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Tours and orientations – how to welcome new families while staying COVID safe (part one)

early childhood education
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Tours and orientations of early learning services are important for both educators and families and can be an emotional and much-anticipated experience.  However, conducting tours and orientations during COVID-19 brings a whole new raft of challenges.

At the heart of it, we need to keep in mind the purpose of the tour or orientation (our ‘why’) and which aspects can be achieved through ways other than face to face.

This two-part series explores strategies for welcoming new families while keeping everyone safe.

In this article, we focus on tours.

Start with written information

Sending written information prior to the physical meeting reduces the length of face-to-face and virtual tours. It means that educators won’t need to cover every possible topic during the tour. Instead, they can focus on building a relationship with the new family.

“The most important part of a successful tour is starting to build an authentic connection with the family and making sure there is an open dialogue about what they are looking for and the kind of centre we are and what we offer,” says Foy.

General information can be given in a printed booklet, emailed to families, or published on the service’s website. Ideally, this information will also be available in languages other than English.

Virtual tours – great for first introductions

Clare Thompson is early childhood education and care team leader for the City of Greater Geelong. Some of her family daycare educators have used online tours to show families their learning environment.

“Using Facebook and Facebook Live has allowed them to do video tours for new families. Photos on Instagram, as well as Skype and Zoom meetings also assist families and educators to get to know each other, allowing parents to ask questions and children to interact with the educator as well,” she says.

The Wonderschool in Throsby, ACT, has been conducting tours via Zoom. Their director, Susan Foy, says, “in some ways, the Zoom tours were better than physical tours as it disturbed our current children and educators less.

“We are now allowing two tours a day, but are recording the details of families coming through the centre and only offering tours at times that do not impact the children we already have in care.”

preschool virtual tour

Socially distanced information evenings

As an alternative to tours conducted during the day, some services are hosting information sessions after hours. New families visit the service after current families have left for the day. Educators are given the choice of staying back to coordinate the sessions.

This option works best for services receiving a large number of enquiries, including preschools planning for new enrolments in 2021.

Thorough cleaning and sanitisation before and after sessions are recommended, as well as facilitating social distancing for staff and visitors and ensuring hand sanitiser or hand washing is encouraged on entry.

Focus on first impressions

Even though we are in the midst of a stressful pandemic, don’t forget to make a good first impression. A tour can be the start of an important and long-term partnership – make the most of the moment.

Jennifer Moglia, the educational leader at Gymea Community Preschool, suggests thinking about your welcome and the presentation of your entry.

“We make sure our entry reflects the diversity in our community and in particular, our Aboriginal community. Before we move past the entry, we explain our staffing and governance arrangements as well as our current rating,” she says.

A perfect opportunity for promoting quality early education

During COVID-19, early childhood educators have voiced the need to be respected as professionals. A tour, even if it’s virtual, is the perfect opportunity to enlighten and inspire families.

Take the opportunity to promote the importance of early childhood education, the Early Years Learning Framework, and the power of a play-based curriculum.

“Explaining your rating, being proud of your service and speaking about the exciting things you are working on are great ways to involve families from the get go,” shares Moglia.

If tours are conducted during the day, talk about what a group of children are doing and how they are learning. During out-of-hours and virtual tours, provide work samples and photographs. Let families see your program in action.

early childhood play

Tips for a successful tour

We have all learnt during COVID, that we can draw on different ways to communicate and maintain relationships, and tours are the perfect time to make use of these new communication avenues.

  • Consider your ‘why’ for each tour – what is the purpose and can it be achieved by ways other than face to face?
  • Introduce all team members, not just those with high qualifications. Assistants, cooks and relief staff deserve respect too!
  • Remember to interact with everyone on the tour, including fathers and the child themselves. Acknowledging each person equally shows respect.
  • Encourage the family to ask questions. Find out what they want from an early childhood service.
  • Build trust by being warm and friendly. Many families will base their decision on instincts, not information.

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