Why I chose my children’s mental health over Covid-19 risks at daycare

By Merab Favorite (originally posted in Sarasota/Manatee Mom Blog)

The decision to send my children back to daycare wasn’t an easy one. I knew there were risks involved that were out of my control. However, I felt threats to their mental health outweighed those associated with the pandemic.

The entire family has been self-isolating for more than two months, with my two children, ages 3 and 5, completely confined to our home and neighborhood. Our exposure wasn’t totally capsulated, my husband is an on-call, essential employee and was required to leave the house for work. We were careful to take necessary precautions upon his return from “the outside,” but nothing is ever 100 percent secure.

With him on call and me working from home full time, the children’s day lacked structure and the educational components they needed to further their development. I’m going to be quite honest, they spent the majority of their time watching television. Even though I tried to monitor what they were watching and encourage educational programs – like the ones suggested by their teachers – their love of YouTube reality TV often prevailed.

To say it was a brain drain was an understatement. I wished I had the time in my day to do the fun craft activities assigned by their preschool teachers, but work was too involved for me to do much more than make them a healthy lunch. After I completed my 8-hour day, it seemed cruel to keep them inside to complete lessons. Walks and outdoor play were standard evening activities before dinner – a much needed stress reliever after a long day.

Staying at home began to be too much for our family – everyone in the household was getting stressed. Behaviorally, both children were regressing, acting out and having breakdowns over seemingly nothing. My oldest, who receives speech and occupational therapies while in school, was reverting to his old ways and I began to worry about his ascension into kindergarten. My husband even suggested holding him back another year. While weekly virtual sessions with educators and therapists were available, it just wasn’t enough.

When I told my kids they were going back to school, I expected mixed reactions. Instead, I got the cries of glee and enthusiasm. They began attending Starfish Academy at The Florida Center for Early Childhood under the essential employees program through the Early Learning Coalition.

I was so nervous to send them back, but I knew it was the right thing to do. My anxiety was comforted on that first day when we were greeted at our car by the school principal.  Wearing a mask and gloves, she instructed me to sign the kids in via QR code with my phone to alleviate any contamination risk associated handling a pen and paper. Both children carried their own lunches, which were packed in disposable containers as part of the new safety standards. Their temperatures were taken before they could enter the building.

I was not allowed in the school and had to say goodbye from the parking lot, but the principal reiterated several other safety procedures that were going on inside:

  • Students were required to remove their shoes and wash their hands before entering the classroom
  • Teachers were required to wear masks and gloves at all times, and there were masks available to students (if they would wear them)
  • Only eight students were allowed in each classroom along with two teachers.
  • The children stay with their classmates exclusively throughout the day – no joining other classes on the playground or other activities.
  • Toys and play areas are sanitized throughout the day, with classroom furniture thoroughly wiped down when all students are gone.

Having these policies in place eased my mind when it came to the safety of my children. While the system isn’t full proof, when I see how happy my children are after being at school, I know it was the right decision. I chose mental health over self-isolation, but I encourage other parents to do what works for their families. Everyone is different and adapting to our “new normal” will be unique to each household.

Starfish Academy has campuses in Sarasota and North Port. For more information about the preschool, visit www.starfishacademy.org.