Monday, August 31, 2020

At Home Learning Spaces

When last school year abruptly ended, we quickly made do with what we had. We turned our daycare rooms into school rooms. As rocky as last spring was, it wound up being great and lots of learning took place! Of course, as summer got underway, it was clear to me that the beginning of the 2020-2021 school year was going to be MUCH different than predicted. In mid-July, we knew we'd need to create a space for at home learning (for virtual learning). Just over a week ago, we had to revamp that idea as spaces for homeschool kids (our three included) AND those that would be learning virtually through their schools. All while keeping daycare going because I would have a few younger kids too.

It was a lot. Matt (my very patient husband) took a week off from work so we could create what I had in mind. With the help of a rented dumpster (that's still sitting in our driveway), he spent the first few days demolishing, reorganizing, and remodeling. Then, the real work started. 

Zeus "helped" with the painting. He was clearly a huge help. The cabinets are one of my favorite parts of the room. Not because they're done perfectly, but because they're not done well at all. So much of this room was inspired by the kid's and what I learned watching them online learn last spring. I love that they were able to help bring the room together. These cabinets will always bring a smile to my face when I look at them and remember trying to keep the dog away, failing, and dealing with sticky paints on a 100 degree day.

Just like with any good project, the idea or vision changes. We had initially thought we'd only partially re-do this one room. This is the room that will become a boy's bedroom in the near future, while the other side will be a den/big kid area to hang out in. We know our homeschool and virtual learning situation is only temporary, so we didn't want to spend a ton of money up front on something that wasn't going to last. That is, until we got to talking. Suddenly, we finished the flooring and installed (hopefully) long lasting carpet tiles. The built-in cupboards were meant to be taken out (because they won't be used when the space becomes a bedroom), but then I decided they'd make really good storage for homeschool supplies and would save some money on shelving units. 

The cupboards are in decent shape, so the kids (and dog) gave them a fresh coat of paint and now they house A LOT of art supplies, papers, educational games, workbooks, and so much more. 

The kids were a HUGE help in this project. Last spring, I was able to watch a group of school age kids do their online school work. It gave me a glimpse of how they like to learn. They like to read sprawled out on the floor, do math assignments on the floor, but tables are preferred for writing assignments and group activities. Keeping all of this in mind, I was able to come up with my final vision for our at home learning space.

I wanted seating areas, but also room to spread out on the floor. The art area came about after my mom asked me if I wanted the easel my grandpa built--I was going to say no, but the oldest mini piped up and claimed it. It actually has a great place in the room. I foresee many paintings and drawings happening soon. We dug through the kid's and daycare paintings we've accumulated over the years, to add some color to the basement walls. All other desks and supplies I already had on hand. We spent the most money on electrical work (even though we did it ourselves), carpet, and the big fluffy chairs in each of the learning spaces.

The oldest mini built shelving units and tables (some of which we already had in storage waiting to be used!).

The "welcome desk" serves many purposes. Virtual learners don't have long breaks, so I wanted them to be able to grab morning snack quickly. I filled a container with granola bars and organes. The container can fit inside of the desk for easy storage and easy access. The kids strive when they're able to see our day written out. This is also something I started last spring (to help me more than the kids) and did it all summer long, as requested by the kids. I write what we're doing for the day (specific times as well), what is being served for meals and snacks, and expectations I have for the day (keep the figurines off the floor, don't pull the dog's tail, include everyone in everything you play). This has been key in helping our summer days run smoothly! 
The wonderful part of this desk is that it can also be used as a desk. Kids can sit in the comfy chair, grab a kid size stool (from the storage area), or sit on the floor and use the desk as they wish.

A small reading corner with a pillow and a single desk. The desk was in the boy's room, but mainly served as a crap catcher (a place they set all of their junk). We cleaned it and moved it downstairs. It's sure to get lots of use in the weeks to come.
The cubbies here will hold dictionaries and educational books, as well as the mini's textbooks we'll get shortly from the district. 

