By Chea Waters Evans

The Charlotte Children’s Center has seen countless little ones over the years for summer childcare, year-round daycare, and for a small preschool program. Due to COVID-19 and the restrictions and guidelines set forth by the State of Vermont, gone are the carefree summer days of before.

Many parents rely on a carefully constructed Jenga tower of summer plans for their children, planning weekly activities and locations for each child at area day camps. With many options closed for the summer and parents scrambling to enroll their children in those programs that are open, they are turning to other options like leaving older children at home alone, hiring a babysitter (there are lots of unemployed teenagers this summer), and sharing duties between parents.

For those who rely on daycare for young children, however, the situation is trickier. Kristy Sargent, the director of the CCC, said that health and safety regulations set by the state have had a significant impact on the way the summer will play out. “We strive to offer children emergent activities as well as time to mingle with all the classrooms during the summer outside,” she said.

“Any typical summer you would see preschoolers and older infants drawing at the table or reading books on a blanket in the shade. Now, we will have designated play areas on the playground separated by a six-foot corridor to ensure that classrooms aren’t mixing, all while practicing safe distancing.”
Though the classroom and play areas will look different, Sargent said that the CCC staff hopes to still provide fun and enrichment. “Our goal is to try our best to create a cohesive environment given the special circumstances,” she said.

The staff will have a different way of life as well, Sargent said. Classroom doors will be shut and teachers will be specifically assigned to a class, and the staff room won’t be operational so the space can be used for younger children.

With the coronavirus showing a spike in Vermont over the past few days, the decision for parents to send their children back to daycare or preschool is difficult Some worry that their children will bring home the virus and infect older family members, and Sargent said she understands and supports those who decide to keep their kids at home. Other people don’t have much of a choice and must send their kids back to school and daycare.

Kiona Heath is a parent whose children attend CCC. Though she carefully thought through health and financial concerns, she decided that it was in their best interest to go back this month. She wrote in an email, “It feels very important to us that the kids go through the process of adjusting to this new normal with their entire early childhood community as soon as it is safe and possible. They need their friends and their teachers to learn how to live in this new world…. I’m mostly sending my children because I want them to learn alongside their people about how to live their lives in these challenging times. We trust that the Center will be taking great precaution and stay responsive to whatever happens.”

With childcare centers permanently closing this month at both the University of Vermont and St. Michael’s College, and closures earlier in the school year by Loveworks daycare centers in Chittenden county, parents will soon feel the crunch. “I think that it is devastating,” Sargent said. “There is a shortage of high-quality childcare in Vermont and they just closed two of the most monumental preschools.”

The Charlotte Children’s Center currently has openings for the summer, Sargent said, but are otherwise operating on long waitlists.