At Nebraska Children and Families Foundation, we’re witnessing the COVID-19 crisis firsthand, especially its impact on our early care educators and providers.
Considering these uncertain times, we will continue to take supportive measures to assist our families, our early care providers, and our children so everyone can still have the resources to thrive. We know we’ll emerge as a stronger state, despite and due to these tribulations.
From creating interactive Facebook platforms for e-learning to navigating uncertain enrollment, early childhood providers’ struggles and successes are very real, particularly those of Linda Horner.
Linda is the director of Linda’s Preschool and After School Program in Ord, Nebraska. We spoke with her to hear about the changes she and her facility have undergone during these unprecedented times.
Linda said her fluctuating enrollment has been one of the biggest difficulties since the COVID-19 outbreak.
“Some families will keep their kids home,” she said. “Others have [back-up childcare] such as a sibling or relative. Some parents say, ‘we need you; you’re our only resource’ and some say, ‘we’re going to wait this out.’ Finally, other parents will pull children out, then want to come back.”
Linda said these already varied responses change weekly. During only the second week of social distancing, she’s experienced confusion and unpredictability as a result.
Linda said her fluctuating enrollment has also painted an unclear picture of her upcoming finances, which is another struggle.
“Some parents pay every two weeks; some pay every week. I’m not seeing the full picture or who will come back or not,” she said.
To compound the ambiguity, Linda said she’s been approached for drop-ins, particularly by the local hospital, asking her to provide care for their nurses’ children.
She said despite all these changes, her committed staff have been a terrific asset during tough times.
“I’m lucky I have a good staff. [Early education] is what they want to do. I haven’t had them say, ‘I have to have a paycheck,’” she said. “I know there are unemployment benefits for them, but truthfully, I still feel like I’m walking around in a fog.”
Although her staff has been willing to adapt, Linda’s had to cut each employee’s hours in half, but they’ve been willing to rotate with one another to restructure and fill the schedule.
Linda was thrown another curve ball when many families elected to keep their children home. As result, she and her team had to try a different approach to learning.
Following the public schools’ suit, Linda and her staff put a series of e-learning packets and Facebook videos. That way, students who aren’t physically present still can learn on their own time. Linda continues to utilize their Facebook page as an e-learning platform, in addition to creating packets.
Linda said that the packets are designed with accompanying Facebook videos that parents and kids who are not in physical attendance may use on their own time. The videos are designed to interact along with the packets’ lessons.
“The parents can find a video clip [on Facebook] for whatever time works for them,” said Linda. From there, families can engage the lessons on their own time.
If one of the children attends Linda’s preschool during the week, she and her staff will work through packets with them as per usual. For those children who miss or do not attend due to social- distancing, Linda will either send work home or parents can pick up the packets or she will deliver to them.
Linda said she remains steadfast that her preschoolers work towards kindergarten readiness – even those who aren’t physically present.
“My group of kids are going to kindergarten in the fall,” she said. “I owe it to them to finish what we started. The only thing is, I’m creating material for kids I have and kids I don’t have.”
Linda said even though some of her students are not in physical attendance, she and the families have found ways to remain in touch through sending photos and videos to each other.
“One family sent pictures of a little girl’s show-and-tell,” she said. “The kids miss preschool, too.”
There is a final area of ambiguity for Linda. In addition to running a preschool, she also directs an afterschool program whose future is equally uncertain and whose enrollment is also fluctuant.
“Some kids are now home alone,” she said. “Some are staying with siblings. Here’s our biggest thing: will we ever have a[n] afterschool] program again? What does the future hold? Is the face of childcare going to change? For better or for worse?”