The idea of sending our babies to daycare or preschool is daunting in general, but so much scarier during a pandemic. It goes without saying that you want to find a clean and comfortable place with attentive staff where your child will be well cared for. But during COVID-19, you also need to find a home away from home that does an outstanding job following the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) guidelines for safety and cleanliness along with the requirements for childcare centers from the NJ Department of Health. A sample of those requirements include:
- Temperature checks for staff and students, with anyone with a fever of 100.4 or higher immediately sent home
- Small groups of 10 or less that have limited interaction with others
- Staggered outdoor play for groups
- Spaced out pickup and drop-offs, with parents required to wear masks at the door
- Limited toy and supply sharing
- Increased sanitizing and cleaning
- No field trips
- Limited hugging or touching
- No visitors allowed during school hours
- Staff-required face coverings are mandatory and when feasible, children over 2 should also be wearing them.
Childcare centers have been up and running since mid-June and stayed open even during lockdown. The CDC asserted the importance of schools reopening in mid-July. If you’re thinking about sending your baby or toddler to daycare or preschool, you can take comfort knowing they’ve been operating smoothly since reopening. On the upside, temperature checks at the door may also keep out kids with other fever-based illnesses as well.
“Following the guidelines makes the environment as safe as possible,” says Jennifer Azqueta, director of Clifton Little School, a daycare for infants through kindergarteners. “Since we reopened on June 15, we’ve been doing amazing. All of the essential daycares that were open during the rise of the epidemic from March-June had zero COVID-19 cases. In the last six weeks with about 75 kids per day, I am pleased to share that we only had one child with a fever.”
If you’re a new parent nervous about starting without being able to see the facility in action because of mandated visitor restrictions, you aren’t alone. “These guidelines were new territory for all of us so it really was the same experience for both old and new parents,” says Azqueta. “New parents get to meet the teacher at the front door to at least get to know them before just dropping their child off to us.”
Apple Montessori schools throughout New Jersey offer in-person daycare and preschool but also offer At Home full-day programs for toddlers just starting to learn their ABCs. “Our goal is to provide structure in a nurturing environment,” says Apple Montessori Founder Joanne Mooney. “Whether parents choose to enroll their children in school or at home, full-time or part-time, our modern Montessori approach to education gives them an edge academically, socially, and emotionally.”
NURTURING IN THE COVID ERA
Apple Montessori educators do their best to maintain social distancing guidelines, and encourage little ones to participate in no-touch games like yoga, bubbles, songs and dance, with some understandable exceptions. “The most important aspect of our whole-child approach is making sure children are safe, secure, and supported”, says Mooney. “Even though we will be maintaining social distancing guidelines, it is important to know that infants need to be held and touched. It is an important part of their development and cannot be completely avoided in the infant classroom. They need to feel nurtured and loved. Teachers are instructed to wash their and the child’s hands afterwards.” Virtual options include live daily Zoom instruction for ages 3 months to 9 years if you aren’t ready to send your baby in-person. The sessions focus on learning skills such as yoga and sign language.
There are also pre-recorded videos, monthly supply kits (for hands on learning) and curriculum tailored to babies and toddlers. “A child’s brain is like a sponge, thirsty for knowledge. These early periods of brain development affect intellect, the ability to build core skills to think, read, learn, remember, reason, listen and pay attention, as well as nurture social and emotional well-being. We focus on making the most of that key time,” adds Mooney. “We want to give parents every opportunity to send their children to school this year by offering our in-person as well as our virtual At Home programs.”
If you’re worried your toddler will be overwhelmed, scared, nervous or shy if you send her to daycare after a long break, you can breathe easier knowing many quickly adapt. “I am amazed with how much they are literally running in and don’t want to leave,” says Azqueta. “These kids truly missed socializing, missed each other, missed the structure, and missed their sense of security. Parents tell us daily how much the kids love school.”