By Jessica Larson, SolopreneurJournal.com
The past year has been full of challenges for preschool teachers and child care providers. Many child care facilities have been forced to shut their doors, unable to keep operating amid health concerns and diminished enrollment.
In Virginia, for example, more than 2,261 child care centers — 40% of the state’s total — had closed their doors by July 14, 2020. This created problems for parents, and mothers in particular, as they struggled to deal with the added responsibility of looking after their kids while holding down jobs.
There’s no doubt that the pandemic has put preschool teachers and child care workers in a bind, in more ways than one. Closing can create financial hardship for you and your clients, some of whom may not return if and when you reopen. But staying open can entail health risks and the need for scrupulous attention to detail in keeping everyone safe.
Fortunately, there are resources available to help you. As the situation continues to evolve, here are some ideas on how to navigate what’s still to come.
Give your tech a boost
If you’re a child care provider who chooses to (and is able to) stay open, follow CDC safety guidelines to keep yourself, your children, and their families safe.
When indoors, ensure proper ventilation by keeping windows open, and eliminate HVAC air recirculation. Consider installing a mechanical filter. High-efficiency particulate air, or HEPA, filters are the most efficient at filtering particles out of the air. The next best thing is a filter with a MERV value of 14-16. (MERV stands for “minimum efficiency reporting value.”)
Make sure restroom fans are operating properly, and think about using ultraviolet germicidal radiation to kill the virus. Fixtures can be set up in such a way as to prevent direct exposure to those in the room.
While you’re at it, make sure you don’t miss a beat if the power goes out. If you live in an area that’s subject to harsh weather conditions or other factors that cause frequent outages, think about purchasing a portable backup generator, so your classes can continue without interruption.
Shore up classroom safety
Clean surfaces as often as possible, especially those that come into contact with food. Wash and sanitize any toys and materials used in learning activities after every use: Use water and detergent, then sanitize them with an EPA-approved disinfectant before rinsing them again. This is especially important since young children tend to put things in their mouths.
Maintain social distancing, and keep masks in place for everyone age 2 and older. Have kids wash their hands frequently and do the same, yourself. If you can’t wash your hands with soap and water, use hand sanitizer.
Explore what you can do remotely
Hands-on activities and interaction may be more important for young children than for anyone else, so remote preschooling can be difficult. If you decide you can offer some level of effective remote learning, be sure you have a good Wi-Fi connection, cameras, and microphones to ensure that your message gets across.
You can still do reading activities remotely, play games like rhyming games, or direct drawing activities. It’s not impossible. Remember, Big Bird and his friends have kept young children engaged remotely for years, so you can, too. If you need ideas, check out episodes of Sesame Street and other preschool, learning-based TV programs.
Boost your financial security
At a time when many child care and preschool workers aren’t able to work in the classroom, it’s also important to look after your own financial health.
The U.S. Labor Department this year expanded eligibility for unemployment benefits this year to include workers who faced unsafe workplaces, school employees not under contract, and parents who had to quit their jobs when child care centers closed.
If you’ve been affected, see whether you qualify for unemployment. In the meantime, plan for possible crises down the road by making sure your health and retirement plans are adequate.
In the longer term, start to think about protecting your family’s financial interests when you’re gone: Create an estate planning checklist that includes your will, executor, health directives, etc.
Nailing down big-picture considerations can free you up to focus on your immediate situation.
Operating a preschool or child care facility is a challenge under any circumstances — more than ever during a pandemic. These are just a few ideas to help you meet that challenge. What others can you come up with? The more you brainstorm, the more ways you’ll find to keep your children safe and engaged during the pandemic and beyond.