Guide to Reopening a Childcare Center During COVID-19

As you prepare for reopening your childcare center, does it feel like you’re making it up as you go? While that is a perfectly normal feeling, the best thing you can do is be prepared. Even if you can’t possibly know all of the things to prepare for, you can certainly be proactive by researching what other centers have done successfully and what the CDC recommends. 

The most important thing that you’ll find in this post is communication. There’s no such thing as over-communicating when you are dealing with fears and unknowns for parents and families. Communicate, communicate, communicate, and then communicate even more! 

The following is a checklist made for you based on what my center is doing, what the CDC recommends, and what other centers have experienced. I will say – it isn’t easy. But it will be worth it. Let’s all be diligent and proactive and pioneer this reopening so that we do not have to go through this again! This is broken down kind of like planning a wedding where you’ll have “One month prior,” “2 weeks prior,” “day before,” etc. 

NOTE: Your timeline may look a little different based on how much notice you have been given before being able to reopen, so this process may need to move a lot quicker for you.

Download a printable spreadsheet version of this list for easy reference!

One Month Prior to Opening

Familiarize yourself with licensing requirements and CDC guidelines.

Make sure that you are following all of the requirements that your local authorities have specified.

Survey how many children will return right away and how many staff will be able to return right away.

Use surveymonkey.com, Google Forms or a similar tool to find out if families will return right away, in the fall, or not at all.

  • Which staff will not return due to age or health restrictions?
  • Build up your substitute list.

Changes in policies.

Edit your current handbook to reflect any changes you will be making in light of COVID-19.

  • Add what will happen with sudden closures for tuition and enrolment purposes.
  • Switch to online billing completely.

Create a plan for another temporary shutdown if one should occur.

This pandemic has shown that anything can happen when we least suspect it. Additionally, COVID-19 may come in waves so it is likely that your center will need to shut down again. Ways to be prepared include plans for:

  • Distant learning.
  • YouTube channel.
  • Newsletter.
  • Billing online.

Create a plan for how staff will be trained prior to opening.

When it comes to safety, everyone needs a proper chance to fully understand all of your new protocols.

Screening procedures for children each day.

Be as cautious as possible by continuously monitoring your children’s health so you can catch potential outbreaks early.

  • Choose consistent staff who will run this each day.
    • What kind of PPE will the staff person(s) wear?
    • Where will this take place? 
    • Temperature taken.
      • Try to use a thermometer that is easy, quick, and accurate like a forehead scan or ear scan. Using one that is quick and non-invasive will help the process run smoothly.
    • Visually screen and look for any obvious physical symptoms.
    • Verbally ask symptom-related questions.

Drop-off and pick-up procedures.

Do everything you can to limit the amount of people entering or exiting your facilities.

  • Inside or outside?
    • Do this outside if possible. Create a “car drop off” point where parents can just pull up and not get out of the car. 
    • Have your designated staff person wear PPE and open the car door for children. 
    • If outside is not an option, find a check-in spot in the lobby away from classrooms.
  • Stagger drop-off and pick-up times so that parents aren’t all showing up at once.
  • Assign a “runner” to take children back to classrooms and up to front at end of day.
  • Consider enabling check-in/out procedures on parents’ devices to keep from sharing the same device. Staff can also check in/out on HiMama on behalf of families.
    • If you have to share the same device or same pen for signing in, be sure to thoroughly disinfect between each use. 

Masks or no masks?

Professionals are strongly suggesting masks for all staff and masks for those over the age of 2. Decide what your school will do and communicate that clearly.

If you do decide to use masks, check out HiMama’s guide to introducing face masks to children.

Classroom procedures.

Carefully think through the logistics within your classrooms so teachers can take the right precautions.

  • Use painters tape to create lines and squares for distancing.
    • In classrooms.
    • In hallways.
    • In bathrooms.
    • At check-in station.
  • Keep the same teachers with the same students as much as possible. 
  • Decide what ratios and enrolment numbers will work best.
    • Limit to 10 children per class if possible.
    • Consider keeping siblings together.
  • Mealtime.
    • Disposable table cloths, plates, plasticware, etc.
    • Small groups for meals.
    • Eat near a sink.
  • Outdoor playtime.
    • Create a schedule for outside so that students can be outside longer when weather permits and not mixed with other classes/ages. 
  • Wipe down equipment between classes.

Cleaning procedures.

Cleaning has always been important at childcare centers, but you will now have to do significantly more to be extra safe.

  • Wipe down all surfaces and toys throughout the day.
  • Consider closing 15 minutes early (5:45pm instead of 6pm) to allow for extra cleaning at the end of the day.
  • Keep some classrooms closed for disinfecting so that there is always one room available to switch to immediately if needed.

Budget for new expenses.

Costs will add up so make sure that there are no surprises. Things you’ll need include:

  • Cleaning supplies.
  • Thermometers.
  • Masks.
  • Gloves.
  • Gowns (PPE).
  • New staff positions (runner, check-in).

