Since reopening in June, I have been able to see firsthand what works and what simply was wishful thinking. We had to learn the hard way, and now you get to just learn from our experience! Here are some helpful “hacks” for reopening your center.
Make Sure Your Thermometer Actually Works
Infrared thermometers are great when they work! If you’re checking in children outside, when the sun is directly on them, the temperature of a child will be very inaccurate. I have seen children literally have a temperature of 108F simply because they were directly in the sunlight. Clearly, that child would not be coherent if that were his real temperature, so something was not right.
We have found that the infrared thermometers, while extremely convenient and non-invasive for children, are only accurate in the perfect situation. Since most of us are checking temps outside, you may not always have an accurate reading. Make sure you have a back-up thermometer for those moments. I literally keep in my back pocket a thermometer that goes in the child’s ear along with the disposable inserts. This makes for a quick assessment when the infrared thermometer may not be working.
Stock Up on Spray Mist Bottles
Having a spray mist bottle in every bathroom and for outside play equipment on hooks to grab at any time is a game-changer! Think of the ones you see at hair salons. Since they have such a fine mist, they dry faster. At my center, we use this to spray bleach and water onto all hard surfaces. This is a great alternative to Lysol spray or other more expensive, hard to find cleaning sprays. Enlist a trusted staff member to fill them up each morning fresh!
Hang Up Washable Shoe Organizers
Since we have gone completely “socks only” in all of our classrooms and not just the infant rooms, we want to make sure shoes stay together and are easy to access. Hang a shoe organizer in the hallway for children to slip their shoes in and out of that have their own plastic pocket that can easily be sprayed down. This is a game-changer should there ever be a fire emergency. You can easily grab the entire organizer in a moment rather than going outside fully barefoot or taking time to put shoes on. (Note: in the event of an emergency, getting children to safety is of utmost importance, so use your judgement!)
Wear a Utility Belt
Have the staff person who is checking in children wear a utility belt. You can hang your thermometer, back up thermometer, extra gloves, etc. all in one organized place so you can easily check children in. This really helps keep things moving smoothly without having to run back and forth to get these items.
Have a Laminated Sign for Each Family Car
Give each family a laminated sign with the child’s first and last name to hold up at pickup time. This should be typed in big font with dark letters. To make it easier to pick up, since parents are wearing masks when they pull up, have them hold up a sign that you create so you know what child belongs to that car.
*NOTE* Do not offer to buckle a child into a seat for liability reasons. When walking children to the car at pick up, make sure that the driver is the one to buckle the child in. This will clear you from any issues with incorrectly buckling a child in.
Invest in Good Walkie Talkies
This is a must even without a pandemic, but these little devices are so helpful with pickup times! When I see a car pull up, I get on the walkie talkie, and I say, “can you please get Joey Smith packed up?” and this lets the teacher know to do so as well as lets the designated runner know to go get Joey to walk him out. Walkie talkies save us so much time and they help communication go smoothly. (Plus, they’re fun!) When choosing a good walkie talkie system, look for ones that do not have a long antennae since those tend to break easily.
Provide Individual Sensory Bins
Purchase individual sensory bins for each child. If you’re in early childhood education, you know how invaluable sensory bins are. Since we are trying to not have any “community play” where children all touch the same things, go to the local dollar store or even ask parents to send in one container to use, and fill it with whatever medium you would like (sand, water, beans, rice, etc.) for safe, sensory fun! Be sure to still have children wash hands before and after.
Store Masks in File Folders
At my center, each classroom teacher (age 2 and up) has their own plastic file organizer to keep masks in safely and individually when not being worn. This plastic file organizer is easy to clean and wipe down and helps keep each mask separate from each other. It has been very helpful to us rather than trust that a young child will keep their mask from getting germs!
Hire Extra “Runners”
This is probably the best idea I have. Yes, it costs an extra $60 or so per day, but it is WELL worth it. Trust me. I have two extra runners working from 7am-9am and then two runners from 3pm-5pm. The only role these staff members have is to “run” students from their car to their classroom and then classroom to their car.
This helps keep the teachers from having to leave the room. It is a time-saver and makes everything run smoothly. If you are familiar with the customer service at Chick-Fil-A, picture how fast that drive-thru experience is! That is how my staff has described the drop-off and pick-up experience since we have runners! The best expense we have made thus far!
Hopefully some of these “hacks” help you and ease you into this school year. I think we are all going to be learning as we go and tweaking things along the way, so make sure you are sharing your ideas with each other. Collaboration is key!
What are some hacks that you have found to work? What idea from above will you be trying at your center? Share in the comments below!