One thing we didn't have time for was completing the ceiling. We took out an old drop ceiling and have plans for putting a new one in in the next few months. I call this our "open ceiling concept."

A look at how great the cabinets are painted (I have a huge smile on my face just looking at the picture).

The cabinets house everything we'll need for homeschooling and virtual learning. I have a basket of headphones and ear buds, so the kids can work peacefully without bothering each other. My three will each have a folder, notebook, and whatever else they need for their day. This will be the first thing they check in the morning before beginning their days. The folder currently has worksheets for the day, what they each need to complete (the lessons for their classes they're taking via an online homeschool program), and their notebook for writing and journaling.

I discovered these math machines from Lakeshore Learning. The kids LOVED the multiplication machine so much that I ordered the rest of the set (addition, subtraction, and division). This week's art project is making tie blankets (for the school age kids). I got the girls these Melissa and Doug sets to work on, while the boys requested to pick out their own fabrics from the store.

My idea is to have everything they need for their homeschool days laid out the night before, ready to go for morning. Inside of the folders are their worksheets for the day and notebooks to use for writing, journaling, and note taking. I also have a binder with my things in them for the day.

The first quarter of music class will focus on instruments from around the world. These displayed on the shelf are the first few we're learning about. The dog things the Chilean rainstick is a toy, so these had to be put up high!

One picture done by me during a wine and painting night and the other is our water balloon painting done by daycare.

Long, white table provided by Lauren. She also loaned daycare a computer to use for kids who need one. I have THE BEST daycare families!!

The upstairs learning space has a very different vibe to it. This space is also my office (where I do a great deal of my writing, planning, and thinking) and will go back to being a daycare nap room, so I didn't want to change it as much as we did the basement room.

The upstairs school room can comfortably fit 2-4 school age kids, with plenty of outlets for computer charging and a VERY quiet space. This room is actually the quietest room in the entire house. It blocks out all of the noise of the playroom when babies are sleeping and the oldest can practice violin and no one hears it. These are precisely the reasons I chose this room to be my office and the daycare nap room.

We made a few changes to the daycare room as well:

I have several preschoolers this fall, so I made an entire shelf full of learning toys, games, and manipulatives to keep them busy when I need to be face to face with the school age kids. I have no idea how all of this will work, with a house full of virtual learners, homeschoolers, preschoolers, and daycare, but this is me giving it a try. Believe me, I'll check back in and let everyone know what ideas have worked and what has failed!

I took away sensory activities for a bit and put coloring books in the sensory corner instead. Sensory activities require a fair amount of supervision, so they'll come back once we've got a good routine down and the rules learned.

Friday, August 28, 2020

How To Write Pandemic Policies For Your Business

I've spent soooo many hours writing policies for daycare. It's exhausting. Sometimes I feel as though I'm overthinking everything; then the next minute I feel I'm not doing enough. Can this pandemic just be over with already??!
t's dangerous to do, but I'm going to assume if you're a daycare provider of any kind, you likely (and should) have a policy/guidelines/contract for your daycare families. In my policies and procedures, I have what happens in case of an emergency, but I had never once thought about a pandemic section in my daycare policies prior to March. Obviously, as soon as Covid19 became a thing, it was clear to me that my regular sick policies didn't even touch what was needed for right now.

While policies aren't my favorite thing to deal with or make sure they're enforced, and I'm sure parents often feel the same way, they are important for running a smooth business. In the case of a pandemic, policies are intregal in keeping kids, their families, and anyone they come into contact with safe. The enormity of writing and researching new policies weighed on me for weeks this summer. With school beginning, I definitely had to rework my pandemic policies that I had set into place for summer care.

I've had to write three sets of pandemic policies in the last 5 months. Each time I had thoughts of "what the hell do I do??" I fretted, I cried out of frustration and the lack of guidance, I drank (a lot) to make researching more fun, I had to re-do a lot of the work I did while drinking (while upfront, I don't think the line "use your common sense on this parents" would be appreciated in a contract). It's been a lot and taken up much of my time since March.

