Win-win: Kids Stay Safe and Get Outdoors

Child care centres continue to benefit families As the proverb says, it takes a village to raise a child. But when COVID-19 shut down most services in BC in March 2020, all villages were challenged to…

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Child care centres continue to benefit families

As the proverb says, it takes a village to raise a child. But when COVID-19 shut down most services in BC in March 2020, all villages were challenged to creatively adapt. This includes their licensed child care providers, which reopened to serve families once they found new ways to safely interact with children in modified environments.

Kaslo’s only licensed child care provider was already on spring break when it decided to remain temporarily closed. “It was hard to accept that we wouldn’t be providing care for our families and their children,” recalls Heike Reeg-Smith, Lead Educator/Manager at Periwinkle Children’s Centre. “But I felt that it was the right thing to do at first, because we weren’t sure what was going to happen—nobody was.”

To adjust to the new requirements set by the provincial government during the pandemic, Periwinkle was among 87 child care providers in the Basin to receive financial support from the Trust. Funding helped these centres retain staff, renovate physical spaces, adapt service delivery methods and purchase technology to respond to the new COVID-19 protocols.

With support from the Trust and other funding sources, in May Periwinkle was able to accept the children of essential workers, aged 2.5 to five. Since then, the centre has gradually increased enrolment to eight kids; this is down from its usual 12 licensed spots to ensure compliance with public health requirements.

Another recipient, Golden Bear Child Care Centre in Rossland, gradually opened in June, when the province announced that schools would reopen to children on a part-time basis. Support from the Trust aided in bridging the revenue gap during such fluctuating times, helping to keep staff in place until the centre could progress to full capacity in early fall.

“We put the funds toward payroll to keep all 10 staff members employed,” says Director Laura Nutini. “Our staff is wonderful—they, like the kids, are the heartbeat of the centre. We wanted to ensure that when we were ready to reopen, we had trusted, trained personnel to deliver programming.”

This is a common theme for many Basin child care providers, which are often faced with the significant challenge of recruiting and retaining qualified staff.

Once they reopened, Golden Bear moved the children’s cubbies to better maintain physical distancing. In addition to adopting provincial and WorkSafeBC standards, both centres also implemented their own best practices.

“We were able to hire an extra staff person to help keep up with sanitizing and care, even though enrolment was reduced for safety purposes,” says Periwinkle’s Reeg-Smith, who confirms that finding qualified staff remains the greatest challenge for the centre.

Periwinkle reorganized its learning space to spread children out at tables, and the children head outdoors for most of the day, which helps ensure physical distancing. The centre also purchased a new first aid kit, an infrared thermometer to check temperatures and a large hiking pack for outdoor excursions through Kaslo neighbourhoods and trails.

“Moving the program outside really took a lot of the stress away because the children could move more freely,” explains Reeg-Smith. “There were no toys to be sanitized and tracked—that was all eliminated by simply getting outside.”

Golden Bear used similar tactics, also dividing children into pods and assigning each to one primary care person.

“Our families have been very supportive,” Nutini says. “The children are doing really well; they’re growing and thriving in the centre while still maintaining social distancing and subscribing to health and safety measures. I wouldn’t want to be anywhere else.”

Early childhood education is key in developing the self-confidence and the social and problem-solving skills necessary for kids to become independent thinkers. In rural, less populous Basin communities with fewer resources to draw from, caregivers are especially crucial facilitators, providing support and opportunities to challenge and engage children.

“For me, it’s been a real discovery,” says Reeg-Smith. “The children’s social interactions have grown so beautifully through learning a new way of being together. Because they don’t gather as one large group, there is a wonderful social ebb and flow; it’s really quite special.”

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