Pandemic Post

Virtual childcare to the rescue: Bettye Hyde on YouTube

Christine Aubry

Violette with her mom France-Pascale and dad Craig look forward to the reopening of Bettye Hyde ELC.

Can you imagine having to entertain 39 children, between the ages of 18 months and 5 years, virtually?

When the Government of Ontario ordered the closure of schools and daycare centres as of March 23rd, the staff and Board of Directors of Bettye Hyde Co-operative Early Learning Centre here in Sandy Hill decided immediately that they would do everything they could to support families—this meant offering credits or even refunds, and finding as many ways as possible to stay connected with the children and their caregivers.

With parents having to juggle working from home with child care and perhaps home schooling older siblings, flexibility was key. Bettye Hyde staff quickly created a YouTube channel so that the children and their

Meanwhile, Zoom has helped them keep in touch with teachers and friends.

families could see the familiar faces they miss whenever it was convenient for them. The channel features educators reading stories, singing songs, and guiding activities like crafts, exercising and even cooking.

One parent told Director Janet LeBlanc that her child watches educator Lisa tell the story of Baby Beluga at least 20 times a day—providing welcome respite for a busy parent, no doubt, but also repetition, which is key to early childhood development.

Staff also navigate Zoom meetings with the different age cohorts several times a week (including French circle time and the weekly Seeds of Empathy circle where the children have the opportunity to see a baby grow during the first year) and parents can request one-on-one teacher time for their child, for a quieter, more personal connection.

All of this has kept the educators busy, and on the payroll. Even the cook, Liz, has changed hats and become invaluable with her technical knowledge and support. Staff have also been making the most of an empty building to catch up on some organizing and tidying.

Keeping the staff employed was never in question. The Board of Directors even honoured the contract of a new hire, who joined the team the very day they had to close the doors of the building. Janet is very grateful to Bettye Hyde’s bookkeeper for working hard to research the different financial support measures, and to former Director Cindy Mitchell who had ensured that Bettye Hyde had a solid business model and could endure at least 3 months of forced closure.

The question on everyone’s mind of course, is how long can this continue, and what will the future look like? Early Learning Centres are in some respects ahead of the game because they already had strict protocols in place for sanitation and monitoring illness. But there will no doubt be challenges, especially in September when they would normally welcome a whole new cohort of children within a short period of time.

In the meantime, the staff are staying positive and even finding ways to celebrate. Since the annual Mother’s Day and Father’s Day picnics can’t take place, they are holding a virtual family party in between the two dates.

There will be much to be thankful for when life returns to normal, including the joyous sound of children’s laughter coming from the corner of Osgoode Street and Blackburn Avenue.

Violette with her mom France-Pascale and dad Craig look forward to the reopening of Bettye Hyde ELC. Meanwhile, Zoom has helped them keep in touch with teachers and friends (below).