Your doors are opening again, and you are preparing to welcome children back to the classroom. You’re also preparing a plan to coincide with any government-mandated phases and restrictions, as well as to provide parents with peace of mind that, even though we hope the worst is behind us, you are taking precautions to prevent exposure and spread of COVID-19 to your staff and the families you serve.
One area where centers are struggling with logistics in the new normal is drop-off and pick-up, when parents need to sign children in and out each day. We’ve gathered information from a recent poll of our customers, and we’ve discovered that many organizations don’t have a plan in place for that yet – at least, not one they’re happy with.
Let’s weigh your options, in terms of choices available and the challenges you may face so that you can come up with a plan that works for you. We’ll even talk about some exciting new sign-in technology at the end, so be sure to read all the way through.
Inside Your Facility vs. Outside Your Doors
PROS OF INSIDE:
- Staff can observe and assess interactions between parents and children. This helps them gain insight into the child’s mood, and some of the methods and language parents use to soothe a nervous toddler or get a little one focused and prepared for the day.
- Parents have a chance to take a quick look around and reassure themselves that your learning environment is clean, safe, and in order.
- Some kids feel more comfortable settling in with mom or dad by their side. While there are a fair share of leg-clingers, it’s less scary to go someplace when a parent is present, especially if it’s a new situation.
- You don’t need to change the way you have handled sign-in in the past. The world around you may be rapidly changing, but you’re going to keep this the same.
PROS OF OUTSIDE:
- There’s less contact outside, and a greater opportunity for proper social distancing.
- You need to reduce the flow of traffic inside your facility. The organized chaos of a rush of parents zipping in and out on their way to and from work means your drop-off area can get packed pretty quickly.
- Less people in your facility means less people touching… everything. From doorknobs, to pens, to clipboards, to touchscreens, having parents come inside to sign-in leads to you having to spend more time wiping down and sanitizing, and less time running your program. Outdoor sign-in can give you some of that time back.
- It can nip those drop-off tantrums in the bud. Children often change behavior when in the company of a teacher or when being observed by another parent, and establishing a routine of saying goodbye outside can help make settling down that much quicker once a child gets inside.
- It places people over process as your top priority. Some centers currently require parents to call, then wait in their cars for a staff member to come out with a sign-in sheet, and while mom or dad are signing, the teacher is extracting the child from the car. At the end of the day, this process is repeated in reverse. This is a recipe for a constantly ringing phone, lots of holding and busy signals, and lots of frustration just to make this process work.
Staggered or First-Come, First-Served
PROS OF STAGGERED SIGN-IN:
- You may get lucky and have parents whose schedules work out with your staggered approach naturally, and it gives staff time to give more personal attention to little ones and help them settle into their new routines.
- Staggering gives you the opportunity to limit the volume of people in your center at any one time, and that might help limit their contact with each other. Just keep in mind that it doesn’t actually change the number of people you’re allowing to enter your facility, it just helps limit contact due to a reduced number of possible interactions with other people.
CONS OF STAGGERED SIGN-IN:
- Not everyone has a flexible employer, even in the midst of recovery from a global pandemic. So not everyone is going to be able to accommodate your request to arrive 30 minutes later than they would normally need to in order to be on time for work.
- Many essential workers work shifts, which means they are working a job that needs to be manned at all times, often relieving another employee upon arrival. This includes nurses (hospital workers of any kind, really), firefighters, police officers, and more. They don’t have the ability to manipulate their work schedules to arrive and get started a half hour earlier or later.
- Parents don’t want to wait to go home. When parents are ready to head home from work, they want to get home. They don’t want to wait for their assigned pick up time because you are staggering them as part of your reopening plan.
- It’s going to take more time to be able to start the day. When staff has to spend more time worrying about arrivals and sign-in, it can be difficult to plan a lesson and get all of the children moving in the same direction once drop-off is (finally) over.
- It can be hard for little ones to see other children being picked up at earlier assigned times, only to feel like they are waiting forever for their own parents, who have been given a later time for pick-up.
PROS OF FIRST-COME, FIRST-SERVED:
- It’s convenient for parents. It is much easier for parents to get back into the back-to-school routine if they can mimic their pre-COVID-19 routine, which didn’t include an assigned drop-off time when they were rushing to work.
