The Providers' Guide to Reopening

Table of Contents 

The new normal for child care providers
How to decide when to reopen
1 month before reopening day
- Get ahead of licensing requirements
- Manage your enrollment pipeline
- Update your policies and procedures
   Updates to your facility
   Updates to daily schedules 
   Safety policies to consider
- Rethink your financial models
   Take steps to strengthen your financial position
   Understand your revenue and expenses
   Consider making updates to your tuition approach
3 weeks before reopening day 
- Create plans for future temporary shutdowns
- Communicate changes and updates to families 
1-2 weeks before reopening day 
- Train staff on updated policies and procedures 
- Welcome families back to your center 

The new normal for child care providers

As the world collectively adapts to the unprecedented challenges presented by COVID-19, many preschool and child care centers are now preparing to reopen. Although the situation continues to evolve and many unknowns remain, what we do know is that the new normal will look drastically different than what many of us are accustomed to. 

For example, social distancing will continue to be enforced, wearing masks in public places may become the norm, and many businesses and families will be recovering from the economic impact of COVID-19 for months to come. This means providers will need to adapt their businesses to thrive in the new normal, such as updating policies, enforcing new cleaning procedures, and updating their financial models.  

If you’re getting ahead of the curve to ensure you reopen successfully, this playbook is for you. Read on to learn what you can start doing now to set yourself up for success when you reopen. 

How to decide when to reopen 

Many child care providers are looking to their local government and healthcare officials when deciding when they should reopen. Before you pick an opening date, you’ll need to: 

  • Make sure your state or local authorities have approved re-opening.  You can view the status of your state’s guidance here. Keep in mind, your state’s guidance may differ depending on whether your center is attached to a K-12 school or another organization with specific regulations, so be sure to check with your local officials before you reopen.
  • Complete any licensing requirements related to safety and compliance that are mandated by your local authorities. 

Although your local authorities will determine the earliest date you can reopen your center, it’s your own preparation timeline that will dictate when you’ll be able to open safely and in compliance with COVID-19 safety guidelines. If your local authorities have not provided any guidance, you can start preparing using the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) guidelines for running a child care center during COVID-19. 


1 month before reopening day

Get ahead of licensing requirements

Whether you have an opening day in mind or not, you should check in with your licensing department to make sure nothing has expired and start arranging any reinspections. If you need to update your licensing or are up for renewal, you may want to consider applying for an extension to buy some more time.  

Some states, such as California,  have already issued new guidelines around enrollment capacity and ratios. Make sure you understand any new regulations for your state and to incorporate changes you may need to make to your current operations to your planning. 

Additionally, as you’re ironing out licensing tasks, identify the best channels to monitor changes or updates to requirements, whether it be official licensing websites, their social media accounts, or subscribing to email briefings, if offered. Inspection and licensing offices may get busy as more centers gear up to reopen, so getting ahead of them as soon as possible will help prevent any delays.

Manage your enrollment pipeline

You'll want to get a current estimate of your expected enrollment and make sure your enrollment capacity is in-line with your state’s guidelines around group sizes. Depending on your state’s guidelines, your center may need to make changes to your enrollment capacity. In California, for example, group sizes are limited to 10 for most age groups, which means centers will either have to limit the number of students they can accept or secure more space to accommodate more groups. 

Next, you should reach out to your families to understand their current situation, such as if and when they plan to return, and whether they anticipate major changes to their normal schedule. Many centers are charging a hold fee for families to secure their enrollment spot. Learn more about different types of tuition models during COVID-19 here.  

If you find that you have extra capacity, consider finding ways to increase enrollment, such as:

  • Asking families for referrals 
  • Partnering with local centers that may have permanently closed to welcome and enroll their students
  • Updating your website to spotlight that you have open enrollment and make it easy to apply
  • Creating or updating your marketing plan to attract new families 
  • Offering virtual tours for families by recording a video tour or hosting them digitally via Zoom Video Conferencing or FaceTime 


Although you’ll likely have shifts in enrollment in the coming months, bringing your operations online will make any changes easier to handle. With brightwheel, you can easily manage enrollment by organizing vital student information and getting a holistic view of your enrollment pipeline.

Update your policies and procedures

To ensure the safety of students and staff, and to provide families with peace-of-mind, you’ll likely need to update your policies and procedures. This includes updates to your facility, pick up and cleaning policies, schedules, and more. 
 

Updates to your facility

Although perfectly enforcing social distancing isn’t feasible with young children, there are practical things you can do to help everyone keep a safe distance as best as possible. For example: 

  • Use paint or tape to create lines, circles, or grids that can be used to communicate distancing to children, and do the same at pickup and drop off areas to guide families.  
  • Rearrange furniture, such as having all students face in the same direction during play and class time. 
  • Reserve a dedicated space you can move students to in the event of a sick student or staff member. If keeping a room vacant isn’t possible, you can keep a cot in the corner of a class room. 
  • Purchase extra small tables or individual desks to create safe distances during meals and activities.
  • Move your food preparation area closer to the sink and away from high traffic areas.  