Check staff files and make sure all items enclosed are up to date. 

Now is the time to make sure that only staff who are fully prepared to be looking after the children are there, such as:

  • Staff health assessments.
  • Clearances.
  • Trainings.

Check child files and make sure all items enclosed are up to date.

If anything should happen, you will want all of your documentation to be up-to-date. Common documents to consider are:

  • Agreement/contract.
  • Emergency contact forms.
  • Allergy forms.

Two Weeks Prior to Opening

Train staff on what to expect.

Ensure everyone knows exactly what is of expected of them so that everyone is as protected as possible.

  • Plan to do three or more separate sessions, whether in person with social distancing or virtually.
  • Prepare as if the very first day of school and very first time meeting families.
  • Extend grace to students, families, and to yourself!
  • New cleaning requirements.
  • How and when to change gloves and masks.
  • How to look for illness.
  • What to do if you suspect a child may have COVID-19.
  • Allow time for rearranging room and getting comfortable with set up.
  • Have a cleaning expert demonstrate exactly how to disinfect and clean a room for entire staff.

Deep clean each classroom that will be in use.

Set your rooms up so they are as safe as possible.

  • Consider hiring a disinfection service.
  • Eliminate soft toys, sensory bins, dramatic play costumes, etc. indefinitely.

Communicate ALL changes to families and what to expect.

There will be a lot of changes, so do your best to make sure everyone does their part.

  • Consider sending a few emails and then one big email to highlight/recap all of the important things. 
  • Create a “reopening” handbook that has ALL changes included so that parents have everything in one package.
  • New drop-off/pick-up procedures.
  • Hours.
  • Social distancing.
  • What children can and cannot bring with them into school.
  • Staying home when sick.
  • Tuition updates.

Purchase all cleaning items needed.

Order extras so you’re less likely to run out.

Send a “what to pack” list for parents who are returning.

Be sure to include wipes, soap, and paper towels on that list so you can stock up.

One Week Prior to Opening

Staff meeting in person (if possible) with social distancing to do some team building and get reacquainted.

Now is the time to rally together and fully support one another.

Have one day of training and lesson planning for teachers to do together with social distancing in place. 

This can be very challenging so a practice run will be very beneficial.

Have teachers decide how they will greet the children.

Are hugs okay? Are high fives okay? Are there other fun ways to greet them?

Give each staff person a handbook/packet of new changes in policy and procedures.

Ask them to read thoroughly and return a “read receipt” when they have completed it.

Send email to parents confirming “first day back” procedures.

Parents will really appreciate the guidance and this will help to keep things running smoothly.

Consider having a parent Zoom meeting for “back to school” jitters.

Since you won’t have an opportunity to meet in person, this will go a long way to help calm nerves.

Take a deep breath!

You’ve been doing a lot of preparing, so be sure to take a step back and focus on your mental health so you’re ready to go once you reopen.

First Day Back

Arrive early.

Have coffee or tea for each teacher waiting for him/her in the classroom.

Make sure all staff have proper masks and wearing correctly ready to greet the families.

Consider having all teachers in the lobby or outside on the first day of school at least 6 feet apart to wave to the parents.

Take LOTS of pictures.

Upload to HiMama throughout the day to show parents and reassure them that their children are happy and safe.

Make a “first day back” sign and take each child’s photo as a keepsake.

This will definitely be a day to remember!

Debrief as a staff at the end of the day for 10 minutes.

Review how things went so you can improve moving forward. Now’s also the time to let them know how much they’re appreciated!

Get a good night’s rest and show yourself grace!

You’ve definitely earned it by now!

Download a printable spreadsheet version of this list for easy reference!


This list is only a group of suggestions for your childcare center. You know your families best, and you know what will work and what will not work for your staff. As long as you make sure you are following the non-negotiable guidelines and keeping everyone safe, it will all be okay. 

Since most people will be a bit on edge, try to add fun in whatever you can. You can make masks for your staff with funny sayings, or create/share a video to staff with something that will make them smile, make an announcement on your loudspeaker or walkie talkie on the first day that will bring some light-heartedness to the situation. Whatever you can do to ease families and staff ahead of time will set you up for success. 

None of us have this figured out perfectly because none of us have done this before! We are all pioneers on this journey, so if something is working really well for you that isn’t on this list, write it in the comments below and share! We are all in this together, and some sunshine will come out of this new norm even if we aren’t able to quite see it yet! 

Missy Knechel

MIssy is a professor in the early childhood department at Eastern University and director of Victory Early Learning Academy, a childcare center that she started ten years ago. Prior to that, she taught Kindergarten and second grade for a total of 10 years. She has been married to her best friend, Jason, for 15 years, and together they have four beautiful children ages 5, 7, 9 and 11 in the suburbs of Philadelphia, PA. In her spare time, Missy loves to bake, read historical fiction, sing karaoke and travel to Central America on short term missions.

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