Over the last two weeks, we have discussed how higher education institutions and private elementary and secondary schools can promote their online and hybrid models to attract enrollment in difficult times. Unfortunately, there aren’t many options for childcare and preschool facilities that are not physically open and specifically catering to essential workers. Online and hybrid models don’t work for this age group, at least not in terms of independent synchronous learning experiences.
Screen time advisories and suggestions by pediatricians aside, babies and toddlers, and even the younger range of elementary-aged children, cannot be engaged by screens for long stints, day after day. They need human interaction and input almost constantly, and the bulk of their development at this age comes from hands-on experience and motor skill development regardless. Daycares and preschools simply cannot move to an online, distanced learning model and expect parents to pay monthly tuition as colleges and private high schools might.
That is not to say that these businesses have no options to deliver services and experiences to at least some of their students. Just because traditional models are off the table does not negate the many resources and services that these facilities can offer with some outside-the-box strategic thinking. And we think there is an audience for it even if the primary reasons for daycare – so that mom and dad can work, so that kids are socialized – are lost to the pandemic.
Why do people still need daycares? Well, parents have a vested interest in keeping these schools in business so that a safe return is possible as soon as COVID-19 stops ravaging the country. They are also concerned with their children’s development and will dedicate any time they can negotiate around their working situation to facilitating that. Moreover, many parents do not have any idea how to engage these kids, nor do they necessarily have the materials and supplies they need to do so. Daycares and preschools do.
Much like how many restaurants found themselves becoming wholesale grocery suppliers instead of strictly becoming takeout joints in the beginning of this mess, daycares must also find ways to temporarily evolve to meet the current demands with an eye toward a better tomorrow. Here are some ways we think that can be accomplished:
- Mommy (or Daddy) and Me Classes. Even when parents have the time to be engaged in activities with their small children, many do not have the training or expertise to devise age-appropriate activities. Daycares and preschools, on the other hand, generally spent all day every day planning these things. Offering live, virtual classes for parents and small kids to do together could be priced by class or by subscription and could be flexible timing-wise. Perhaps evening classes for working parents, or morning classes for families who need that afternoon naptime. Subject matter could range from cooking to science experiments to guided story time.
- Activity Kits/Blogs/Subscriptions. As noted above, many parents do not know what toys or learning objects are helpful and engaging for their children. Sending regular, no-brainer activity ideas and/or supplies would be a hot commodity for parents with too much on their plates. Plus, it keeps new stimuli coming into the house when the house is getting boring to stay in day after day. Even if daycares did nothing but scour the web for ideas and aggregate, parents would appreciate and likely subscribe to a steady, one-stop-shop for ideas.
- Facility, Playground and Toy Rentals. Most places where children would ordinarily run around, climb, touch everything and play together are closed indefinitely during the pandemic. Daycares could rent out classrooms to small groups or pods for kids to get a change of scenery. They could rent out toys and some more expensive items like play kitchens or sensory tables to families looking for ways to keep kids engaged without filling their house with permanent toy mountains. And they could most certainly rent out clean playground spaces to small or private groups.
- Weekly Planning Models (with Fodder). Everyone is in need of routine right now when things have seemingly descended into chaos. Parents often have no energy or bandwidth around workdays and constant childcare to get the train on the tracks. Childcare and preschool employees bring loads of experience to the table and could consult and customize weekly routines and fresh activity ideas for kids and parents weekly, perhaps even including some virtual experiences in between, like a story time or a personal conversation hour that would give parents at least small, regular breaks.
- Rotating Pod Teacher Assignments. Right now “teaching pods” are all the rage among neighborhoods: small groups of kids with families who match their “risk comfort levels” and age ranges that rotate among houses throughout the week. Without opening the facility and violating any daycare operation restrictions, daycares could offer some of their staff and teachers to pods either at houses or in public, outdoor meeting spaces such as a park. They could operate in the way that sitter and nanny cohorts do, offering vetted expertise to families.
These ideas might not be enough to keep these businesses afloat indefinitely, but they may be enough to keep them on life support, along with government aid, until the viral dust settles. The most important overall messaging these daycares and preschools can adopt is one of community, service and a reminder that this business and the families it serves depend on each other even now, and they will certainly need one another in the future.