Gloria Robledo has been running a day care out of her Los Angeles home for almost 15 years, but has never experienced a year like this one. She’s licensed for 14 children, including two after-school children, and has strived to stay open and keep her kids safe during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“We have some essential parents, four essential parents, and for them I have to be there every day,” Robledo said. With COVID-19, she has far more rules for her kids and families, including asking kids older than 2 years old to wear masks. “I’m so grateful because they understand very well.”
To help convince the kids to wear masks, Robledo sewed some for the kids herself.
“They loved it because I made it specially for them,” she said. “They look so cute with the mask.”
Sewing masks is just one of the ways Robledo and other home child care providers across Southern California have had to pivot during the COVID-19 pandemic. Providers are also expanding their services to older kids and finding support from community organizations, among other creative strategies to stay afloat and support their neighbors who need them most.
“With the pandemic, everything has changed,” she said. “Our curriculum has changed. Every week, we make lesson plans for individual children.”
Robledo is now caring for kids who would normally be in school, and has found herself trying to supplement far more of the learning that would normally go on in school. For help with that, Robledo joined a pilot hybrid program from PBS SoCal for Crystal Stairs home-based child care providers, which combined a virtual “Peg + Cat” camp with in-person support. The “Peg + Cat” show on PBS KIDS focuses on math and problem solving skills, while Crystal Stairs is a nonprofit that advocates for and helps early childhood education.
The camp, which was originally designed and developed by the Carnegie Science Center and Fred Rogers Productions, with support from the National Science Foundation, provided Robledo with lesson plans and activities that focused on science and math. She first attended virtual instruction sessions on the curriculum, and then brought it to her children.
Robledo was one of four home child care providers who participated. Each center served between eight and 12 children, ranging from infants to 7-year-olds, which meant at the end of the camps, 41 children had participated. Each camp was one hour a day for four days, and two of the camps were bilingual.
With the pandemic, everything has changed.Gloria Robledo
Robledo said the camps were very successful, both for her as a provider and for her children.
“The curriculum they created for us is really easy, really affordable, and very very easy to manage with the children,” she said. “We can use it for any age, even for infants, toddlers, preschoolers, and school age kids. When we did the camps, we have some after-school children, and they really enjoyed it, along with the infants.”
Robledo and the other child care providers learned the curriculum during a 75-minute bilingual virtual orientation and then received all the materials they needed by mail before the camps started. They received a curriculum guide, handouts, posters, markers, counters and gardening materials.
Each day focused on a specific skill with tailored activities oriented toward that skill. The first day was all about sorting, which included sorting farm animals and planting vegetables.
Robledo said the activity of planting a flower at home engaged both the kids and parents.
“Parents take the plant home and send me a picture of the flower,” she said. “They wanted to know how to put the soil in the pot, how often to water it, why we water it, how to take care of the plant, and then they showed me a picture of some of the flowers that they grew.”
The second day was about vertical and horizontal ordering and making predictions and observations. It included an activity where kids had to guess whether something would sink or float.
Robledo said this was a favorite with her kids, though they asked if they could do it in the toilet. She, of course, said no.
The third day was about shapes, and involved practicing with “Peg + Cat” shapes cards and a color mixing activity with paints.
Robledo said this was also very popular with her kids, including even the infants.
“The infants played with paint with their fingers,” she said.
The last day was about patterns, including a farm animal patterns activity.
The level of engagement her kids showed perfectly fits the goals of the program, which are to get young children excited about learning math and science and to help them not be frustrated or anxious when learning science and math.
Results from the program collected by PBS SoCal showed that all the providers who did the camp said the virtual training and the materials made them feel prepared and ready for the camp, and that it helped their children engage with science and math. They also all said their children had fun.
Now children have to build trusting relationships with people who are still strangers. It’s devastating to the economy, and creates a domino effect where parents can’t work because they don’t have anyone to care for their child. And at the end of the day, the ones who are hurt the most are the children.Miren Algorri
Robledo and the other providers said they made some adjustments to the activities; for example, laminating paper star printouts to make it easier for the children to manipulate, making a worksheet for students to make predictions during the sink or float activity and setting up individual water boxes for each child. Robledo said she plans to continue using these activities in the future, with her own modifications.
Other child care providers are also making adjustments and pivoting during the pandemic. Miren Algorri, who’s been a child care provider in Chula Vista for 23 years, said she now has some children in her home day care who normally would be in school. Their parents can’t work from home, so she is caring for them and helping them attend school virtually.
She said that’s one thing that’s helping her stay in business, but child care providers are still facing a crisis. A statewide study from Child Care Providers United, a project of the union United Domestic Workers, found 5,600 facilities have closed across California.
“Those parents are not having accessible, affordable quality child care readily available,” Algorri said. “Now children have to build trusting relationships with people who are still strangers. It’s devastating to the economy, and creates a domino effect where parents can’t work because they don’t have anyone to care for their child. And at the end of the day, the ones who are hurt the most are the children.”
Holly Weber, who owns a preschool in San Diego, has also pivoted by deciding to offer a kindergarten class this year. She used to offer kindergarten at her preschool 10 years ago, but had stopped due to lack of interest. When the pandemic hit, many parents whose kids would be aging out of her school and heading to kindergarten asked if she would offer a class.
“Even if parents are working out of the home, they couldn’t keep up with helping their kids do online learning, and for some parents it wasn’t an option to work in the home, so they were facing the choice of resigning from their job,” she said.
Now she has seven kindergarten students in one classroom, where she says the hands-on, in-person learning is so critical.
“Person-to-person instruction is critical to their development,” she said. “At that age, interacting and socializing is still very new, very unfamiliar, and virtual learning isn’t a solid way to encourage that.”
For Weber, like many child care providers, the aim is to hang on and make it through the next few months intact, so that they can still be in business and help parents in the coming years.