In this time of uncertainty and confusion brought on by the pandemic, childcare operators are being asked to jump into action in a way they have never been before. We have been morphing and flexing and working under very strange times. It is because of this that some childcare centers now have the new option of providing care to school-aged children within their already operating childcare programs.
As you know, opening any new program can be both scary and exciting. It offers the promise of a new financial stream, the challenge of doing something new and the feeling of pride when it is a success. But you also know that new programs can bring a whole host of concerns and headaches from licensing to staffing and programming right down to how to pay the bills.
Here are some tips on how to navigate opening a school-aged program:
How To Implement Your School-Aged Program
1. Be Safe
Be sure to do your homework and familiarize yourself with licensing requirements and CDC guidelines. In the event that you cannot find the licensing requirement that applies to your facility, if you are unsure or need clarification, call your Licensing Officer. They are there to educate, support and help you through the transition.
2. Consider the Physical Surroundings and Environment
Where will you hold your school-aged program? In multi-age rooms, it is permitted to have a mix of younger and older children, however you must always consider ratio. It is likely that you will need a separate area that is dedicated to the school-aged gang.
You may also want to think about arranging the outdoor play schedule so that the groups are not mixing in the playground. Licensing regulations usually don’t care for this and an over-large mixed age group causes chaos for caregivers and children alike. One way to accomplish separation is to plan outdoor walks and experiences with your school-aged kids. This age group loves to go on adventures!
3. Activities, Equipment and Programming
School-aged kids may have an immediate attraction to the younger children’s playthings but that nostalgia soon ends and turns into boredom. Bored kids can develop disruptive behaviors so be sure to evaluate the types of toys and equipment available to keep kids active and stimulated. Remember that school-aged appropriate items are not necessarily right for the younger crowd, so be sure that toys and materials are packed away properly after use to avoid any accidental choking or other hazards.
Kids love to be creative and school-aged kids have a penchant for wanting to do their own thing. Give them plenty of recycled materials, art supplies like glue, sparkles, buttons, eggshells, whatever! Put a few giant boxes in the yard with some paint and watch them go.
Older kids also like the challenge of a little competition. Nothing is more fun than beating their teacher at Snakes and Ladders. Have a variety of fun games and engage children in a group session.
Get active! Remember, the kids have been in class all day and they need exercise and fresh air. Organize low-key mini sports events like scavenger hunts or capture the flag.
Don’t forget to feed them! Provide fun snacks whenever possible, make jello, bake, teach them how to make your famous chicken. Kids love food and they get so much from having somebody teach them about food.
4. Staffing, Schedule and Transportation
Who will teach the school-aged program? Depending on your regulations, the staff for this program may need a 20-hour Responsible Adult Certificate. Check into the licensing regulations to ensure staff are appropriately qualified and screened.
What is the ratio?You must ensure that there is a safe staff to child ratio that meets regulations at all times. Are there backup teachers in the event somebody is ill?
What about kids that may need one on one attention? Every group has them and in these difficult times we are seeing more and more children that require a little more care and attention. Will the staffing be sufficient to allow for occasional extra time when a child needs something more?
What will the schedule look like? What are the hours of operation? Will you offer care before and after school or just after school? Will you be able to provide full daycare during school closures?
Don’t forget those kids have to get to school from your center and back again. How will you accomplish that with appropriate attention to care and supervision? Will you walk or have transportation? If you are lucky your center will be close to the schools you serve and will not require wheels!
How to Promote Your School-Aged Program
Make sure your school-aged program reflects the same quality and care as the already well-known and loved programs that have been running. Keep your message clear and consistent with the values you are already known for. If you wish to convey the message that you are providing a warm and stimulating environment then be sure to convey that in all your communications.
Network, network, network! Get out into the community and let people know what you are doing! Start close to home with your existing client base and give them first opportunity. Chances are there are school-aged siblings and parents who would be relieved to have all of their children taken care of by the people they already know and trust. Talk to local business and let your Childcare Resource and Referral know so they can boost your signal!
Social media can be a monster but it can also be an amazing and wonderful tool when used appropriately. If you are using social media, then use it to let people know what you are doing! I would caution between mixing business and personal and would shy away from advertising on any personal pages. If you haven’t already, set up social media specifically for the childcare center, always respecting confidentiality and obtaining consent for images.
Update Your Website
There is nothing worse than going to a company’s website only to find it out of date. Keeping your webpage fresh shows that you are a dynamic place to be.
Change Your Voicemail
Use every free opportunity to get the word out. People are held hostage when they are waiting to leave you a message, so utilize this by telling them what you are doing!
Do you have any tips for implementing a school-age program at a childcare center? Let us know in the comments!