Vivian Morrison and Teresa Gilliam have been busy calling families with students registered at Tiny Town Daycare in Coxheath.
The co-directors of the childcare and early learning centre, like many others across the province, are getting ready for reopening and so far things are going well.
“We are pretty confident in our place,” said Morrison who has worked at the centre since 1989 and been co-director since 2003.
“We don’t have large numbers and we have the room. We’re going to keep the groups together, indefinitely, and we have a big backyard. We’re going to spend a lot of time out there.
The new guidelines, released by the province on June 2, aim to stop the possible spread of the novel coronavirus that causes COVID-19.
Created by experts from the IWK Health Centre and consultation with 2,500 industry members, the guidelines include increased cleaning of toys and rooms, a reduction in the total number of licensed students has been cut in half.
For Tiny Town, that means instead of 34 children they can only have 17 and Morrison said this could be the most challenging guideline to follow.
“We have 10-12 students returning,” she said, estimating they had called half of their families when she spoke with the Cape Breton Post on June 4.
“Some are saying they want to wait, some are asking if their other child can come. We already had a waiting list and there are some children confirmed for September. We won’t be taking any new children this summer.”
Staff at Town Daycare Centre in Glace Bay also are preparing for the reopening on June 15 and director Margaret Burke said the reduced numbers aren't causing any issues for the facility, which had a 94 licensed student capacity (now 47).
“We’re at 25-30 per cent of our students returning,” said Burke who met with the board of directors on June 3 to determine how they’d implement the guidelines.
“With the number of children coming, we’ll be able to do the social distance and we’ll be able to open up slowly. That’s what the provincial goal is — to open daycares up slowly.”
Both facilities are creating classroom bubbles for their students and staff. For Tiny Town, these will be one staff to four or five students. The co-directors anticipate those being mixed ages to accommodate families who need to send a school-aged sibling as well as their preschooler.
At Town Daycare, Burke said they’re planning to have each age group bubbled with their teachers. This is in accordance with the provincial staff/ students ratio of 1:8, which was changed in the COVID-19 guidelines.
Parents are no longer allowed inside the classrooms and pick-ups and drop-offs must be staggered to reduce crowding. Morrison said some parents will need to adapt and forgo running errands before picking their child up to take them home or sending them when they’re not feeling well.
There can no longer be "stopping at the grocery store on the way home" because they need to limit the number of people they come in contact with before they come to the centre, she said.
“Our staff are nervous too, understandably. We’re not going to be taking temperatures when the children are coming in. We have to trust our parents.”
Suggestions on how to teach early learners how to social distance have been given to daycare centres by the Department of Education and Early Learning, which include using lines on the ground. However, there are allowances for staff to not socially distance with students in their bubble or in situations calling for compassion.
“You can’t have a child standing over there looking for a hug and you stand here saying, 'no, I can’t,'” said Gilliam.
“We are all stressed, but so are the children. We can’t let them see our stress. The children are anxious. It’s all about them (staying healthy and happy.)”
Although capacity numbers have been reduced, this isn’t reducing operational budgets for daycare facilities thanks to the province covering the costs of the other half of the licensed spots.
The province is also allowing families who have childcare subsidies but are choosing to keep their children home until September to keep their funding.
These measures, plus public health’s consultation with industry members and the committee’s availability to address providers’ concerns and questions are being praised by all three early childhood educators.
“Government has been amazing,” said Morrison. “We didn’t have to worry about how we were going to cover the spots of the children not coming in. We just have to submit the forms. They’ve been really wonderful.”
“They did a really good job supporting us,” Burke said. “Putting together the package, putting together the guidelines ... someone (from the committee representing us) was always available if you had a question."