Apparently I look like I have my shit together (and sometimes I actually DO!) because I've helped several providers in my area write their policies and I've sent my pandemic policies out to other daycares and businesses to help them write theirs. As I sat one night on a phone call with a friend, explaining my policies so she could ask me questions about their daycare's policies in place, I realized this sh*t needs to be shared. Fellow daycare providers, parents with questions, businesses and especially any business that deals with children, should be sharing and helping each other out right now. Instead, I'm finding many of us feel alone and wondering if we're doing the right thing. With very little guidance from leadership, I've found myself making decisions I never dreamed I'd be faced with and that alone is all the feelings.

One thing to remember about daycares is that while we own our business, we are still controlled (or have rules that must be followed put in place) by our states, counties, cities, health department, and human services (DHS in our area). That means we have a whole lot of departments we need to check with before we can even open our doors and that's no different in a pandemic. Actually, that's more important in a pandemic. So, while I will share with you how to go about writing your own, above all else, you need to also listen and implement policies in place by your local (and even federal) agencies, departments, and governments.

After researching all guidelines and requirements put in place in your state, you're ready to write! But where to begin? I began with the changes we would be making in our household (this is important since I'm an in-home daycare).

  • Are you social distancing? Are you allowing anyone into your home? These are all things that should be touched upon, as most daycares are closed off. The only people in or out are staff (or in our case, our family) and daycare children. We have closed our house to all visitors, even in the off hours. Do you have your own children and if so, are they going to school? Are they involved in activities? How are you handling when your child(ren) comes home at the end of the school day, with possible germs?
  • What will your cleaning procedures be? Will you amp up your cleaning, use different products than previously used, spraying children's shoes/coats after they're removed? Will you keep cleaning procedures the same? Will you require more handwashing? Will you have hand sanitizer on hand for kids? Are you requiring masks? All of this should be thought about and considered before writing your policies. Think about what is actually doable for you, your family, and your business. If you want to clean more, how are you going to implement this? Do you have the extra time to give to this? Look at what is feasible both time and monetary wise.
  • Will you be taking temperatures at the door or will that fall on parents? What will you require of parents and children upon arrival as drop offs and pick ups will have changed? Parents should no longer be allowed inside daycares/classrooms. This is more important than I initially thought. When I first heard of centers in our area implementing this policy, I was heartbroken. So much of what I love about my daycare families is talking to parents at the beginning and end of the day. I am given insight into their lives, what is happening with the child(ren) when they're not at daycare; that personal level really changes when parents cannot be a part of daycare. However, I get how it really keeps the germs that enter daycare down. It is not my favorite policy (and I honestly can't wait until I can do away with it), but for now, it does provide a sense of security in keeping everyone healthy.
  • Do you need to remove toys or furniture? Stuffed animals, dress up clothes, cloth dolls, furniture that isn't plastic or wooden aren't to be used right now due to their ability to hold bacteria (and keep it present). If you aren't (or can't) remove such items, how do you plan on cleaning them thoroughly? You may think this one is no big deal, however, it was pointed out to me, that if there happens to be an outbreak (or your daycare becomes a hot spot) your Department of Health and Human Services will want to know what precautions your daycare business was taking. You will need to be able to tell them and show them what was or wasn't being done. If everyone at your daycare is sick, this will affect when your business will be allowed to re-open. Example of this: An outbreak happens at my daycare (hypothetically) and a few children and their family tests positive for Covid. Likely, a worker from one, both, or more departments will be in touch and my daycare will be required to close. The length of time will depend on what policies I've have implemented. Since I deep clean daily, kids don't have access to couches, all nap mats and cribs are wiped down and cleaned after each use, no blankets or stuffed animals are used, etc., I will likely be able to stay open. If it's deemed I was doing nothing, they can force me to close, tell me to implement policies, come under review, and complete a health inspection before I'm able to re-open my doors. This is a deal breaker for me, as it's a matter of if I'm closed for a day or two vs. 14+ days (30 - 60 days would be more likely)
  • Go over your current sick policies. Update as needed. Since there isn't clear and concise data on what is best, please implement policies that reflect what you're comfortable with. Make sure you enforce all sick policies. If you need further assistance with this, I recommend you contact your doctor or local pediatrician to determine what is recommended for your area and how they are treating positive Covid19 cases in your area.
  • Will you allow before and after school care? How will you handle a child (or children) going from one group of kids to the next? If you have kids arrive mid-day from school, what precautions will your daycare be taking? Will the child need to change his or her clothes? Wear a mask? 
  • Are you taking virtual or homeschool learners? If so, how will you be sure they are doing their work? Do you have a safe and quiet space for them? Will you be charging an additional fee for this? 
  • Most importantly, come up with a plan if you, a member of your household, or daycare children (and their families) have any symptoms or test positive for Covid19. Will parents need to pay if you're forced to close? Will you take partial payments? Will you use vacation or sick days? How long will you close? How long will sick children need to be out of childcare?

