After a rollercoaster year, preschools across the US are finally planning full reopenings. But as any early childhood professional will tell you, it’s not as simple as opening the doors and rolling out the welcome mat.
Despite the vaccine roll-out and many states relaxing Covid regulations, parents are still understandably anxious about sending their children back into a busy preschool.
From safety concerns to saying goodbye for the first time in months, sending children back to preschool is an emotional minefield for many families.
And for franchise leaders, center administrators and teachers, that means continued concern about keeping up enrollment and earning back trust with families, guardians and parents.
It’s not going to be easy. So we reached out to our ECE network to find out what the experts think about the top benefits of child care, and how best to communicate those benefits with parents.
Here’s what they said.
Dr. Alice Sterling Honig is an ECE pro with a jaw-dropping record:
With this jam-packed resume, it’s safe to say Alice knows a thing or two about the benefits of child care.
And for her, one of the main benefits is that children who spend a longer time in preschool often gain better social skills and academic results later on.
“According to research, children who have had long experiences in preschool are more likely to graduate high school with better grades and have better social outcomes, such as not being gang members or skipping school,” explains Alice.
And there’s more.
“Preschool-age children in programs also learn prosocial positive skills, pre-literacy and thinking skills. These executive skills, such as long attention-span and ability to focus, have been shown to be critical predictors of later academic success,” she explains.
At The Syracuse Family Development Research Program (FDRP), Alice has seen first-hand results to back this up.
“We found that 10 years after graduating from our high-quality preschool program (that also provided parent home visits), youths were more likely to attend classes and far less likely to be convicted of juvenile delinquency, as well as less recidivism, in comparison with carefully matched control youth. Thus, the community saves money beyond the cost of providing quality preschool programs,” she says.
And it’s not just the children who feel the impact. Parents do too.
“Parents also voiced significantly more expectation that these youths would go on to more education, in comparison with control group parents. All the parents had been teenage high-school dropouts when the program began,” she says.
So, how do you make sure parents understand these benefits? It’s simple. Help them understand the positive outcomes that come from attending preschool.
“Programs that are attentive to partnering with parents can help them understand these positive results and boost confidence in entrusting their precious child to a quality preschool program,” she explains.
“For some children living with violence, neglect, or overworked parents, preschool is a safe place where a child is cherished and where they can find teacher attentiveness and approval.” — Dr. Alice Sterling Honig, Professor Emerita of Child Development, Syracuse University
If you haven’t already seen Cori Berg’s ECE From the Heart, you definitely do not want to miss it.
The executive director of Hope Day School kickstarted her ECE Covid support project during the pandemic, and it quickly gained over 3.5K followers (and counting!) — making Cori one of the ultimate experts on how Covid has impacted preschools and families.
So, when we asked her what the benefits of child care in the post-Covid world are, she jumped straight to it:
“Child care offers a safe place.”
“As ECE centers start to reopen, they’ll play the same role they played prior to and during the pandemic: a safe place with caring adults where their physical, intellectual, social and emotional growth is fostered,” says Cori.
For Cori, the pandemic highlighted the value of child care to many families — but she believes it’s up to the ECE community to continue to push those benefits.
“More than ever, our communities understand the valuable role child care plays in our infrastructure. I hope this is remembered as we move out of the pandemic, but it’s going to take educators and advocates continuing to speak our truth about the support we need, and the value of the various ECE contexts,” says Cori.
So, how does Cori connect with parents and remind them of the value of child care?
“For me, it’s important to really listen to parents and explain the decisions I make as a program leader. Parents touring our program need to hear the very deliberate care and attention we take to create and maintain safety practices. Honestly, it’s similar to the communication we have with our own staff members. Parents need to see the big picture: safety for everyone in the community, sustainability of the program, and minimal quarantine interruption,” she says.
Cori’s got one final tip.
“Do your research. Know why you’re choosing to continue a protocol or lift it. You’ll need this as you handle those moments with families and colleagues who view things differently. Be respectful and understanding but clear about the path you’re building forward. There’s a lot to consider, from both a safety and business perspective,” says Cori.
“During the pandemic, ECE was forced to pivot into online learning. It went pretty much as we expected. It gave children a chance to connect with peers and adults they already had relationships with, but it wasn’t a replacement for what we do in person.” — Cori Berg, Founder of ECE From the Heart
The ECE ace is well known for his work in the SEL field, so it’s no surprise that when we asked him what he thinks the benefits of child care are, he told us straight: “Child care has a huge impact on social emotional learning.”
“High quality child care has been associated with numerous benefits for society, particularly around the social-emotional and academic development of youth from low income communities. By investing in early childhood education, we are investing in our future,” says David.
But how does that translate into how ECE leaders deal with anxious parents in the post-Covid era?
