Enrollment is a necessary part of keeping any childcare business afloat. We use enrollment forms – whether online or the traditional paper variety – to capture all the basic child and family information we need to track to meet state and local requirements, or even just to stay organized. But going beyond collecting basic information can help keep your day-to-day operations running smoothly and enable your teachers to be better prepared for the first day of school.
What to ask on enrollment forms and how
Your enrollment forms should provide information that will help you and your staff plan for your next group of children and give you a picture of what to expect when children arrive. This means thinking carefully about what questions to ask parents in your enrollment forms, while keeping in mind the time it will take them to provide that information.
There is no such thing as a perfect enrollment form that fits all centers’ needs. After you have basic enrollment information (name, age, etc.), you’ll need to compile your own set of questions that works to your advantage. Tailor your forms to help build relationships with parents without overloading them with a stack of paperwork.
Basic information always includes the child’s name, date of birth, and parent or guardian contact information. It’s also a great idea to include childcare emergency contacts and medical information so you don’t need to circle back and ask new families to fill out more forms later. Be sure to check any regulations for your state on what must be included on enrollment forms. Sample forms provided by states’ websites are a good starting point when developing your own enrollment forms.
However, enrollment forms can ask for more than basic information. Consider including other factors that affect how you run your childcare center and prepare your staff for your children.
These might include:
Questions about a child’s personality or emotions:
Some kids are childcare veterans. They’ll usually handle the first few days like old pros. But what about a child who has never been cared for outside of the home or out of sight of family and friends? Ask a few questions so your teachers know what to expect that first week.
- Has your child ever been in a childcare situation outside of being looked after by a family friend, neighbor or other close relative?
- How does your child react when his/her parents leave for work?
- Does your child have any fears that cause a high level of anxiety, such as dogs or loud noises?
- How does your child express frustration?
- Have there been any big changes recently that might cause a shift in behavior (e.g. a move, a new sibling, etc.)?
Questions about a child’s family:
You may spend the majority of the day with this child, but the support system at home plays a big part in that child’s behavior and success in the classroom. Learn more about family dynamics to make sure you’re communicating the right way with both children and parents through these questions on your enrollment forms.
- What is the status of the child’s parents: married, divorced, widowed, etc.? Is the child in the care of someone other than parents, such as grandparents or other family members?
- Does the child have any siblings? Are they older? Younger?
- Is there a custody or visitation agreement? If so, which parent has custody on which days?
- Who drops off and picks up the child on any given day?
Within your enrollment paperwork (or online enrollment form, of course), provide parents and guardians with important program information. This is an easy, convenient way to distribute this information and have them sign or initial to acknowledge they received and reviewed it. Use your enrollment forms to:
- announce important dates like holiday closures and school or center special events.
- highlight key procedures, like how pick-up works on a half-day, or where to check for updates in case of inclement weather.
- indicate that parents have received, signed, or returned important materials such as handbooks, legal forms, and photo releases.
Make your enrollment forms convenient
The easier and more convenient an enrollment form is for parents to complete and return, the quicker you’ll get the information you need. Make childcare enrollment forms easy to fill out by incorporating these simple best practices:
- Use an online form that works with your childcare management software. This is a no-brainer. Parents spend loads of time online, whether reading emails, checking out menus from a new restaurant they want to try, or making a quick purchase on Amazon. Accommodate the way they like to work and buy by going electronic with your enrollment forms.
- Consider using multiple-choice wherever you can. Remember every pop quiz and test in high school, and how much you rejoiced when it was multiple choice instead of fill-in-the-blank? Parents feel the same way about enrollment forms. Make it easy by laying out the options on as many questions as you can.
- Allow parents of enrolled siblings to fill out just one set of forms. Nothing frustrates busy grown-ups more than having to do something twice when we don’t really need to. Reduce the redundancy by allowing space for multiple children on your form so at least the general parent and emergency information only needs to be entered once.
- Allow for updates to last year’s forms. Avoid that Groundhog Day feeling by letting parents of children who are already enrolled to complete short forms or updates instead of having to give you the same information year after year or from one session to the next. You can still ask for initials on acknowledgements, but keep the do-overs at a minimum.
Going beyond the standard “name, rank and serial number” on your enrollment forms can help better prepare your staff for those first few weeks of school, and keep your daily operations running like clockwork. Tell us what special information you include on your enrollment forms that helps you create a productive, nurturing environment.