The pressure on providers to boost occupancy is greater than ever. But how can settings welcome and connect with prospective parents in these times of social distancing, staggered start times and strict guidance? Richard Knight from the Early Years Alliance North of England Service Hub has some tips.
Everything is changing rapidly for nurseries and childminders during the coronavirus pandemic.
We are all developing new ways of working, looking at how we can best communicate and deliver our services during these difficult times.
While adjusting to the ‘new normal’ practitioners, managers and families all have lots of questions – from practical ones about children starting in September to being unsure about visiting a potential new setting.
More emotional questions might come next where providers and parents have concerns about how children will settle into new surroundings, make friends and bond with their key person.
How best to look around?
Starting at nursery, pre-school or with a childminder is a big deal and often where formal education starts. But how can parents choose a childcare setting without being able to have a good look round at local providers first?
Live video tours
With a steep rise in the use of IT during lockdown, many of us are relying heavily on technology both socially and professionally to keep connected.
And it is technology that can help get providers and families together ahead of the new academic year.
Video tours are being used by lots of providers to really good effect.
You'll need to provide parents with a ‘booking system’ where they can arrange a time to have a live virtual show round.
Often simply filmed on mobile phones using a video conferencing platform, it is a really easy way to showcase the setting. It is a good idea to show the set-up both inside and outdoors, just like what would happen if a family came to have a look. The video call can be saved and shared with interested parents and carers.
This can be an effective way of doing things because the parents' questions can be asked and answered as you go round during the video call.
Alternatively you could record and post a virtual tour of your setting on your websites or social media home pages. Again it can work really well to help give the parent a sense of the atmosphere of a setting which is what so many families go on – that initial gut feeling.
Wherever you post the virtual tour, post it with a message with contact details so parents can get in touch with you after the viewing to talk about things further.
You can suggest arranging a video meeting with families to discuss new children starting. Scheduling one-to-ones with parents to discuss further will also provide a nice personal touch.
Take a look at this virtual tour produced by the Bees At The Hive Pre-school in Peterborough
Many settings are offering a visit for parents and children after hours, one family at a time of course. This can be reasonably straight forward especially if you are on reduced hours. Parents need to understand not to touch anything, and if the child happens to pick up toys, it’s not such an issue to clean them immediately afterwards. Lots of providers are doing this, some even on a Saturday morning!
Meeting in the garden is an option, out of hours even better. Meetings and discussions can happen on site and at a safe distance. Using outside space for this means families can ask all the important questions they have and have an opportunity to meet some of the staff team.
Be inspired by estate agents
Another top tip is to look at how estate agents are overcoming the problems with house viewings. Many are spacing appointments out much further to allow more time for social distancing and to clean down where needed between viewings. Similar strategies could be used by providers when families want to visit.
And don't forget...
...The phone! Once a parent has visited in person or via video, don't forget to let them know that you are available on the phone to talk through concerns, outline routines and new ways of working. Knowing they can speak to someone will provide reassurance to parents who are worried.
"We are offering visits after operational hours (so at 6pm) asking only one parent to attend if possible. Doors are propped open so they don’t need to touch handles etc, they are asked to sanitise on their entry and then not touch anything as we go round.
"We have had children attend after hours with their parents and obviously they love to touch new things so we’ve just cleaned anything they’ve touched after. It’s working well for us but we have a good open setting for it, our other sites are having to do it a little different and be creative!
"Therefore we are also offering virtual show rounds by sending a video of our setting to perspective parents."
Kaleidoscope Nursery in Leeds.