Depending on your state’s guidelines, you may need to reduce the number of students and teachers in each classroom. Although many states are still working on releasing official distancing guidelines for child care providers, you should prepare for possibly reducing your enrollment capacity or expanding your facility to accommodate smaller group sizes. We will continue to monitor the situation and update this resource with any new developments.

Updates to daily schedules

Making changes to your schedules is one of the most effective ways to ensure the safety of students and staff. The goal is to ensure everyone keeps a safe distance from each other, and that cleaning protocols are consistently followed. Here are a few ways you might want to update your schedules: 

  • Stagger drop off and pick up times for families to avoid family to family contact outside of your center. 
  • Incorporate regular health checks into student schedules and procedures. Take temperatures at check-in to verify that students are not unwell before they enter your facility. Additional temperature checks, such as during lunch and before pick-up time, will help your staff spot developing conditions and act quickly. On brightwheel, staff can easily perform and record student health checks, such as logging a student’s temperature, posting a photo, and adding notes, or can ask parents to verify health information at check-in via the drop-off form.
  • Ensure students wash their hands frequently throughout the day, at minimum, every two hours and before and after lunch. 
  • Carve out plenty of facility cleaning time into daily schedules, especially after activities such as playtime and lunchtime. 
  • Try to keep students in the same classroom together as much as possible, and limit interactions between students in different classrooms. 
  • Create backup plans for when a staff member becomes sick to ensure appropriate coverage.

 

Safety policies to consider

You’ll need to take extra precaution to ensure the safety of students and staff when you reopen, and can successfully do so by: 

  • Purchasing cleaning and safety supplies such as gloves and masks (for teachers) and thermometers.
  • Creating new policies around health checks, food preparation, and distribution.
  • Requiring families to wait outside for drop offs and pickups, and having a staff member escort students to classrooms, outdoors, etc. 
  • Ensuring staff, students, and families do not share any pens, tablets, or paper. If items are shared, ensure items are sanitized after each use. With brightwheel, families can safely check their children in and out from their own devices to limit the transmission of germs. 
  • Updating your illness policies in compliance with your local authorities’ or the CDC’s guidelines. For example, many centers are removing children or staff who have a fever (100.4 or higher), cough, or shortness of breath from school until they are fever-free for at least 72 hours and 7 days have passed since their first symptoms. 
  • Conducting all tours virtually to limit the number of non-students and staff members inside your facility.

 

MightyKidz, a Seattle-based child care center that has stayed open through COVID-19, has implemented the following changes to ensure the safety of their students and staff:  

  • Student temperatures are taken three times a day, and family members are required to have their temperatures taken at pick up and drop off. 
  • Hand sanitizer must be used upon entry for both students and staff, followed by immediate hand washing.
  • Half of their classrooms are closed for deep cleaning while children occupy the other half. 
  • All soft toys and sensory bins, including playdough and slime, have been removed completely. 
  • Every toy and surface in shared areas are cleaned at the top of every hour.
  • Pickups are now done 15 minutes early to dedicate the last 15 minutes of every day to cleaning and disinfecting. 
  • FAQs have been created for families and staff, outlining changes to schedules and policies. 


To learn more about how MightyKidz operates their center safety during COVID-19, listen to our on-demand webinar here. 

As always, we encourage you to review the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention’s safety guidelines for open child care centers.

Rethink your financial models

Take steps to strengthen your financial position

You’ll want to take steps now to be in the best financial position for when you reopen. This can include:

    • Seeking additional financial relief options. There are public and private loans, grants, and support programs for small businesses and their employees. Here’s a list of financial support and credit options for early education programs impacted by COVID-19. If you need help applying for loans, consider partnering with resources such as Fountainhead Commercial Capital to get started. 
    • Maintaining revenue where possible. Consider charging full or reduced tuition for families, while continuing to offer distance support and learning. Some centers have also asked families to pay a fee to hold their spot in lieu of charging tuition. Learn more about different ways to manage tuition during COVID-19 here.  
    • Managing your expenses. Identify your largest expenses and negotiate recurring payments - for example, with your landlord or mortgage company. Consider asking for lower payments for the next few months and add the discounted amount to future payments over an extended period.

 

Understand your revenue and expenses

Your revenue and expenses are likely to change meaningfully in the coming months, and it’s natural for the uncertainty to create a lot of anxiety. One of the best things you can do is to project your revenue and expenses, then plan accordingly.  

