New Brunswick

Parents and children happy to see daycares open again

Working from home with a three-year-old to entertain wasn't exactly how Jan Barry envisioned the final trimester of her pregnancy. But when daycares closed in March, she had no choice. 

Most centres will fill up again gradually, but one Riverview operator is calling it quits after a decade

Grand Bay Blossoms' newly renovated and opened preschool room. (Submitted by Samantha Brown)

Working from home with a three-year-old to entertain wasn't exactly how Jan Barry envisioned the final trimester of her pregnancy. 

But when daycares were ordered to close March 16 because of the coronavirus, she had no choice. 

She worried about her daughter watching too much television and missing out on valuable  learning opportunities. And Maisie really missed her friends from daycare.

It's hard to say who was more excited for daycares to open again.  

Maisie got up extra early on Tuesday — early enough to ask about 50 times if it was time to go yet, said Barry. 

"She was very excited to go back today. She couldn't wait to get back to see all of her little friends."

Maisie was one of about 30 children to show up for the reopening of Grand Bay Blossoms Inc., says owner Samantha Brown. 

Jan Barry said she and her daughter Maisie were equally happy for daycares to open on Tuesday. (Submitted by Jan Barry)

Normally, the centre has roughly 60 children and another 30 in the after-school program. 

Brown said a few parents decided to hold off for a few extra days or weeks before sending their children back. 

"They're just kind of waiting to see how things go," she said.

And others haven't returned to work themselves, so have opted to keep their children at home with them for now.

Brown said she and her staff spent last week preparing for Tuesday's reopening and making sure they complied with all of the government's guidelines.

About half of Grand Bay Blossoms' children showed up on Tuesday morning as licensed daycares across the province reopened. (Submitted by Samantha Brown)

"It was nice of the government to be able to give us a week's notice so that we knew when we were opening, and we had time to prepare, and we had a lot of documents to go through. It was a lot of information, but it was really good information."

Brown said being so well prepared helped make for a smooth reopening on Tuesday morning. 

"Things went really well," she said. "It went a lot smoother than we expected."

According to the province, 440 of New Brunswick's 838 early learning and childcare centres were preparing to open. By June 1, the province expects 671 facilities will be open, said Tara Chislett, a spokesperson for the Department of Education and Early Childhood Development. 

'Seamless' opening

Jean Robinson, who owns Lincoln Daycare Centre, said Tuesday's reopening was "seamless" at her facility. 

There were signs to direct parents, questionnaires were filled out and temperatures were taken with an infrared thermometer. 

Robinson, who is also head of Early Childhood Care and Education New Brunswick, said it helped that only about half of the children showed up the first day.

"For some it was just way too stressful. So they're not going to start until Monday. They want this extra week to get their head around everything. And some centres chose not to open till June 1 for staffing issues or parents who wanted to wait that extra two weeks before they go back."

She expects her centre to be at 80 per cent by June 1. 

"If we had all of them, maybe it would have been a little more hectic," said Robinson.

She said the children were very excited to be back. 

Jean Robinson, owner of Lincoln Daycare Centre, says more than half of her daycare children showed up on Tuesday (Submitted by Jean Robinson)

When reached first thing Tuesday morning, Robinson said, "There's so much noise — and it's awesome." 

With a horseshoe-shaped driveway, it was almost like a drive-through dropoff, especially with the older children, who hopped out, got their temperature checked and went inside while the parent filled out the questionnaire before driving away. 

Robinson met with staff last week and they went over the plan in advance. Everything was done outside — all the paperwork and the temperature taking. One staff member was exclusively on hand-washing duty as the children came in. 

"So they sang the ABC song 50 times this morning getting hands washed." 

Some tweaks had to be made in order to comply with the government's regulations.

"Going for a snack is a little different because we always used to have snack together. Now you can't have more than a bubble of 15 having snack in the snack room." 

