Riverview mom and daycare operator says online learning delivers a double-whammy

·5 min read
Kaitie Brinston worries about how the switch to online learning will affect her daughter, and the licensed child-care facility she operates in her Riverview home.  (Submitted by Kaitie Brinston - image credit)
Kaitie Brinston worries about how the switch to online learning will affect her daughter, and the licensed child-care facility she operates in her Riverview home. (Submitted by Kaitie Brinston - image credit)

The decision to keep kids at home for an additional two weeks is hitting Kaitie Brinston doubly hard.

As a single parent of a daughter in Grade 2, she'll be in charge of her daughter's education during that time. And as a licensed child-care provider, she will lose hundreds of dollars for every week school is closed.

"It's very, very challenging," said Brinston, who offers a twice-weekly preschool program for two- to four-year-olds, and an after-school program to school-age children.

Since she cannot mix the two age groups, she's had to cancel her preschool program to accommodate the families who now require full-day care for their school-age children.

But of the 12 families she normally cares for, only two children have signed up for daily full-time care. Brinston estimates her financial loss at about $2,000 per month.

She said she's not alone.

Submitted by Kaitie Brinston
Submitted by Kaitie Brinston

She's part of a private Facebook group of licensed child-care centres and estimated that about 30 per cent of them say they're considering shutting down.

"It's actually a giant mess," Brinston said.

On Dec. 31, Education and Early Childhood Development Minister Dominic Cardy announced that the reopening of school would be delayed by one day — to Jan. 11 — so that teachers could prepare for the move to online learning, which will remain in place for at least two weeks and will be assessed weekly after that.

After she shut down her preschool group in favour of the school-aged children, Brinston said the majority decided not to pay for full-day care.

"So now I'm operating in the mornings for two different families and making about $20 from 8 to 1:30."

She also has to forgo another part-time job during school hours in order to provide care to the two after-school clients.

Unexpected cost for parents

Brinston also has sympathy for parents who have to find extra money in their budget for full-time care. She estimates the difference between after-school and full-day care to be at least $15 per child per day.

"That's a huge increase. Huge," said Brinston.

She said some people "are not able to afford the unexpected, added cost."

And of course, since the children are expected to learn online, it will fall to child-care providers to oversee that education, she said.

"It's a very ridiculous business to be in right now."

She worries about the effect the experience will have on children, with parents who are often unequipped or unprepared — or simply not there because they're at work — to assist with online learning. Or with child-care providers who are pulled in several directions with multiple children in their facilities.

Brinston's seven-year-old daughter, Lucy, hasn't had a full year of normal schooling since the pandemic hit in her kindergarten year.

"As a parent, I can't even describe how devastating her education has been … And as a single mother running two businesses, I have absolutely zero time or patience to attempt to, at home, teach my child."

Submitted by Kaitie Brinston
Submitted by Kaitie Brinston

Her background and training make her all the more concerned about the effect such repeated shutdowns will have on children who are taught at home by untrained parents and "possibly causing an aversion to learning."

She said, "there's a reason teachers go to school for four years."

Having a bad experience with at-home learning could create a long-lasting problem.

"It doesn't take long for them to actually view learning as a very negative thing," she said.

With so many issues caused by online learning, Brinston believes children would be better off in school — current case counts notwithstanding. She said studies have shown that children are not as severely impacted when they get COVID-19.

"For me, it actually makes no logical sense to tell kids to stay home."

And if the reason for sending them home is to protect the vulnerable, Brinston said, it makes much more sense to keep the vulnerable away from children.

"My suggestion is to tell those at risk not to engage with children while they're going to school. So, you know, the grandparents, the aunts and uncles, anybody who maybe has a compromised immune system to avoid interacting with children who are in school."

Safe in daycare but not in school?

As an operator of a licensed child-care facility in Moncton, Jennifer Burns is also frustrated at the government's plan for school and early learning centres.

"They're telling schools it's not safe for kids to attend, but they're telling us, 'No, it's fine. It's safe for after-school kids to attend.'"

Plus, facilities are being asked to provide a quiet space for students to do their school work.

"And that's just impossible in my situation," Burns said. "I don't have a dedicated space for after school," said Burns.

She also wondered why the province would mandate masks for toddlers.

Education and Early Childhood Development tweaked its winter plan this week.

In a letter to parents on Monday, Cardy outlined some of the changes, including for one-symptom exclusion and mask use.

Submitted by Jennifer Burns
Submitted by Jennifer Burns

Initially, masks were not required. But this week, the plan stipulated that masks must be worn by all children 24 months old and up, except outside, where physical distancing is possible between groups.

Burns said masks simply won't work.

"My biggest concern right now is masking those toddlers. It doesn't make sense, the World Health Organization doesn't even recognize it as a practice that we should be doing."

In her experience, mask use has been a disaster. She said pre-school-aged children will touch their masks "10, 20 times probably in five minutes."

"They're going to suck on it. They're going to throw it on the ground. We're going to have to pick it back up and put it on their face. It just doesn't make sense."

Burns said she's never met a two-year-old who can properly wear a face mask.

Plus, she said, having everyone wearing masks is detrimental to their learning.

"Those early, early years, they're learning so much by your facial expressions. I have kids that are learning to talk, that need to see my mouth. And if they can't see my mouth or my facial expressions, and I can't see theirs, what am I doing? What is my purpose right now?"

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