Back to school normally means new beginnings for young children. The kids are getting supplies to start programs. Educators are eager to get back to their classrooms. And parents look forward to watching their children learn. But like most things these days, the back-to-school season is far from normal. You can tell from all the steps centers are taking to reboot during the pandemic.
In Detroit, MI, the recent reopening of Blessed Beginnings child care center felt more like the start of a whole new center. Before the pandemic, students walked inside with their parents. Now the center’s owner, LaShawn Bridges, met them outside with a handheld thermometer to screen them for fever. Parents weren’t allowed in the building. As soon as students walked inside, they had to wash their hands. Everyone wore masks, and children were told not to hug teachers like they used to.
“It was awkward at first,” says Lindsay Gray, an educator at Blessed Beginnings. “The children felt things were different.” But they soon adjusted as they spent most of the day outside so teachers wouldn’t have to spend so much time sanitizing toys. And there’s a plus to this change in routine. What kids like most is being outside with their friends, as we show in a new paper on play-based learning.
“Children are also glad to be back in the classroom and put virtual learning behind them,” says Jarrell Harris, an Illinois teacher we profile this month. But their parents have concerns about sending their kids back to child care, according to Daniel Keeling, director of Kids First Learning Center in Wichita Falls, TX, where they’re also screening children, making them wash their hands and having staff wear masks all day to keep the children safe.
Despite the precautions the center is taking, parents are still fretting. “They want an idea of what the actual, physical, day-to-day steps look like,” Keeling says. Some parents ask what kind of disinfectant the center is using. Others worry about their child’s ability to learn under all the strange, new conditions, Keeling explains. “The most common question I hear is “Are you going to be able to teach them with all the measures you’re taking?'”
Parents can increase their comfort level by following some tips from the Council. Together with a newly formed advisory committee, we’ve put together a set of questions for parents to ask center directors and teachers before sending their children back to preschool. Many parents need to know what options they have as they decide whether to go back to work.
That’s a pressing issue in recent months since the closing of many child care settings has hurt parents’ careers, according to a recent survey by Care.com. More than half of parents who answered the survey say they’ve cut back on work, think they’ve let their colleagues down, or feel they’ve had a major failure on the job while juggling child care and work. Others have been pushed out of their jobs since losing their provider and haven’t been able to find the child care they need to resume work.
The pandemic has put major stress on both parents and providers, but there’s a “silver lining” to their struggles, says Chad Nunamaker, an Ohio educator we profile this month. “People are now paying more attention to child care and seeing that it’s a vital service in which we should invest.” There’s a new sense of esteem for what educators do. And that could mean the beginning of good things for our field.
With much respect and hope for a fresh restart,
The Council for Professional Recognition