What fresh challenges do nurseries face in 2021, and what role can tech play in helping to overcome them?
The Early Years (EY) sector has tackled lots of challenges in recent months and continues to show resilience and adaptability in the face of further uncertainty.
But with 2021 starting with the nation in another lockdown, and settings remaining open, the EY world has been leaning more heavily on technology to help keep day-to-day operations running smoothly, alongside enhancing communication with both employees and parents.
The pandemic is undoubtedly augmenting many concerns around funding, health and safety, parental engagement, child development, financial security and more. Our CEO and founder, Chris Reid, recently offered his thoughts to Morton Michel around how technology can help to alleviate some of the daily stresses and keep staff, children, and parents both safe and connected.
If you missed the original article, catch up below…
Protecting settings at all times
The health and safety of practitioners and little ones is of paramount importance, and with childcare providers remaining open during the lockdown period, there have understandably been – and continue to be – many concerns around physical and mental wellbeing.
In fact, a recent study – carried out by the Early Years Alliance and Ceeda – that polled over 3,500 childcare professionals, has revealed that 48% of nursery and pre-school staff and 54% of childminders admitted to not feeling safe in their current working environment.
These figures are alarming. While it’s no secret that implementing social distancing measures in with young children can be extremely difficult, technology can go some way in helping staff to minimise contact with parents.
For instance, nurseries with digital systems in place are able to streamline drop-offs and pick-ups – checking children in and out via their devices – as well as manage contactless payments. These seemingly small actions can help staff reduce interactions with others.
However, while tech can help to limit physical interactions for safety reasons, it can also enhance digital communications – ensuring conversations between practitioners and parents are not lost, and child development continues to flourish.
Continuing to engage parents
How the pandemic is impacting children is a topic that has been widely debated – with increased social anxiety and less confidence to join in with activities being just a couple of areas behavioural changes have been noticed.
Data carried out recently by Kindred also uncovered how fewer children are ‘school ready’, due to nursery closures throughout the pandemic – a finding which is believed to be a cause of further widening the gap between children from both rich and disadvantaged backgrounds.
Interestingly though, Ofsted carried out research interviews with 208 EY providers and found that children whose parents are able to spend quality time with them often thrived – demonstrating improved vocabulary and cognitive skills.
There’s no doubt that parental engagement is always a crucial factor in promoting child development, but while the pandemic continues, it’s arguably more important than ever. It’s vital to keep the physical gap between practitioners and parents bridged in some way, and technology can help greatly, in this respect.
Settings can use digitised systems to make of-the-moment observations, record meal and nap times, and share photos of the children throughout the day, to working parents. Here, technology can not only act as a tool to improve efficiencies within the setting – enabling staff to ditch the paper-based approach and spend more time with the children – but it allows parents to look through the window of their youngster’s learning and be an active part of it.
Practitioners being able to message parents, and vice versa, and share updates is undoubtedly beneficial for extending learning outside the EY setting and into the home too. It gives parents a greater understanding as to their children’s milestones reached throughout their educational journey, and what further assistance they need to further develop.
Nurseries are environments which allow little ones to learn about collaborative and constructive play, make friendships, build confidence, and develop their social, emotional, and cognitive skills.
And if technology can help provide a more joined-up learning experience, in these times which feel a little more disconnected, then that can surely only be a great thing.
Helping with business practicalities
An effective learning environment is a well-oiled machine in which everyone knows their responsibilities, and no one feels burdened with administrative tasks. And this is another area in which digital solutions can help settings.
The pandemic brings with it lots of uncertainty. While no one can predict what’s going to happen economically, freeing up the hours spent on time-intensive admin tasks can greatly help managers and practitioners – allowing them to focus more on what they love; child development and running their business effectively.
For instance, technology can be used to help settings manage complex staffing requirements, automate monthly invoicing, optimise child ratios, and select weightings and suitability — from one centralised record – eliminating the need for multiple spreadsheets and helping to maximise resource allocation.
And with budgets more in the spotlight than ever before, it’s never been a bigger priority for managers to be able to effectively identify and account for the resources they really require – on a group or individual site-specific basis – along with managing their cashflows, and benefitting from having an effective planning and forecasting model in place.
The same applies for nurseries’ and childminders’ marketing and enquiry management processes too.
With physical show-arounds unable to happen while social distancing and lockdown measures are in place, settings are being tasked with monitoring and tracking enquiries the traditional way. But technology can help to ensure that all correspondence is kept secure in one place – meaning any staff member can pick up on a prospective parent’s chain of communication. It can also help with virtual show-arounds too.
As a result, this helps to reduce pressures on staff, ensure a seamless transition of information between team members, and allow continued engagement with prospective customers.
Focusing on the road ahead
The EY sector faced many challenges prior to the virus outbreak and they – along with new ones – will remain after the pandemic. Sector funding and staff shortages are just two areas requiring greater attention from the government, but technology exists to complement the great work EY professionals are doing in the here and now.
Of course, digital solutions alone don’t have all the answers, but together with committed professionals and engaged parents, it can offer some much-needed support to the UK’s childcare sector in 2021 and beyond.