Parents running late at the end of the day and dropping off too early in the morning are tricky situations for early childhood professionals to navigate. While teachers have every right to remind parents about the center’s hours of operation, they can also feel some guilt when they broach these conversations. Morning set-up and end-of-day cleanup are necessary for the maintenance of the classroom, but the time allotted for these responsibilities is often limited. When teachers must also care for children during set-up and clean-up, the resulting inability to complete all of their daily tasks can be a source of stress.
All ECE professionals want parents to feel comfortable and welcome in their home or center, and at the same time want to protect their teaching staff from feeling burnt out or taken advantage of. Below you will find some thoughts on the importance of carefully considering your center or classroom’s opening and closing procedures and tips for communicating respectfully and honestly with parents who have a hard time sticking to the schedule.
The specific policy in your home or center will differ based on your staff availability, hours of operation, and the needs of families with children in your care. It is important to find the policy that works in your setting and to then have it clearly written out and communicated to families.
Establishing Clear Expectations
One of the best ways to ensure that everyone is on the same page about your center’s schedule is to establish clear expectations, with both parents and staff, right from the start. Parents should be given a handbook upon enrollment in your center, with a detailed schedule that includes your late pick-up/early drop-off policy. To ensure that this particular part of your center’s rules are clearly highlighted, you might even consider asking parents to agree to your policies by signing a contract. Having a gentle reminder about the policy posted right by each classroom’s sign-in and sign-out sheets can also be helpful. If the expectations have been clearly set ahead of time, it will feel easier to approach tricky conversations with parents who have trouble arriving on time because they are less likely to feel surprised or caught off guard by your policies.
Staffing for Opening and Closing
Teachers who are hired as opening or closing teachers, should be aware of and comfortable with the center’s drop-off and pick-up policies. For example, if your center allows parents a 10 minute grace period for running late, teachers should only be hired if they are on-board with this policy and available to stay beyond closing time. These particular teachers should be on the schedule to work after closing time to allow for enough time to wait for parents and clean-up the classroom without feeling rushed to get out the door.
ECE professionals work long days, and it can be frustrating and draining for teachers when they are stuck waiting for parents beyond the time they expected to leave work. Additionally, teachers who are consistently working overtime and did not agree to work such long hours might feel taken advantage of, which could lead to increased turnover.
During drop-off and pick-up, parents often want to connect with teachers and get caught up on all of the latest information about their child. Because this check-in time is so important, it can feel hard for teachers to find the right time to gently remind parents to arrive on time. It is important to remember that communication, honesty, and mutual respect are important parts of the parent-teacher relationship so, while challenging, these conversations are important to have. Teachers should also feel supported by directors who will step in to help when a parent is having a hard time respecting the schedule.
Creating Policies that Work for You
If you do not have drop-off and pick-up policies clearly laid out in your handbook, it might be time to incorporate them. Tom Copeland is a trainer, author, and advocate for the business of family child care care, who regularly posts different resources for ECE professionals on his site, including recommendations for creating systems and policies for opening and closing. He notes that teachers and caregivers typically deal with parents who do not arrive on time by charging a late (or early) fee. Some providers allow a grace period of 10 or 15 minutes before the fee kicks in, a policy that should be clearly stated in the handbook.
He also reminds that making decisions about policies, requires the question, “Which is more important to you: time or money?” Particularly for in-home centers who might not have additional staff for beginning and end of the day, this question is particularly important. Tom explains that, if you want your evenings free to be with your family (and are not willing to work late no matter how much a parent is willing to pay), then the fee should be set higher as a disincentive to parents tempted to arrive outside of scheduled hours.
His examples of late fee policies are listed below:
Parents will pay $.50/$1.00 per minute if their child is dropped off earlier than scheduled or picked up later than scheduled.
Provider is willing to provide care after the regular pick-up time. The rate after regular pick-up time is $__ per minute.
Fees for early drop off or late pickup are due at the end of the day, upon arrival.
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