It’s 2019 and the digital revolution has officially arrived in child care centers across the US.

Sounds like the beginning of a Hollywood blockbuster, right?

Well, hold onto your seats, because it turns out that all those science fiction movies you’ve been watching are much less fictional than you might think.

Technology has been slowly transforming the way that child care centers have been running for some time now, and according to recent headlines, the digital transformation shows no signs of stopping.

But how will this impact early learning centers at the ground level?

What are the main areas to be ‘revolutionized’?

How can you get all your different tech tools to play nicely with each other?

We evaluated the top US child care franchises to see how the best and brightest utilize digital tools and systems to run their centers smoothly, connect with families faster and futureproof their businesses for a long, profitable legacy. Check it out.

Why every ECE center should run digitally

From digitizing wage payments to enabling guests to unlock hotel rooms from their mobile phones—digital technology is transforming every industry from retail to hospitality.

And child care is no exception.

But if we really want to understand why child care centers should care about yet another tech trend, we need to step back from the tech-jargon for a minute and try to understand why full-scale digitization is no longer optional.

Parents love tech

First of all, the new generation of parents deeply trust technology. In fact, millennials believe in tech so much, they almost always choose to pay bills online. So, when it comes to who young parents will trust with their children, child care centers that can prove they understand technology—and can utilise it effectively—will ultimately gain the trust of parents quicker than those who don’t.

Teachers are starved for time

It’s no secret child care is a demanding profession. By making use of technology and automating some of the most mindless, time-consuming tasks, ECE professionals can put their energy into what really matters—the kids. And despite popular belief, research shows that experienced teachers with 10-20 years under their belts are more likely to use technology than those who are still learning the ropes.

Children deserve engaged care

Research from Harvard Medical School has shown that babies and young children are in need of two things above all else—attention and reassurance. Technology can help free up time and mental and emotional bandwidth for teachers so they can focus on nurturing the children in their care, while engaging parents in their child’s development (even when they’re at work).

Lesson #1 – KinderCare: Using tech to ensure the teachers you love stick around

Employee retention can cause headaches for any organization, but in early learning environments where children rely heavily on their relationships with providers—it’s downright crucial to get it right.

But keeping your best team members on board isn’t easy.

According to a 2015 Office Team survey, two-thirds of respondents said their organization had lost employees because they simply weren’t suited to the work environment.

Taking it one step further, an article from Bentley University claims that staffing mismatches are more common than we think, and come down to:

  • Employees not having enough experience or employers being blindsided by ‘perfect’ resumes
  • Employers writing off potential employees from other industries
  • Existing employees being promoted outside their abilities
  • Not fitting in with the workplace culture

KinderCare is one leading child care franchise that has taken this to heart. “We studied our culture and started to build a customized approach to selecting teachers who match our very best teachers,” said Wei-Li Chong, the company’s former CHRO.

Teams at KinderCare spent two years interviewing both their highest and lowest-performing teachers to discover what it was that separated the best from the rest.

KinderCare realized the next step was to use technology to help find and keep their best teachers.

They worked with Gallup to craft a 30-minute online values assessment tool which utilizes their research data to help predict which candidates will thrive in their child care centers and be more likely to stick around.

And it worked.

“Children at centers employing more than 75% of system-recommended teachers showed a four-month developmental advantage,” said Wei-Li, “At the same centers—more than 1,000 in total—teacher turnover fell by at least 10% and overall employee turnover dropped by 25%.”

Pro tip: Use a child care app that offers a secure message center so that you and your team can communicate freely and give each other plenty of 🙌, straight from your mobile phones.

[DESIGN NOTE: ADD SCREENSHOT OF MESSAGE CENTER]

Lesson #2 – Kiddie Academy: Streamlining ops to the max

Okay, you have your star teachers in place. How do you keep them happy?

Filing papers, running licensing reports, cross checking employee timesheets…the list of boring, time-consuming admin tasks feels never-ending. And as educational protocol and child care policies increase, so do the numbers of papers to push.

If you want to make your center one worth working for, you need to find ways to take the boring admin stuff off your employees’ plates.

Luckily, technology can replace many of these onerous tasks, one by one. From apps that allow employees to check in as they enter the building (no more time cards!), to waitlist and inquiry management software, the number of tasks that can be digitized and even automated has risen to make boring admin tasks a thing of the past.

But unfortunately, there is a flip-side. Today, there are so many different apps, programs and new technologies to learn and coordinate that doing so becomes a job in itself.

Having a central ‘nerve system’ to bring all these systems and strategies together is the next step in utilizing technologies and making sure your time is well spent.

Kiddie Academy has been running since 1982 and has over 200 franchises across the US. And Milena Mattingly is owner of Kiddie Academy, DC West End.

According to Milena the ability to use technology for students, staff and parents was one of the key factors that contributed to her decision to set up a center to begin with, stating that “leveraging information technology is the best way to streamline operations, ensure proper accounting and management, and provide services beyond just what is required.”