To ensure you’re bringing in enough revenue to stay open, you’ll want to continue monitoring your enrollment pipeline and any other major revenue streams. Even if you expect a decrease in revenue, there are ways you can manage your expenses to maintain financial stability, such as adding subsidy eligibility requirements and resources to your website. Remember, in most states, any students on subsidy will continue to be supported, so connecting families with the right resources can help both of your financial situations.

 In parallel, identify changes to your expenses or cash, including potential increases from: 

  • Purchasing cleaning and safety supplies
  • Additional staffing costs to accommodate new schedules and policies 
  • Repayment of any loans you may have taken out due to COVID-19 

 

To learn more about how you can manage the financial health of your preschool or child care business, listen to our webinar with Certified Child Care Coach, Brian Duprey, here

Consider making updates to your tuition approach 

Even after your center reopens, certain families may opt to keep their children at home. What’s more, regulatory requirements to accommodate social distancing may mean that your center can only accept a limited number of students at a time. 

All centers, whether you expect a decrease in enrollment or not,  may need to rethink their tuition approach. Here are a few ideas you may want to consider: 

  • Update the tuition clause in your contract to account for unexpected closures and absences. If you update your contract, you should communicate these changes to your families in advance, and they’ll likely need to resign the contract, so be sure to accommodate enough time for this. You’ll also want to update your tuition model in your online billing tool, if applicable. 
  • Depending on the financial situation of the families you serve, consider increasing tuition to help cover new expenses or asking for donations.
  • Replace any touch-based billing such as checks, cash, or credit cards that must be swiped with online billing. Brightwheel providers say billing through brightwheel makes tuition payments easier to track, limits physical contact, and allows them to get paid faster. 

 

3 weeks before reopening day 

Create plans for future temporary shutdowns 

You’ll also want to create a plan to get ahead of another COVID-19 flare up. Your plan should complement official CDC guidelines, which you should continue to monitor on a regular basis.

Your plan should include:

  • Identifying triggers that would require you to enforce stricter social distancing, implement more aggressive cleaning schedules, and consider a temporary closure of the school.  
  • Moving as much of your center’s operations online as possible to ensure you can continue operating in the event of another closure. This can include implementing online payments, communicating with families via newsletters and online messages, or bringing all student records online
  • Investing in distance learning programming to enable a smooth transition between in-person and online learning. With brightwheel, you can easily upload and share lesson plans with families to help them continue learning at home.

 

Many providers we spoke with during the peak of COVID-19, expressed relief for having all student records on brightwheel for easy remote access. Now is the time to organize your recordkeeping, ensuring student information, records, and attendance are kept up-to-date, as this will become increasingly important in the event of another closure.

Communicate changes and updates to families 

After you’ve created new plans and policies to ensure the safety of students and staff, you’ll want to communicate any changes to families, while reassuring them that health and safety continues to be a top priority. 

You don’t need to wait until you’re three weeks out from opening day to communicate these changes, and can share updates as they develop. Here are some of the things you’ll want to communicate:

  • Timing for when you’ll reopen and which students are eligible to return 
  • Any changes you’ve made to tuition (this should be communicated as soon as it’s confirmed)  
  • New guidelines around drop off and pick up schedules 
  • Changes you’ve made to your facility, schedules, staff training, and other policies. 


With any updates you communicate to families, be sure to emphasize why you’ve made these changes, and remember, families appreciate transparent communication.

1-2 weeks before reopening day 

Train staff on updated policies

Once you’ve developed the appropriate procedures and policies, you’ll need to communicate these changes to staff and train them on any new responsibilities. This includes:

  • Training staff on new cleaning and safety policies and assigning staff members to specific responsibilities 
  • Teaching staff how to identify illnesses, including mental health checks for students and fellow staff members 

We encourage providers to document all policy changes and schedules, and to ensure staff can easily refer back to it at any time. 

Welcome families back to your center 

After you’ve completed all of your preparations, you’re ready to start welcoming families back to your center. 

Your students have been missing you and your staff for weeks, and are looking forward to coming back to school. We encourage you to send your families a note emphasizing your commitment to the safety and development of their children and some of the great things they have to look forward to when you reopen. 

We hope this playbook will help you navigate these challenging times and provide reassurance that reopening smoothly and safely is possible. We’ve also created a quick checklist for you to easily tackle key tasks prior to reopening. We are in this together as an early childhood learning community, and our top priority is supporting your needs. If you have any feedback or ideas on what else we should cover, please let us know by emailing us at resources@mybrightwheel.com.

 

Brightwheel is the complete solution for early education providers, enabling you to streamline your center’s operations and build a stand-out reputation. Brightwheel connects the most critical aspects of running your center—including sign in and out, parent communications, tuition billing, and licensing and compliance—in one easy-to-use tool, along with providing best-in-class customer support and coaching. Brightwheel is trusted by thousands of early education centers and millions of parents. Learn more at www.mybrightwheel.com.