How technology can fuel growth and greater parental engagement in 2022 and beyond
The start of a new year is always a busy time for the early years sector, as childcare providers look to implement strategies that will help them to grow over the next 12 months.
Our CEO, Chris Reid shared his thoughts with Nursery Management Today on how technology can assist settings in realising their growth ambitions and improve parental engagement – as well as the key things to look out for when choosing a software provider.
From budgets and staffing resource to child development and parental communications, the beginning of the year is a crucial planning period for childcare providers. The time of ‘starting afresh’ means strategy development is in full swing and nursery managers are establishing the goalposts for the coming months. This not only helps to ensure there’s a clear roadmap in place that helps managers and practitioners to achieve the business’s objectives, but it should also detail the tools and techniques that will help them to get there.
And as no one setting is the same, there are different aims and strategies at play across the entire sector.
While some providers rely completely on a paper-based approach to nursery operations, others have already embraced tech within the day-to-day operations. But no matter where a site sits on this spectrum, there are always ways to further enhance and streamline processes – especially where digital is concerned.
Implementing technology to boost growth
Technology, when applied and used in the right way, is a great gateway to boost growth, improve staff satisfaction, and dedicate more time to child development.
Taking settings with paper-based systems in place as an example, if all documents – from invoices and registers to observations and child records – are saved in multiple filing cabinets or long-form spreadsheets, it can be tricky to keep track of them all.
It not only takes time and experience to know where certain files live – which can cause issues if longer-serving members of the team are absent – but there’s also more room for data to be mismanaged, inaccurate, out of date, or inconsistent, than if the records were digitised.
Manual paper-based processes not only create a lengthier admin task – meaning staff have less time to dedicate to the children – but they also leave sensitive information more susceptible to loss or unauthorised access. And while documentation should undoubtedly be completed fully and correctly, it should not feel like a burden. Instead, it should be quick and efficient.
After all, the sector professionals do what they do because they are passionate about working with and developing children, not because they love paperwork.
But technology can not solely streamline, protect, and house data in one system, it can also 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.
By integrating data in one place, managers have a clearer view of business performance – without having to research and collate all business data manually. This, in turn, frees up the headspace for more strategic planning – creating an environment in which growth targets can be visualised and fulfilled.
Using technology to improve parental engagement
While streamlining processes and data practices is one way of helping settings to thrive and expand, another is ensuring parents, as the customers, feel engaged and happy with the service being provided.
Technology should always act as an enabler for settings – if it doesn’t, it isn’t the right solution. For instance, effective nursery management software bridges the gap between practitioner and parent and creates a two-way channel for seamless communication.
By having a dedicated app for communicating and sharing resources, this opens up the dialogue between the nursery and the home – paving the way for a more holistic learning experience.
After all, childcare staff spend lots of time with the children every day – seeing them learn and progress – and when this is communicated to parents, they too have greater visibility and understanding about their little one’s interests and preferred learning styles.
It’s also true that children are known to act or react differently depending on who they’re with, so when it comes to gaining a true-to-life picture of how they learn best – and where they may need additional support – technology can help educators and parents alike to document and piece this together, promoting effective child development both in the setting and at home.
Each party being able keep the other up to date – with photos of observations and daily event logs – not only helps to create a more effective and closed loop learning experience, but it also assists nursery staff when planning future activities and helps parents to feel more included in their little one’s education.
What should nurseries look for in a software provider?
While ensuring the technology meets the needs, demands, and business objectives of the setting is crucial, it’s equally important to know what to look out for in a provider – but with so many questions to ask, it can sometimes feel like a bit of a minefield to navigate.
Firstly, knowledge is key. Partnering with a company that has history within the sector, and understands how it works, is essential. Early years professionals want to work with a provider that’s truly ‘under the skin’ of the industry – aware of the opportunities and the challenges – so that they know the solution being implemented at their site will be beneficial for children, staff, and parents alike.
Having a real sense of ‘soul’ is another trademark of a great tech partner. Implementing a new system creates a period of change for all nursery colleagues, so having peace of mind that there is a support ecosystem in place – with dedicated contacts and customer care teams – that is on hand to help with the data migration and provide ongoing demos, training, and advice, really makes a difference.
Security also shouldn’t be overlooked. Nursery managers should choose an organisation that’s committed to data protection – with the relevant ISO accreditations – and complies with the latest legislation. Ultimately, providers should have comprehensive policies in place which cover all aspects of security, access control, development, maintenance, disaster recovery, and more – ensuring the nursery is in safe hands and always protected.
Finally, it’s also a good idea to partner with a provider that cares about the environment – especially one that has commitments in place to help protect the planet. This shows how much they truly care about the sustainability of the early years sector not just for present but future generations too.To find out more about Connect Childcare, head over to their website.