If you thought that a global pandemic was the only reason why everyone went so “tech crazy,” and that we will somehow go back to “normal” and not need technology as much, my friend, you are in for a rude awakening! Tech is here to stay, and so are these other three things beyond 2021:
1. Technology is here to stay.
Technology in the classroom has been on the rise for decades with iPads, SMART boards, light tables, digital cameras, etc., but they are only a small portion of how technology will be incorporated into your program. In 2020, we saw how convenient technology was for communication- especially for meetings and correspondence. Parents want to know how their children are doing throughout the day, and according to HiMama’s Parent Satisfaction Report where over 500 parents were interviewed, parents expect to receive regular updates, yet a shocking 76% of today’s daycares are still sending home handwritten paper reports or daily sheets! Yikes! Since the report also explains that millennial parents make up the majority demographic of today’s daycare families, and they mainly operate through apps and emails, it’s a must that providers offer electronic options for communication. If your center is not using an app or at least an electronic report for daily communication, parents at your center will find another provider who will. It is that important to the millennial parents you are serving.
When a center uses an app (like HiMama, for example), daycares operate at a higher quality. Apps keep the center organized and allow for much easier communication strategies. An app allows a teacher to quickly snap a photo and immediately upload it to a report as well as send a quick message directly to a parent if needed. Handwritten reports can be taxing on teachers and just not efficient. Handwritten reports do not allow for photos or videos, and it has been proven from the HiMama research that 94% of parents with high happiness scores receive photo updates, while 66% of parents with low happiness scores do not receive photo updates. Let’s face it- who doesn’t want a photo of their adorable child while they’re at work to help hold them over? Trust us- it’s a must.
2. Play-based learning is here to stay.
Goodbye worksheets. During COVID, many teachers had to rely on online-only options, and thus making worksheets and tons of screentime sometimes the only option. This is something that all early childhood educators frown upon and were heartbroken over when being in-person could not occur. When it comes to child development, play is the only way! Children learn from play. Amazing philosophers like Maria Montessori, Jean Piaget, and Lev Vygotsky all agreed that play, in its truest form, are how children thrive and learn best.
Classrooms should have centers around the room with open-ended toys like blocks, dolls, magnets, sand, water, etc. Children should have at least a one-hour block of time where they can play uninterrupted. If there is a choice between a center that makes kids sit for long periods of time quietly and being told how to play and when to play and a center that has open-ended toys, flexibility with going from station to station, and an inviting atmosphere where pretend play is encouraged, which one do you suppose is the most developmentally appropriate? Since the pandemic, parents have found a new appreciation for early childcare providers. They no longer look at tuition or convenience as the top priority for enrolling their children.
According to HiMama, parents look for the quality of programs offered. All studies, both old and new research, have a solid case for why play-based learning is the best kind of learning. When a child is provided with a safe and clean space with open-ended materials for pretend play, he is given all the tools he needs for a rich curriculum. Lev Vygotsky tells us “In play a child is always above his average age, above his daily behavior; in play it is as though he were a head taller than himself. As in the focus of a magnifying glass, play contains all developmental tendencies in a condensed form; in play it is as though the child were trying to jump above the level of his normal behavior.”
3. More flexible work hours are here to stay.
Let’s face it- now that parents have the ability to work from home more, and because many have gone to one income or back to school or a complete career change, flexibility in work hours is important. This goes for parents in the daycare as well as for teachers and staff at the daycare.
For enrolled families, consider allowing flexible scheduling. Maybe instead of requiring everyone to be fulltime, you allow for two-day, three-day, or half day options. If your center is not full, and the majority of centers are not, being flexible is what will set you apart. Even if you have to put an end date to that,it’s worth the consideration. Some centers offer drop-ins, which would be a last minute drop off if space allows. This really helps parents who may need extra coverage at the last minute. This also shows that you are wanting what is best for your families and not what is best for your bank account.
For daycare employees, flexibility is also a big deal. We have never seen such a staff shortage as we are right now, and so centers need to be a bit creative in what they can offer. Many teachers want to be part time so they can be home with their children on some of the days. Many teachers want to go back to school and therefore need to cut some hours for that. As the employer, it is important to have clear boundaries but also exercise flexibility and compromise with this.
4. Online payments are here to stay.
Okay, friends. No more Mr. Nice Guy. If you are not offering an online option for payment, Why on earth not?? Seriously, it’s a no-brainer. 85% of parents in the study say they pay at least some bills online. And almost a quarter of millennials have never written a check a day in their lives! It is time to stop being archaic and offer an online option for tuition. It is well worth it in the long run. Parents prefer to have their payments automatically withdrawn so that it is one less thing to worry about. Having online payments also frees up so much of the administrator’s time. Instead of being “bill collector” and “investigator,” a director who usually collects cash and checks, enters it all in, and then takes it to the bank, will now be freed up to visit classrooms more and support teachers better.
There are many options for online payments, but the best-suggested kind is where parents don’t have the option for payment. Instead, the center director is the one who pushes the button and collects it. This avoids having to ask for tuition on a certain date. It just automatically withdraws each month.
Is your center still requiring cash or check payments? (Please, answer with a “no!”) If your center is not set up to receive online payments yet, you are doing yourself and your enrolled parents a disservice. It is a win/win situation for both parties. The convenience alone should be what convinces you to do it, but let’s talk a little about the demographic that you’re serving. The majority of parents at your center, as we have already pointed out, is from the millennial generation. The HiMama parent satisfaction report shares that one-quarter of millennials have never written a check! This doesn’t mean that millennials are at fault here! It means that writing a check is becoming more and more obsolete, and it shouldn’t be your main source of income. Since 88% of parents interviewed say that they use automatic payments for recurring bills, why are we not catering to that? Even though some centers allow for credit card payments, over 58% of providers still require for payments to be done in person. How is this possible?
Do yourself and everyone a favor and find a secure and reputable online payment option for your center, because guess what? Having automatic payments online will allow for no more late payments! (can I get an amen?!) If you set your automatic withdrawals to be without an option for parents to do on their own, payments will always be on time and fees will be added if anything bounces. Trust me- you want to switch to this type of payment option! No more dealing with cash or checks bouncing, and no more dropping to the bank. Does it cost money to have this kind of program? Yes. Is it worth the cost? Yes.
It costs more to collect payments and spend time processing, going to the bank, keeping track of payments than it does to just use one of these programs. Plus, most online programs charge extra only for credit card payments and not ACH (bank) fees, so you can charge a credit card fee, which most parents will not mind paying.
All four of these aspects discussed are not pandemic trends. They are here to stay, and if providers would take some time to see that these things make a difference in the satisfaction of their enrolled families, they may be willing to make these adjustments for the long haul. While it is hard to adapt to new ways, we must always be listening to our clients and be open to change. In the long run, it benefits everyone!
Want even more insights into what matters most to parents? See what our survey of 500 parents found in our Childcare Parent Satisfaction Report!