Keeping things in their proper order when there are children around can seem like an impossible task. In the morning, everything is nice and neat. At pick-up time, the place looks like the toddler room in Toy Story 3. (Cue the discordant music.)
On top of that, it’s the end of the day, and you’re pooped. Cleaning and straightening sometimes get short shrift. How can you get and keep your childcare center organized without becoming the Inspector General?
It can be done. Here are a few tips.
Make the Learning Space Count
Arrange the spaces where the children spend most of their time using plenty of small, movable storage. A few minutes before it’s time to move on to the next activity, call a halt and have the children help you clean up.
Don’t rush. Make clean up part of the activity and make it fun. Don’t succumb to the notion that it’s easier if you do it yourself or it can be done later. Cleaning up messes and putting away are good life skills to model. You never know; an astonished parent may come up to you at the next open house and ask you how you got little Madison to learn to pick up toys.
- Instead of one large toy box, use smaller milk crates and plastic bins to separate toys by type. You don’t need a box for every single category, but a box for blocks, a box for dress-up, and box for dolls will keep things neater.
- Art supplies can be treated like the toys. Have slotted areas for construction paper and small bins or jars for crayons, pencils and markers. Keep the modeling clay in an air-tight container. Place scissors, paints and glue in upper cabinets for supervised use. Label the shelves for each product so anyone can find what they need, and put it back in the right place.
- Books can go in boxes and on bookshelves. Board books are durable and can be thrown into a box. Thin storybooks with soft covers and books with paper pages can go on shelves. Separate by size rather than topic to keep piles neat. Chapter books for the teacher to read aloud can go into an upper cabinet where they are always available.
Try to strike a balance between storage solutions that are so big that everything is mixed up in them and ones that are too small and wind up adding to the clutter. Storage bins stay in the same place all the time. If needed, you can get rolling bins that you bring out of the closet or away from the wall to use the items inside them, then clean up and roll it back.
Getting from Here to There
People who talk about herding cats have never tried to corral dozens of small children who can walk and run. Taking any size class on a walk, whether it’s outside or down the hall, is a challenge worthy of a lion tamer.
Everybody wants to be first. Nobody wants to walk next to Timmy. Holding hands is unsanitary. What can you do?
On the first day of the session, assign each child a number or letter. Rotate who gets to be first in line and who gets to be last. Line them up alphabetically or numerically after that. Eventually, everyone gets a turn.
Put tape on the floor where you want the children to line up, and if you need to keep everyone together, there is always the handy rope-with-plastic-doughnuts trick, where each child places a hand through the plastic ring until told to let go.
Teachers and Substitutes
Teachers, it’s time to tackle your desk.
- Make sure it’s placed so you can see everyone.
- Minimize the number of items you keep out on your desk.
- Create space to grade papers and work with your laptop that’s out of reach of the children.
- Have a safe space for the all-important coffee cup or water bottle.
Something to organize as soon as possible is the substitute folder. Obviously, nobody plans to be sick, have an accident or deal with family emergencies. But stuff happens. You will need someone to take over for a day or a week. How will they know the routine and where everything is?
Put together a binder containing lesson plans by date, notes about various children’s needs, and any other information someone would require while keeping an eye on your class.
All cleaning supplies should be placed out of reach in a locked area away from the children. Still, you need to be able to get to the exact item you need quickly when (not if) accidents happen.
Designate a particular closet or small room for these supplies and label each shelf. Not only will this make it easy to find the product needed, but you can also easily take inventory to determine where you are running low.
Filing Goes Electronic
Paper, paper, and more paper. Attendance sheets. Immunization reports. Invoices and checks. Where does it all end?
It can end by eliminating paper and going electronic. A childcare management system can digitize every aspect of running a childcare business and take up no more room than a laptop. There are no papers to file, transfer, enter, or lose.
Just think of all the space you would have if you didn’t need file cabinets. Think of the savings from not renting off-site storage for files you need to keep for regulatory purposes. Consider the savings on gas, postage, and time spent going to the bank or post office.
By implementing a childcare management solution, you can automate almost every bit of documentation you keep.
- Instead of printing attendance sheets and allowing parents to mill around looking for their child’s name, provide fast check-in with an iPad, a bar code reader, or a simple numerical pad.
- Provide online registration through an electronic parent portal linked to your website. Instead of asking parents to fill out paper forms and drop them off, let them fill in the forms online and attach electronic versions of immunization records and other necessary documentation.
Get more insight into the benefits of EZChildTrack's parent portal here.
- Invoice via email or the parent portal and allow parents to pay electronically through e-check or credit card. The money goes directly into your account, and the system captures all additional fees for each family, from late pickups to late payments.
- Use the system for scheduling staff, classroom time, and meal tracking.
You’ll be amazed at how much paper (and forest) you save by digitizing all your records. Implement a cloud-based childcare management solution like EZChildTrack, and all your records are secure and available anytime, anywhere, from any device. If disaster strikes, your records are safe. No worries about rebuilding your database.
Organized spaces help with learning and increase productivity. When you make it easy for everyone to pitch in to put away, your childcare facility will always be a source of joy.