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Spider webs to webinars: a daycare center comes to terms with tech

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St. Michael Playhouse (SMP), a daycare center based in Makati City, had to grapple with the heart and soul of its pedagogical approach—interaction among children—with the physical distancing guidelines of the new normal. 

“We had no clue about distance learning. We were more adept at showing the child the wonders of a spider web rather than conducting a webinar. We had to reflect. Otherwise, it would have meant closing SMP,” said Sujata Mukhi, the daycare center’s executive director.

A Waldorf/Steiner-inspired school, SMP—before the pandemic—was all about group activities: children playing, singing, and eating together. Parents were advised to limit their kids’ exposure to gadgets. COVID-19 turned that philosophy its head, as gadgets became the safest way of interacting with others.

To adapt, the daycare center reached out to similar institutions in the spirit of cooperation to find out what the rest of the community was doing. It also got in touch with the parents, asked how they were, and what they needed from SMP to make their lives easier. Some were still struggling, looking for a new daily rhythm. Others were already burned out working in front of their laptops the entire day. 

“We don’t want to live in a la-la land of motherhood statements,” said Ms. Mukhi in an online event on taking action amid uncertainty. “We need a vision not just in the form of ideas but ideas translated into action.”

Finally, SMP got a mentor in the person of Cherry Kho, chief brand strategist of brand strategy agency Bluethumb. “By helping us distill our myriad of ideas into something that was workable, we were able to identify what success meant to us,” said Ms. Mukhi 

From these inputs, the daycare center evolved from being carers of children to coaches of families. From interfacing with the child, SMP moved to nurturing the entire family in the virtual space. “The children used to be dropped off SMP’s premises in the past. Now SMP is coming into their homes.” 

Its team had to put in the time and effort to learn the new skills—including basic ones like how to record videos. To help families manage their homes, nurture packs are given to the parents of each child. Each pack contains a flash drive with audio and video recordings of morning nursery rhymes, book excerpts, and the like; a binder with recipes to bake, crafts to do, and lyrics to sing; crafts materials; and a manual that recommends ways to achieve a harmonious family life at home. All these resources can be alternatively accessed on Google Drive.

Weekly calls are likewise offered to parents. These calls, which last from one to two hours, are done on the platform both parties are comfortable with—whether it be mobile, Zoom, or Messenger. Concerns addressed include dealing with tantrums to getting a child to move on to the next activity in the daily schedule. 

“You can’t stay where you are now. The pandemic will not allow it. The circumstance will not allow it,” said Ms. Mukhi of the larger role technology plays in SMP’s operations.

Prior to the pandemic, most businesses had one measure of success: to earn, said Bluethumb’s Ms. Kho. “What this pandemic taught is that there are other things to be grateful for. There are other measures of success.” — Patricia B. Mirasol

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