“[Our Academy’s] administrative staff uses technology to maintain student and staff records, provide online continuing professional development options, track and develop enrollment and wait lists, communicate with parents on a regular basis or in emergency situations, and for public relations…via [online listing websites], parent blogs, community forums and other social media sites.”

Pro tip: No matter which tech you choose, make sure your provider can deliver customizable reports that fit your unique funding and reporting requirements. Remember, your system should adjust to your operational needs—not the other way around.

[DESIGN NOTE: ADD SCREENSHOT OF REPORTING FEATURE]

Lesson #3 – The Goddard Schools: Getting familiar with the F word

Finance is one of those seemingly innocuous words that has the potential to make administrators jump for joy or cringe with dread.

From chasing tuition payments to ensuring customers stay on your enrollment lists—finance can be the source of some serious headaches. But what if you could use technology to make your cashflow run more smoothly than a freshly-cleaned whiteboard?

The Goddard Schools are one leading ECE franchise that have utilized technology to make a big difference in how they run their financial ops.

In 2015, Goddard invested in creating their own data-management system which allowed them to cross-reference data from each of their child care centers. The patterns that emerged helped them identify indicators that help with customer retention and financial planning.

In fact, one of their initial discoveries led to a change in marketing patterns, enhancing their reach and ultimately boosting enrollment.

“Our business is like any business,” says Robert Scopinich, CFO at Goddard Systems Inc., “You don’t want to give your customers—in our case, the parents—a reason to look somewhere else.”

Pro tip: If your school, center or franchise has its own unique way of doing these, make sure you select a child care software system that can seamlessly support your current finance tools and systems. Just because your billing team uses one system, doesn’t mean the rest of your center can’t stay in sync to keep those enrollment rates high!

[DESIGN NOTE: ADD SCREENSHOT OF DAXKO/QUICKBOOKS/SIMILAR INTEGRATION]

Lesson #4 – Kiddie Academy: Track, track and track some more!

From the time we’re born, tracking progress is one of the most important activities in our lives.

Whether it’s noting down a child’s first tooth or the first time they successfully write their own name, there is something innate in us all that goes crazy for tracking.

With the rise of technology, we can now measure our daily steps, keep a diary of our food intake and even track fertility on our phones. And ECE center data is no exception.

From measuring attendance to noting children’s activity, child care providers can now track as much as they want and instantly share those moments with parents.

Kiddie Academy is a leader in this area. They use technology to share children’s data with parents and ensure that “parents get a firsthand mobile look at [children’s] classroom activities—including frequent updates about how their child is developing and teacher comments, photos and videos that capture can’t-miss learning moments.”

And given that millennials check their phones 150 times a day (yes, you read that right) there are more than enough opportunities for teachers to reach out.

Pro tip: Ask if your child care software has a Smart Assistant Device integration so that you ask Alexa or Google Assistant to help you keep track of it all, hands-free. (Or join our Early Access Program and be among the first to try it out!)

Lesson #5 – Primrose Schools: Engage the parents

According to a Pew Research Center study on parental involvement, around half of the parents surveyed said they wish they could be more involved in their child’s education. And that’s good news for both parents and ECE practitioners.

Because with a little help from technology, family engagement has never been easier.

Take Primrose Schools for example.

Primrose was founded in the early 1980s and focuses on year-round schooling for children aged six weeks to six-years old. They also have social responsibility and community at the heart of their provision—and are experts at utilizing technology to share their values with the world.

In 2018, Primrose School launched an epic social media campaign called Let Guilt Go. The awesomely empathetic marketing campaign was aimed at eliminating the feeling that parents simply aren’t ‘good enough’.

Early childhood professional and mom, Lynn Louise Wonders, agrees that, “Moms and dads alike feel guilty they’re not spending enough time with their children due to career demands, or they feel that they’re falling behind at work because home life is so demanding.”

By homing in on the emotions parents feel about their children and the difficulties of a good work/life balance, Primrose School were able to connect on a visceral level with parents. The resulting video went viral, with over 175 million media impressions—helping Primrose School cement their message as a franchise that truly understands what every member of the family (not just the children) needs to succeed.

Pro tip: Look for a digital tool that can help you and your teachers easily share updates about what their kids are learning and how they’re progressing, without having to chase after each other with paper sheets.

So, what’s next in the digital age of child care?

From finance to operations and family engagement to tracking, technology is swiftly making its mark on the child care industry.

Problem is, many centers are locked into different tools and systems that don’t talk to each other. Forcing your staff to log in and out of a million different programs defeats the purpose of tech to begin with. (And it definitely doesn’t help free up their time.)

What the child care tech takeover needs is a system that brings it all together.

The right technology can unite all your business stakeholders so that everyone from your teachers to your HR teams to your finance gurus and your first-time fathers, feels 100% supported by the work you do every day to make the next generation better than ever.

Ready for the right kind of tech trend?

Here are some other resources to check out:

Market Your Preschool to Millennial Parents: 5 Shockingly Simple Strategies that Work

How to Create a Positive Working Culture at Your Child Care Center

3 Things You Didn’t Know You Could Do with MomentPath

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