcoming new staff, and starting new sessions; and
- log observations using developmental frameworks to keep a child's progress record in one place, which is easier for staff and parents to reference.
Virtual child profiles combine the functionality of paper files with convenience that will reduce the time you and your staff spend curating profiles.
4. Sign-inWhat if your staff could fully focus on getting children ready for the day at drop-off time, instead of juggling sign-in clipboards and greeting children? What if all of your sign-in information was neatly collected in one place that you could access anywhere? With digital sign-in, you can:
- implement parent-led sign-in that uses unique passcodes that parents can enter into a device to mark their child as dropped off, leaving staff to get everyone set up for the day;
- store records of pick-up/drop-off permissions that your staff can reference on any connected device. So when a neighbor comes to pick up a child, the process isn't held up, and you can get children home safely and quickly; and
- eliminate the need for paper, which is environmentally friendly and lowers administrative costs by reducing the need for multiple sign-in sheets.
5. AttendanceA key reason why attendance is easier to manage with software is flexibility. Rather than sifting through paper sheets and manually tallying records, digital attendance lets you configure roll information in any number of ways. This means you can:
- compile attendance reports for billing by selecting any child and seeing exactly which days they were present in any billing period. When you have software that deals with attendance and billing, like brightwheel, you can automatically run attendance for each period;
- easily track absences by child by looking at the profile of that child; and
- reduce administrative paperwork by saving all historical attendance records in one place while still being able to separate them out by time period, classroom, or child.
Making attendance sheets easier to manage reduces the workload for you and your staff, especially around billing.
6. Child portfoliosCreating a child portfolio for those in your care is a big, ongoing project for any program. Traditional portfolio creation relies on a lot of paper storage, binders, notes, and painstaking care to date and organize everything. Digital systems can't eliminate the storage of children's paperwork, but they can:
- store video and photos to use in child care development portfolios to make milestones come alive and show how children are progressing and developing, rather than just relying on notes;
- act as a hub for staff notes and observations on each child so each staff member can add observations and see each child's progress from anywhere; and
- make sharing and keeping child portfolios easier for child care centers and for parents by digitizing important recordings, pictures, and notes. Parents love to share their child's work and development with family and keep a record of their child's progress for their own memories; digital files are much more convenient than binders or physical folders.
Take your child care portfolios into the 21st century with tips on digital collection and management that can streamline your efforts.
7. Daily report formsYour business uses child care daily report forms so much that any improvement to the process of filling out, storing, or handling them is going to have a big effect on your day-to-day activities. With software, you can:
- automatically send out detailed daily reports for each child, which streamlines pick-up times; and
- keep an extensive historical record of each child's daily reports in their profile, which helps with building child portfolios and is good to have on hand when discussing a child with their parents; and
- make menu and activity updates for every child in a single group at once, lowering the amount of work your staff has to do if your plans change.
All of this makes working with daily report forms simpler than ever.
8. PayrollManaging payroll with pen and paper is time-consuming and stressful — you have to be error-free and meticulous while managing stacks of paper. A digital payroll system cuts down on this stress. Software can:
- act as a time-tracking system for staff so you can have the software accurately tally hours worked for you;
- create payroll reports in a fraction of the time, without having to pull out a calculator or an overflowing folder; and
- be securely accessed from anywhere so you can get your payroll done whenever it is convenient, not just when you are sitting at your desk at the end of a long day.
A digital payroll system can help your bottom line and can significantly cut down on the time you spend on payroll.
9. Parent communicationStrong communication with families is critical. It builds trust, and ensures that you have the safest environment for children. Although we have more ways to contact each other than ever before, that doesn't necessarily make communication easier. It means you have to manage the channels used to communicate with parents, store and update multiple ways of contacting guardians, and check multiple methods of communication regularly. Software can:
- store all parent and guardian info in one secure place that staff can access anywhere. Work phone, home phone, emergency contacts, emails — any way you can connect with a parent is accessible from any connected device, making it easy to reach out to parents on any channel.
- give parents push notifications on an app. When parents see a notification from their child's care center, they'll pay attention to it. No more messages getting lost in email or dismissed/blocked because they're from an unknown number.
- automate critical reminders, like invoices due, so that you can take care of recurring notifications without having to contact each parent individually.
Be proactive about how you communicate with parents, and consider software as a communication tool, not just something for information storage.
How can I tell if a software is right for me?Once you have decided what features are important to you, it's time to look for a software that meets your needs. This can seem intimidating, so break down the process into a few steps that you repeat for each software you consider. If anyone can successfully evaluate what will be right for your business, it's you.
- Explore the website: What features do they have? What is the price? Do they have a demo or a video and if so does their software seem user-friendly?
- Sign up for a trial: If a company offers a free trial, go ahead and play around with the software for a week or two to get a feel for it. Ask your staff to have a look around, and get their feedback.
- Talk to customer service: Software companies know the ins and outs of their product, so don't be shy — ask questions, and dig into how a company can solve your problems. (Look at our list of key questions to ask about child care software here.)
- Read testimonials and reviews: This will give you a sense of how other people use the product. Are their businesses the same size as yours? Do they talk about the same pain points?
- Look for software that bundles features: Having billing, sign-in, attendance, and child profiles integrated increases how much use you will get out of the software and how much time you will save by using it.
You don't have to be a software expert to use digital tools to transform your business. Look for user-friendly platforms with the features that matter most to you, and don't be intimidated by going digital. The benefits will be clear from day one.
- 8 Ways Child Care Management Software Helps Your Bottom Line
- Using Technology to Manage Your Child Care Payment Logs
- Tips for Mastering Child Care Billing