No doubt about it. For many early childhood education professionals, the past two years have felt like an endless loop of Ron Popeil yelling “But wait! There’s more!”
And yet, if any industry was prepared to handle these changes, it’s this one.
This past year, we’ve been fortunate to interview and learn from top ECE experts on how they’ve handled the many shifts within the industry. We’ve witnessed firsthand just how creatively resilient the ECE community is.
As we close the door on 2021, we wanted to take a moment to look back at the many business, community and life lessons learned from our expert network of ECE practitioners. From combating the national teacher shortage to raising a new generation of happy, healthy kids — we’re looking ahead to make next year even better than the last.
First on the list, the national teacher shortage. Let’s talk about it.
Between the pandemic pushing the entire world into a mid-life-crisis mentality, and the fact that our teachers’ main job functions include wiping noses during a global health pandemic, there is no doubt you’re going to be facing turnover in your team.
Supporting your staff is arguably the most important thing you can do for your business, your community, your students, and really, the country as a whole.
Teachers have such a profound impact on kids, especially in early childhood. Your facility is where they learn the core values of being a human, and begin to develop their sense of self. Something as small as a teacher giving a child a hug on a bad day can make the largest impact in that child’s life.
“Though some family stress may be unavoidable, teachers can provide the children with an environment that helps to mitigate the stress they are experiencing elsewhere,” says Cindy Terebush, author, podcast host and professional development provider.
By providing a more supportive environment at your center, you can help combat that stress both in young children and in the teachers who serve them.
This year has been tough on all of us, especially the kids.
Imagine being three years old in 2021. Family members suddenly can’t come over as much, everyone around you is scared, people you love may have even been sick.
No matter which way you look at it, young children have had to make adult-level sacrifices in their routines, extracurricular activities, and socialization.
Rae Pica, award-winning author of over 20 books, including What If Everybody Understood Child Development? and What If We Taught the Way Children Learn? had a lot to say about how educators can help let kids be kids.
She highlighted the need for play-based learning, and emphasized the importance of keeping academic stress out of early childhood education.
With offices closed down due to the pandemic, and the realization that humans can actually be productive while wearing pajama pants, parents have experienced a variety of schedule changes. In fact, around 70% of employees expect a flexible work schedule post-pandemic, with 50% saying they’d leave a job if it wasn’t offered.
Not only are we seeing parents’ schedules change, we’re also seeing some pandemic-related trauma hitting families as they return to work.
“One of the ways we use MomentPath is to communicate with parents and educate them on what we're doing with Covid. It’s an extremely helpful tool for us,” said Gigi Schweikert, CEO of Lightbridge Academy. The way she sees it, a little communication can go a long way in letting parents know you have their back.
“We send small videos about masks, sanitization, screening processes, etc., to help parents visually learn about what we're doing to protect their children and them.”
“Dogs are the new kids and plants are the new dogs” is a common phrase you hear when discussing millennials and parenting.
The reality is, there are quite a few millennials that are in fact, making children. But this generation of parents has had a completely different life experience than past generations of parents, and we need to change how we’re marketing to them.
20 years ago, TV, radio, print advertising, and the occasional carrier pigeon were the best ways to get the word out about your business. Today, only 19% of millennials watch cable TV, and surprisingly, even fewer have access to carrier pigeons.
In all seriousness, millennial parents demand trust and transparency. Your school’s marketing should reflect that.
Utilize digital marketing platforms to get the word out
Show off features of your facilities that millennials find important
Kids are growing up in a tech-driven world. And this has never been more clear than in the age of the pandemic, where virtual learning has taken the stage, and screen time has become the new “go play outside until the streetlights come on.”
Even the most savvy child care experts are surprised to see what a four year-old can do with a smartphone, and how fast they can figure it out.
“Children are all getting fast-tracked on learning various technology platforms, operating systems and ways people can still connect, even without being in face-to-face situations,” explained Jennifer Romanoff, VP of Curriculum & Professional Development at Lightbridge Academy in a previous MomentPath article on the role of tech in ECE classrooms.
