Five weeks ago, we looked at checklists.
How about this one?
Caregiver Pre-Tour Checklist
Trigger point – one hour before scheduled centre tour by prospective family.
- Is the centre director/manager on hand for the tour?
- Are the teachers and other staff aware of the tour (and the names of the visitors, including their children)?
- Are the toilets, kitchen, laundry, office, reception areas and notice boards tidy and clean?
- Are there breath mints/deodorant available for tour personnel?
- Is the parent information pack on hand?
Naturally we can all add our own touches to any checklist of this sort, but giving a caregiver something to leave with – a parent information pack – would be on most checklists. We all recognise that prospective families should leave with something in their hands other than a business card.
Many visitors will still be undecided when they leave, and we can expect them to be considering other centres too, so we want to give them something that continues to keep our centre at the forefront of their minds.
Even when a parent leaves our centre having told us they wish to enrol their child (or maybe even having enrolled), they want to be reassured that they have made the right decision. The keenest readers of car road tests are recent purchasers of that vehicle.
For all these reasons, we want to give prospective caregivers something to take away.
So, we reach for our parent information pack.
What Do We Find?
The internet provides a variety of parent information packs to show us what many centres are doing. (Of course, these packs may not have been designed for handing out to parents after a centre tour. They are on the internet after all, and they may be posted there as a resource for parents after they have enrolled, but most of us will agree that it’s typical to hand over this kind of document to a parent when they visit.)
The parent information packs available online contain some or all of the following:
- Mission, vision and values statements
- Centre philosophies
- Fees, accounts and subsidies
- Staff ratios
- Late pickups
- Cancellations, absences and sickness
- Staff qualifications and training
- Opening hours
- Complaints procedure
Many append their enrolment form too (which strongly suggests these packs are given out to parents pre-enrolment).
Most parent information packs on the internet are long (and frankly boring!).
They make pretty dull reading.
TL;DR, short for "too long; didn't read", is internet slang to say that some text being replied to has been ignored due to its length. - Wikipedia
Parents of preschool children today are predominantly Generation Y; born between 1981 and 1994. They are often characterised as lazy, debt-ridden and programmed for instant gratification (which of course can be fairly applied to every other generation too!), but they certainly know their way around the internet (and their smart phone), and they lead a busier and more bombarded lifestyle than the generations that came before them.
They know how to skim.
They have short attention spans.
And they are cynical of the claims organisations make.
(They also know what TL;DR means!)
It’s not that they are a ‘faulty’ generation; they have developed the basic survival skills necessary for their highly connected, bombarded environment.
If we want to reach and connect with this group, we need to bear this in mind.
Horses for Courses
Having a parent information pack is not wrong, or a mistake. It is important (and a licencing requirement) that we provide caregivers with the information they need to understand our way of doing things. Handing out a detailed parent information pack can achieve that.
But such a pack is about us.
It tells the prospective parents how we operate, what we believe in, when we are open, what we require them to do and not do, what our fees are, and our staff ratios; it’s an instruction manual.
We don’t look at the instruction manual when we buy a new dishwasher. It wouldn’t even be offered. The instruction manual is useful, but it’s not the right time to read it.
Our dishwasher salesman would give us a brochure that talks about the way their machine fulfils our needs and all the unique benefits it offers us. We take the brochure home and compare it with the others (and the best brochure wins!).
We get to the instruction manual after we buy the machine, or more likely we’ll look the manual up on the internet (and given what we know about the generation we are addressing, having our own ‘instruction manual’ available – and searchable – on our website probably makes lots more sense than printing it).
So, after a centre tour, we want to be passing over information of interest to our caregiver; information that helps them at the stage they are at when they leave our centre.
How Do We Make Our ‘Brochure’?
We focus on three things:
- What makes us different
- The ‘generic’ concerns of parents
Address What Makes Us Different
The document our departing prospective parents hold in their hands should make really clear what makes us different and what our unique service propositions (USPs) are.
If we haven’t already, we need to take the time to figure out what features and services, relevant to our parents, set us apart and make us remarkable. It may be our:
- fees (high or low)
- fantastic climbing wall
- great parking
- size (big or small)
- the same staff member meeting each child each day
- security technology
- engagement with children
- sense of fun
- family orientation
We can’t appeal to everyone, and we shouldn’t try.
If you go about trying to please everyone, there's going to be endless struggles. - Sonny Bill Williams
You're never going to please everyone, and if you do, there's something wrong. - Constance Wu
We just need to be different.
We need our ‘brochure’ to make clear how we are different and that we are the centre that offers (or emphasises) something the others don’t or can’t.
Then we can only put that in front of our prospects and hope it strikes a chord.
(Finding our unique service proposition is discussed more fully in this Pivot: Distinct or Extinct).
Address What Concerns Most Parents
We can’t know what every parent’s personal requirements are, but we can make a fair guess at the ‘generic’ issues most parents face, and we can move to address them in our handout.
Somewhere near the top of the list is going to be that sense of guilt for not being with their child full-time, and that childcare is somehow damaging for children.
Another generic concern will be how prepared their child is to be away from them. What can they do to prepare their child for the experience to come? (Kidspot have a few suggestions here about preparing for preschool that illustrate the kind of content we might include.)
Yet another concern is how their child will react at drop-off time. Will they be faced with an (embarrassing?) upset child refusing to let Mum leave?
Will their child be safe from bullying, disease or injury?
Addressing these kinds of concerns in our handout is both helpful for caregivers and evidence of our professionalism and concern.
Then Make It Readable
Writing and designing award-winning brochures is not usually part of a manager’s job description or skill set. So, if the budget extends to employing a professional, we should scamper through that door as fast as we can!
But sadly, big budgets are not common in early childhood!
So how do we acquit ourselves well if we need to design our own brochure? Here are some general suggestions that will help improve the readability of our handiwork:
- Write in short, simple sentences. Where possible, keep to one idea per sentence.
- Write in the active voice. By doing so, you’ll get shorter sentences, and it will be easier to read too. (“The teacher answers the students’ questions” is active; “The students’ questions are answered by the teacher” is passive.)
- Avoid long, multi-syllable words. Poorer readers will struggle with those.
- Eliminate jargon, acronyms and terms unique to our profession. 'Schemas', 'scaffolding' and 'pedagogy' are not widely understood, and big words don’t make us look intelligent!
- Avoid cute fonts. Stick to simple san serif fonts (like Arial). They are easier to read.
- Use pictures (especially pictures that highlight the centre’s unique features) and colours. Break up large areas of text.
- Use bullet points to list features, steps, or tips (like this list). Emphasise the beginning of a bullet list (in bold) to make it easier to scan.
- Use software like Hemmingway to check for readability. Microsoft Word has a built-in readability feature too.
- Employ a proof reader. Don’t publish until the spelling and grammar are checked. (Every Pivot is proofread before it goes online too.)
And we need to remember that our parents don’t want length – they want what matters to them.
Food for Thought…
- Parents and caregivers who visit our centre should have something to take away with them.
- The typical parent information pack is long, dull and boring. There is a time and place for the information it contains, but it’s not the best tool to promote our centre.
- A good visitor brochure would highlight our unique benefits, helpfully address the general concerns of people considering our centre, and be interesting and readable.
- We should craft our parent handout from the parent’s perspective. We should answer their question, “What’s in it for me?”.
We won't put in the links to the parent information packs we found online as we might have been a little critical. But you will be able to find them. 🙂