“The key to reassuring and nurturing caregivers is to be available for listening. Caregivers want to know that ECE centers have done everything they can to keep their child safe. Setting the time aside to engage caregivers in dialogue is a critical component to allay any potential concerns on behalf of children,” he says.
“By investing in early childhood education, we are investing in our future.” — David Adams, CEO, The Urban Assembly
ECE consultant, podcast co-host, and author Cindy Terebush is a big believer in the power of the early childhood setting.
For Cindy, the top benefit of child care is all about preparing children for future challenges.
“In a child care setting, young children develop social-emotional skills and build relationships with adults and peers. They learn how to solve social problems, make decisions, navigate their emotions, and think critically about their actions and the actions of others. They learn important self-help skills that make functioning in a larger school environment seem less daunting because they know they’re capable people,” explains Cindy.
And after Covid, that’s more important than ever.
“In a post-Covid world, the role of child care in supporting social-emotional development and self-help skills becomes even more crucial. For the past 15 months, children didn’t have the same opportunities that children before them experienced. They spent less time meeting new people, less time with same-age peers, and, in some cases, less time being asked to do tasks themselves. By going to a child care environment, the children have a chance to learn the skills not practiced while we were all at home, limiting our exposure to Covid,” she says.
But despite the challenges Covid brought, Cindy believes there were some benefits we can all learn from.
“One of the benefits to come from Covid-related shutdowns and health regulations was that we needed to find new ways to communicate with families. Many child care settings started using or enhanced their use of apps to connect to families, met with them via video, and extended their email efforts. It’s important that, as more children go back to their child care settings, we maintain the use of apps and other software to connect to families, and continue to offer online meetings,” she says.
“It’s important that, as more children go back to their child care settings, we maintain the use of apps and other software to connect to families.” — Cindy Terebush, Early Childhood Consultant, Author and Podcast Co-host
For Cindy, the best use of technology is to connect with families and share the benefits of child care and health and safety protocols.
“As centers reopen, they need to reach out to families to assure them they still have protocols for health and safety and to let them know their children will thrive from being with teachers and peers in a way that is nurturing and safe. Both need to be discussed equally with families,” she says.
Plus, tech can help you survey families to find out what they think.
“Surveying families about their concerns can help child care administrators understand what they need to do and how to communicate to families to ease their fears. Early childhood professionals and families should be in partnership — and children benefit when we are,” she says.
“Learning throughout our lives is about connection and, in child care, children learn to connect to people, events, and experiences.” — Cindy Terebush, Early Childhood Consultant, Author and Podcast Co-host
If you don’t already know of Dr. Erica Vernold Miller, it’s time you do.
As CEO at boutique educational consulting company Professor Patty Cake Consulting, Erica’s work has had a huge impact on ECE leaders and families.
And for her, there’s no sidestepping the main benefit of child care: great socialization.
“Studies show one of the biggest benefits of child care is the opportunity for socialization. Children enrolled in child care learn how to interact with others, build friendships, and negotiate relationships with other children outside their home — social skills that will help them greatly when they transition to school. Given the average American family has only 1.9 children (2019 stats), it’s difficult for many families to replicate this within their own family,” explains Erica.
And that’s not all.
“Another big benefit of child care is it provides a place for children to be while parents/caregivers work. During the pandemic, when child care services and schools were closed, many parents/caregivers couldn’t work unless they had the flexibility to work from home. Essential workers who were single parents suffered greatly because their positions didn’t afford them the opportunity to work from home,” she explains.
“In the post-Covid world, child care centers play a crucial role in getting people back to work and getting the US economy back on track. Providing access to affordable, safe, child care centers and services needs to be a priority for any economic recovery plan. You can’t have economic recovery without it.” — Dr. Erica Vernold Miller, CEO, Professor Patty Cake Consulting
So, how can child care providers reassure, nurture and support anxious parents as ECE centers reopen?
“Transparency, transparency, transparency! Parents/caregivers need to know their children are safe in ECE center care. That means clear and consistent communication with parents/caregivers that shows they’re following scientific-based CDC recommendations for reopening centers,” explains Erica.
Here are Erica’s other tips for communicating with parents:
“Transparency doesn't stop with reopening. It needs to be embedded into the daily operational practices of the ECE center's so that parents/caregivers don’t feel like they are being left in the dark.” — Dr. Erica Vernold Miller, CEO, Professor Patty Cake Consulting
Communicating with parents is the number one priority to ensure steady enrollment and strong relationships.
No matter where your child care business is in the reopening-cycle, share the benefits of child care, drill down on safety protocols, and keep parents in the loop for ultimate trust-building — because the more you focus on the benefits of child care when you communicate with parents, the more reassured they’ll feel about sending children back to school.
The past months have been tough, but the future’s bright and the new normal offers the opportunity for your ECE biz to be stronger than ever.