Of course, tech still comes with a lot of developmental “what if’s”. How we consume media and information changes daily, leaving little time for researchers to determine the impact on young children.
Yet children are going to grow up in a world with gadgets. They are going to need to understand how to use a computer at some point in their lives. The lack of research around long-term developmental effects leaves a lot of room for interpretation. It’s up to each center to find a balance that works for their staff, parents, and children.
As an ECE professional, your voice is crucial to your community.
Legislators do not work in ECE. They do not understand the daily struggles that come with running your business, nor are they properly educated on what’s best for young children.
As we move into a new year, it’s important to take a moment to reaffirm your commitment to advocating for your community.
“[State legislators] are not mind readers anymore than the rest of us,” says Rae Pica, author and early childhood education consultant. While it’s important to communicate with your local and national legislators, it’s just as important to communicate within your own community. (More on that in a minute.)
It’s so easy to get caught up in the day-to-day tasks of running a bustling preschool or child care center. But it’s important for everyone involved to stop for a moment and really understand the impact you’re making — not only for the families you provide care for — but the country as a whole.
By working with your parents, teachers and staff to create a more engaging ECE experience, you’re also shaping a better generation of humans and a better future for the industry.
Arguably, one of the most devastating effects the pandemic has had on children is the loss of their “village.”
Kids crave consistency and routines, and thrive when involved in multiple types of socialization each day. However, the biggest impact on the loss of a “village” is going to be seen with the parents.
For some parents, the loss of their village can mean they are facing huge challenges with time management and prioritization when it comes to their child. As an ECE expert, it is incredibly important to recognize the challenges for parents who are now left to go it alone.
Creating a strong line of communication between teachers and parents provides a baseline of priorities for each individual child and can help parents understand their exact needs, and how to meet them.
Is someone chopping onions?
No, that’s just a parent dropping a three-year-old off at school. Every parent knows the struggle of dropping a child off at preschool for the first time... or second... or 200th. The truth is, some kids just struggle a bit more than others when it comes to saying goodbye.
The good news is, the most hectic times of day can often be transformed into the most beneficial — if you’ve got the right routine. Successful drop offs and pickups can help prepare children to learn, while increasing a parent’s trust in your ability to care for their child throughout the day.
Done right, it’s a great bonding experience for everyone. And one that young children can count on during a time when life is anything but predictable.
Here are Dr. Bailey’s recommendations for a good drop off/pick up routine:
A one-minute connecting ritual at drop off
A one-minute connecting ritual at pick up
The past two years have shown a large disruption in how preschools and child care centers run.
And that’s important, because child care is arguably the hardest industry to create systems and processes for. You not only need to ensure productivity is prioritized, but you also need to ensure that the young children in your care are getting as much time as possible with your teachers and staff.
Between the downtime of having kids out of the classroom during the on-again off-again lockdowns of the past two years, as well as the fact that literally everything has to change post-pandemic — now is arguably the best time to implement new systems that will help you run your centers more efficiently.
Change can be hard, but it’s not always bad. If there was any industry ready to take on all of life’s curveballs these past two years, it’s ECE.
Development and growth is what this community is all about. And collectively, early learning professionals have done an amazing job at keeping things afloat during these *ahem* unprecedented times.
Finding the silver lining in the chaos is important not only for the health of yourself and your community, but to position your schools and centers for whatever comes next.
There is no doubt the past two years have been difficult on all of us, especially the kids.
Which is why it’s more important than ever to ensure your child care center is prepared to take on the next set of challenges as things get back to some kind of “normal”.
No matter what the future will bring, one thing’s for sure. ECE professionals and the communities they serve are facing a new world of parents and kids, with very different needs to be prioritized.
However you choose to position your center for what lies ahead, remember that there is no one-size-fits-all approach to managing a child care center. When you’re ready to create your systems your way, reach out to one of our experts here at MomentPath to learn more about how our platform can help you prepare for a better future in ECE.