What it’s Like to be an Essential Childcare Worker During the Pandemic

I am a childcare worker with children in kindergarten to grade seven. During the school year, we provide before and after school care – a morning shift of two hours and an afternoon shift of four – with day-long programs running in the summer months. Our program provides group games, creative arts, time outdoors, and self-directed play for the children while emphasising three rules; my work is safe, my body is safe, and my feelings are safe.

When the pandemic hit, we made changes to when we work and whom we work with. Currently, our program is open 8-5, but we are only open to the children of other essential workers, and all staff were given the option to discontinue their work for the program until they felt safe to return, without the risk of losing their jobs. I decided to continue my work, because I wanted to feel like I was contributing to the crisis the world is currently facing. Due to the temporary loss of staff, I have shifts every day the program is open. I’m grateful to be able continue my work, especially since I live alone. The comradery between our staff full of college students has never been stronger.

We split the remaining children into two locations (we used to operate from three schools) with the staff and children never rotating locations to limit exposure. At my current location we have eight children, even though we are licensed for almost ten times as many.

We keep them in separate spaces or outside as much as possible. It’s hot enough to wear a t-shirt on the Canadian West Coast now, and it’s easier to keep the children spread out from one another outside. It’s difficult to explain to five-year-olds why they can’t stand too close to their friends while they’re trying to build a house for bugs, or that they can’t play dress-up anymore because the fabric is too hard to sanitize without on-site washing machines. One day, three of the children drew circles in the sand pit to ensure me they were going to social distance while they played together. Afterwards we had to split up the trio for lunch due to our small tables. 

Although there are far fewer children than ever before, the job has evolved to have much more responsibility. We must wash high touch surfaces with soap, water, and bleach multiple times throughout the day. After children touch toys, art supplies, books, and board games they must leave them in a bin to wait to be coated in a layer of diluted bleach. For a great deal of the day, one or more of us is ensuring the centre is clean enough to hopefully prevent the spread of COVID-19. 

We have been trying to educate the children; with a combination of online material from their teachers, workbooks their parents have purchased, and free online printouts. As a science major I have been conducting experiments with the kids – building volcanoes and making crystals – and providing them with facts about the ‘animal of the day.’ Once I brought in the planters I purchased for my apartment and taught them how to garden. While none of our staff are teachers, we are trying our best to make up for the childrens lost time in the classroom.

Image: Prexel

I’m aware that I should be fearful of my new work conditions. Instead, I feel a sense of security. During the most stressful days as a student; worrying about papers or a dispute I got into with my friends, I always had my job to brighten up my day. 

I went through a domestic airport to visit my family in late March, and as a result, had to self isolate for over two weeks. I live alone, and during my self-isolation, I counted down the days until I was able to see the kids again. Whether we’re spending ten minutes trying to learn how to use a coffee grinder, or playing a made up version of hide-and-seek with far too many rules, they never fail to bring a smile to my face.

 I’m thankful to feel like I’m combatting COVID-19 even though I play such a minuscule role. More than anything I’m grateful to see the kids keep their happiness during all of this uncertainty.

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