- It’s just more… fair. No one said life was fair, but we’ve all stood in line at some point and watched someone else be helped when we’ve actually been waiting longer. It leaves a bad taste in your mouth, and that’s no different here.
CONS OF FIRST-COME, FIRST-SERVED:
- You lose any control over who and how many people are coming in and out of your doors at any given time. That’s a lot of potential contact when we are all supposed to be more conscious of social distancing.
Pen and Paper Sign-In
PROS FOR PEN AND PAPER:
- Parent signatures are collected daily and can be filed. You will have the verification you need to present to agencies who require it in order to pay out subsidy funds for care.
- Staff and parent interactions are a good thing. COVID-19 has us all a little wary of interacting with other people right now, but when staff and parents can make eye contact and connect each day, it strengthens the relationship.
- It’s a great opportunity to catch up with parents who owe tuition or paperwork. When parents have to physically come into your center twice a day, it is harder for them to avoid you when you need to remind them about things like late payments.
CONS OF PEN AND PAPER:
- If you’re requiring physical sign-in for families receiving assistance from a third-party agency, does that mean you will require it for everyone in order to protect the privacy and trust of those subsidy-reliant families?
- You have 50 children in your center. That’s at least 50 parents handling your doorknob, waiting for their turn at the clipboard in a crowded reception area or vestibule. It’s 50 parents grabbing the clipboard and shared pen, lingering a bit to chat with other parents, etc. Now, let’s say half of the children have a different parent, or even a grandparent, pick them up each day. Add an additional 25, bringing the total to 75 adults. You’ve just exposed your staff to 75 people, day-in, day-out.
- It’s the 21st century. The overwhelming majority of subsidy agencies who require parent verification accept electronic signatures or check-in.
- Today’s parents live in the 21st century, and they expect to see technology in their children’s schools. That doesn’t just include the classroom.
- Where on earth are you going to continue to store all those sheets? And how long do you need to keep them?
Electronic Sign-In Via Touchscreen/ Keypad
PROS OF TOUCHSCREENS AND KEYPADS:
Honestly, the pros are about the same as using a pen and paper. The electronic signatures this type of sign-in represents will serve as confirmation of services for subsidy payers. After all, parents still need to enter your center, they still need to handle common surfaces, and the electronic signatures are still required.
CONS OF TOUCHSCREENS AND KEYPADS:
- While it may have seemed cutting edge when you first started using it, touch screens and keypads are falling by the wayside, and new technologies are fast on the rise.
- The big downside is this: everyone is touching them. Every day. Twice a day, in fact. And in a world where we’ve developed a habit of looking side eye at every sneezer and cougher, that amount of contact isn’t going to cut it. Add to that the fact that it means every parent has to walk in and out of your front door into the facility after a full day of work and contact with all those other people, and it just feels… unsanitary, doesn’t it?
- Just how much are you willing to spend on wipes? Count the children in your program. Now, double that number, because that’s how many times you will need to wipe down your keypad, and that’s how many wipes you’ll need every day for just sign-in and sign-out. That doesn’t even touch on the periodic cleaning measures you take throughout the day.
About Key Fobs
- Fobs are an effective contactless solution, but they require some effort on your part – providing them, keeping track of who has them, updating access when parents lose them, and spending money to replace them when they are broken or lost.
- Where there’s a fob, there’s a fob reader, which is another piece of equipment for you to invest in and maintain. Now, if your fobs are doubling as security measures by pulling duty as door controls, this makes the investment worthwhile, but if not, there may be a better, less expensive, easier alternative to electronic sign-in that works with your management system.
What if you could keep parents outside your doors, signing children in and out with their own mobile devices? No shared pens, clipboards, doorknobs, touchscreens, or keypads. No more rush hour foot traffic in and out of your doors every day, twice a day.
EZCare is excited to bring this type of functionality to our mobile companion app, EZSmiles, this summer. Parents will be able to check children in and out from outside your doors, using their own smartphones, and will be able to use that mobile sign-in as the required signature for subsidy reimbursement.
With this technology, you’ll overcome your sign-in logistics challenges and start making the next school year the best one ever.