This is a whirlwind time and all new territory for everyone. It has not been easy taking over a leadership role, when it's not one I wanted in the first place (like, hello, if I wanted to be thinking about and writing policies regarding public health, I wouldn't be a daycare provider), however it has been eye opening to find how many people are without guidance and help. If you would like to take a look at my daycare's policies and what I included, you can find a link below. 

Daycare Pandemic Policies Fall 2020

* please be aware, that my pandemic policies are in addition to my regular policies and procedures (more of an addendum). Many of my regular policies and procedures are still in place (including payment, which the pandemic doesn't change). I also reserve the right (as my families know) to change any policy at any time that can be effective immediately, in regards to the Covid19 pandemic. This was an important piece for me when writing these, as information and how federal and local officials are handling the pandemic is constantly changing.

Ordinary Weekends

With numerous Saturday trips to State Parks and a random trip to Duluth, MN under our belts, weekends when we don't do much seem ordinary. But those weekends are impartative every so often. That's when we see friends, family, and decide on our next big (insert whatever home improvement project or next big trip here). These weekends were exactly like that.

We ate our favorite Vietnamese food for dinner. If you haven't tried Vietnam Cafe it's a must!

I have an official dishwasher helper whenever the dishwasher is loaded with dirty items. My helper is not enthusiastic about the clean plates.

Slow mornings and plenty of snacks (cereal, berries, and carrots rounded out morning snack #1).

We jumped on the quarantine bandwagon and gave tie dying a try.

I had a two hour dinner with friends. It was the first time I ate dinner in a restaurant, spent time with friends, and been away from my kids since the beginning of March. It was kind of a big deal.

I believe this was a Snookies visit.

Zeus loves to play and plays a lot. He's also really good at begging and notifying the entire family when mom has something good. Then I had to share.

We made the difficult decision to homeschool our kids to begin the school year. On a Friday afternoon. That meant I spent a weekend researching, prepping, deciding on a curriculum. It was a lot of work. I had help getting through it.

We had a few quick errands to run, so I piled kids and dog in the car, treated everyone to donuts (Zeus' was from a dog bakery) and got everything done in an hour!

This one also really loves car naps thanks to the derecho and traveling.

Zeus had his first puppacino while mom and dad got coffees from Starbucks.

Black bean and avocada tacos with fresh salsa. It's a favorite, flavorful, light dinner during the summer months.

Beginning stages of basement renovations. As of right now, we're only finishing one room to use for at home learning, but all electrical and important things have been done so we can easily finish the rest of the basement when we're ready. Eventually the room we're finishing for a school room now, will become a bedroom, so most of what we've picked out and done is just temporary (such as carpet squares, painting, and leaving the build-in cabinets in for now for school supply storage).

With pools being closed this summer, we've spent a lot of time at lakes and swimming. We ended a weekend at a lake. The kids didn't go to bed until two hours after their bedtime. We ordered a pizza after the lake because everyone was starving. It was also one of the best nights of the summer.