So instead of snack time lasting 15 or 20 minutes, it now takes an hour. Similarly, lunch will take longer since children will have to take turns in smaller groups, she said. 

"But cleaning is the biggest thing — to make sure that everything that child has played with … gets disinfected before another child plays with it," Robinson said. 

"So I've got two extra staff just on disinfectant duty and we're probably being overzealous right now, but I would rather be a little on the neurotic side than a little on the carefree side. We're talking about children's safety and my staff's health and safety."

Head start

Heather Hamilton, the owner of Hamilton Homestyle Daycare in Saint John, said Tuesday morning was a breeze for her staff. 

Hamilton's daycare remained open to look after the children of essential workers, so gearing up for Tuesday's opening wasn't such a big deal. 

Hamilton said the information provided by the government was voluminous but very helpful. 

There were a few more measures that had to be put in place, but the main restrictions remained, including that parents are not allowed inside the building.

Her staff set up a table out front and parents were asked to fill out the necessary daily paperwork, asking about symptoms and contacts. 

Every child's temperature is taken outside and as soon as they enter the building, they have to wash their hands, explained Hamilton. 

"Everything was just kind of ramped up and is now being tracked," she said.  

Signs help direct parents dropping off their children at Hamilton Homestyle Daycare in Saint John on Tuesday morning. (Submitted by Heather Hamilton)

Hamilton said the dropoff was very smooth. She suspects that was partially because they remained open for the children of essential workers. 

"I think it certainly helped. I can't imagine having to open up after nine weeks of being completely shut down and having to start from scratch and get all the processes. The cleaning process was already part of our normal routine.

"I was very thankful we had been open for nine weeks and had some of that stuff under our belt already."

Hamilton said her two centres are roughly one-third full. She said some parents opted to wait a day or few days before bringing their children back. Some are scheduled to start on Wednesday, while others will return next week. Some have put off the return until June or even July. 

She said parents are divided between being relieved to have childcare again and worried about their children venturing out of the safety of their own homes. 

A 'perfect storm'

Riverview daycare owner Kimberly Gunn has decided to close her operation after a decade in business. 

"A perfect storm is the only way to put it — just everything coming together over the last couple of months, and it was time for me to say that I'm done."

When the province announced that daycares would reopen, Gunn looked at her own situation and at all of the requirements she had to fulfil in order to reopen. She decided it wasn't worth it. 

Since 2010, she has operated Wildflower Hollow Early Learning and Childcare Home by herself, so meeting parents outside, filling out questionnaires and taking temperatures wasn't possible. 

And having the daycare in her own home was another complication. 

Kimberly Gunn decided to permanently close her Riverview daycare, Wildflower Hollow Early Learning and Childcare Home, rather than reopen with government restrictions. (Megan McKinley Photography)

Gunn's own boys were part of her daycare, and she wasn't comfortable with the potential impact of government guidelines on them. 

While children aren't expected to stay two metres apart, Gunn said, operators are asked to discourage them from sharing toys or touching each other. 

"My little ones here, they've always been like family — hugging, playing, sitting with, snuggling reading a book. To me, that's normal, and that's socially appropriate for children," Gunn said.

To discourage children from doing those things "doesn't feel right and it doesn't sit well for me."

And it's compounded by having her facility in her own home.

"With my own two boys … it's their home, and telling them 'No, you can't do that in your home,' didn't feel right either." 

Gunn was told she could put her licence on hold for six months.

"I don't see this ending within six months. And to continue paying for my insurance and get those expenses in the interim while also not having any source of income just wasn't feasible in our opinion."

With three young boys — aged 6, 4 and 2 — Gina Murdie was eager to have her regular daycare open again. 

She said her boys "were very happy to get out of the house and see some different faces, other than family." 

Having three boys at home "has been an adjustment," she said. 

"Since I work in the school system, I'm used to having them in the summer, but we've never been home that long and never able to go anywhere," said Murdie. 

As to who was happier to see daycares open, she said, "I'm going to stay safe and say they were."