As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to affect millions of lives across the country, early childhood educators are adapting to rapidly changing health conditions, new local regulations, temporary closures, reopenings, and more.
At brightwheel, we have the honor of working with tens of thousands of childcare centers and preschools, and we have been in awe of their resilience over the past year. Childcare providers have risen up to protect their students, their staff, and their businesses on a greater level than ever before.
In our work supporting the early education community, we’ve learned how the most successful and resilient childcare providers are approaching the pandemic. In this guide, we’ll share three ways you can continue supporting your families and staff—as well as bolstering your business—during temporary COVID-19 closures.
1. Communicate frequently with your families and staff to build trust and engagement
Strong communication is essential to ensuring families and staff feel supported during times of uncertainty. There are several key objectives a strong communications approach should help deliver, such as:
- Increasing family and staff loyalty by addressing topics they care about most and by providing moral support during difficult times
- Maintaining engagement with your center during closures
- Strengthening trust by welcoming transparent and frequent dialogue
The most successful centers have developed a steady cadence of communications with both families and staff, and have continued to reach out during temporary closures. In fact, many have increased their communications while in-person learning has paused.
A couple of topics you may want to consider communicating are:
- How you’ll keep students and staff safe when you reopen for in-person learning, such as implementing health screens and health checks to avoid future COVID-19 outbreaks
- How you’ll minimize the spread of germs by moving to contactless payments and check-in/check-out
Brightwheel makes it easy to keep families and staff informed and engaged by providing a few different messaging options, such as standard messages, newsletters, reminders, and alerts. Our customers have found that using brightwheel as their central system for communication has significantly reduced the frequency of miscommunication since families and staff are more likely to check brightwheel alerts rather than their email or voicemail.
2. Continue providing families with value to maintain tuition
From surveying thousands of brightwheel customers, we found that the most successful centers have continued to charge tuition during short-term COVID-19 closures. Although it may feel uncomfortable to ask families to continue paying, being transparent about your situation and how tuition funds will be used can make these types of conversations easier.
For example, one provider shared, “[In our communications with parents], we emphasized we need to cover fixed costs, including employee pay, in order to keep afloat. We acknowledged that this is hard [on parents], but I think it helps for them to also understand our perspective.” One parent, whose center continued to fully charge tuition during a two and a half week closure, shared, “I really appreciate that they were direct and honest about why they are charging and where the money is going. It's tough to pay for a service you aren't receiving, but I appreciate knowing that it helps them continue to pay their staff."
It’s important to note that some centers have adjusted their tuition models based on the duration of the closure and the needs of their families. Brightwheel gives you the flexibility to adjust student billing plans with ease, from temporarily pausing plans to issuing discounts and credits, and more. Regardless of your tuition approach, brightwheel’s online, automatic billing helps you seamlessly adjust your plans while limiting physical contact and trips to the bank, making things easier for you and your families.
Providing value from a distance
We have found that most centers have been able to maintain financial stability by continuing to provide families with value during temporary and prolonged closures. In a recent brightwheel survey, centers offering a virtual learning option were 2.5 times more likely to be charging some level of tuition than those that did not offer virtual learning or other forms of support.
Here are a few ways top childcare centers have supported families during COVID-19 closures:
- Providing age-appropriate activities families can easily do with their children at home. For example, many providers have started sharing daily or weekly lesson plans directly with families through the brightwheel app and families have been sharing photos of their child back to their teachers.
- Conducting remote learning sessions for families individually or in groups.One brightwheel provider is hosting daily 30-minute virtual circle times each morning. Providers also have teachers record activities, such as book readings or class songs, for families to do on their own time.
- Connecting families with teachers for 1:1 or group coaching and moral support.
Once you’ve decided how you will provide value and whether you’ll need to adjust your tuition models, view this article for guidance on communicating tuition changes or adjustments to families.
3. Keep your most critical operations online and improve efficiency to free up valuable time
Digitizing all parts of your early ed center
Many successful centers prepared for potential COVID-19 flare-ups and temporary closures in the Spring of 2020. These centers moved the critical parts of their centers online to ensure they could continue operating any time and from anywhere.
Critical operations might include things such as your student records, business and financial files, and contact information, which you’ll need in case of emergency. If you currently store any of that information in paper files or a desktop computer inside the facility, moving it over to brightwheel will allow you to continue operating in the event of unexpected or prolonged closures.
We recently surveyed thousands of brightwheel customers and found that the vast majority of early education admins felt that brightwheel helped them adapt and survive the challenges of COVID-19, in large part because of the seamless transition between closures and reopenings.
Digitizing your center now will not only help you navigate temporary COVID-19 closures, but will ensure you’re prepared to weather any storm in the future.
Freeing up valuable time and protecting your business
This is a unique time that requires your full attention. With so many new procedures to follow and questions to answer, you and your staff may be feeling more tired and stressed than usual. Temporary closures can be the perfect time to determine which of your day-to-day processes, like paperwork, filing, and processing payments, can be simplified to save time and prevent staff burnout. Any time you can save on routine administrative tasks is time you can be spending on keeping your center safe, communicating with families, and helping students grow!
Digitizing your daily paperwork may seem like one more task to do, but by spending a small amount of time now, you can set your center up for success (and a lot less stress) in the event of an emergency. In addition, some states have begun requiring childcare centers to move processes like daily check-in to digital solutions instead of pen and paper to cut down on the spread of germs from sharing pens and clipboards. Switching to digital tools can make it easier for your center to comply with regulations.
Here are several routine processes that can become much faster and easier through brightwheel.
With brightwheel billing, you can save time on processing payments every week or month, especially if you set payments to autopay. This also prevents you from having to track down checks in the event of a closure, when it’s harder to get in touch with parents.
Online billing also reduces the chance of spreading disease through cash, credit cards, and paper checks. It cuts down on your number of trips to the bank, which saves you time, allows you to collect payments even when the bank is closed, and reduces your exposure to germs. Learn why Audra, executive director of three childcare centers, can’t imagine her life without brightwheel billing.
Drop-off and pick-up
By using brightwheel instead of pen and paper for check-in, you can reduce the spread of germs and keep the line running quickly. You can collect parent signatures, screen for COVID-19 exposure, and track student attendance digitally and in compliance with state licensing This eliminates the need for a daily sign-in sheet that needs to be handled by many individuals and filed away. Brightwheel also offers contactless check-in options for staff!
Brightwheel allows you to easily and securely keep track of attendance records, daily activity sheets, meals, daily health checks, and more. Digital records help keep your center cleaner and safer because you don’t have to share pens, clipboards, and binders constantly throughout the day. They also protect you in case of a health audit; you can instantly verify health records for each student. Lastly, it can be vital to have access to all of your student records and family contact information in the event of an emergency. Keeping your paperwork digital means you will never run the risk of being unable to access your data because of a citywide shelter-in-place order or a temporary school closure.
With brightwheel, you can allow staff to see any last-minute changes to their schedule or room assignments online at their convenience. You can also make sure your contact information and scheduling availability are up to date for substitute teachers in the event that a staff member is sick, which will save you time trying to coordinate at the last minute.
At brightwheel, we have been humbled by the determination and resilience we’ve seen from the early childhood education community during this pandemic. We would like to thank you for the important work that you do for the youngest members of our society, and we wish you the best as you take steps to protect your families and your business.
We hope that this guide will help you build a childcare center and community that is stronger, more adaptable, and more prepared for the future.
Thank you again for your dedication and perseverance!