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Learning Pods

Your child’s public school is starting 100% virtual in the fall. Now what? That’s the question I’ve been struggling with the last week since my daughter’s school made the big announcement. My husband and I both work full-time (and we’re both very grateful to still have our jobs), but we have no family nearby that can help with childcare. Our daughter is going into 2nd grade, so she still needs an adult for school support and “aftercare.” So, what are the options? First, we have to take into account what the current schooling options are:

  1. Keep her enrolled at her regular public school and use their virtual curriculum.
  2. Enroll her in an established online free public school.
  3. Enroll her in an established online tuition-based private school.
  4. Traditional homeschooling.
  5. Unschool homeschooling.

I love our local public school, and want to support their enrollment numbers, so our family chose option #1. A second, more difficult decision is what to do about childcare. Here are the options as we see them:

  1. Ask/pay a neighbor to watch her all day.
  2. Find a daycare that is taking older children.
  3. Take turns with other parents watching a group of kids at everyone’s individual own houses, rotating locations.
  4. Hire a private nanny.
  5. My husband or I quit our job.
  6. Cooperate with other parents to do a nanny share aka “learning pod.”

This is a big, stressful struggle for us because there are no right answers here. It doesn’t feel right to ask a neighbor to watch her when that would mean breaking their quarantine. Sending her to a daycare wouldn’t be any safer from COVID-19 than a regular school; that is exactly why schools are online. Rotating between families isn’t a good option because we wouldn’t be able to participate as a host location, plus that is a lot of change and upheaval for our daughter every day. Hiring a private nanny or quitting one of our jobs is not financially viable for us. That leaves doing a nanny share, or as everyone is saying nowadays, a “pod” or “learning pod”, where a small number of families pay a single caregiver to watch their kids in one location and make sure they complete their online schooling. It would be FAR more money than we budgeted for childcare this year, but looking at the numbers it’s still less money than one of us quitting our jobs.

Now that we have made that hard choice, we are faced with a whole new set of challenges to overcome.

Step 1: Find a Nanny. How, you ask? We’ve been looking daily at several Portand-metro Facebook groups that are discussing these same issues. The best groups I’ve found are: Portland Moms, PDX Nanny Connection, Portland Nanny Network, and Portland Micro Schools (that last one has the most activity related to learning pods). I also have been looking on care.com.

Side note: Here’s something I didn’t consider when I started researching all of this last week: many other families are desperate for nannies too! Whenever someone creates a post advertising their nanny services, there are always half a dozen “I’ve pm’ed you!” replies immediately. We’re still a month out, and it’s definitely “Nanny’s Choice” season out there.

Step 2: Hire a Nanny. If I find the perfect person whose references check out and we all agree would be a good fit, now what? Do I make a contract? Will I/they need to pay taxes? Should I use a payroll service? Honestly, I’ve never had to hire a full-time nanny before, so I’m still figuring out this step. (Good thing I’m a Librarian and love researching things!). Care.com, whattoexpect.com, and parenting.com have some good articles, and todaysparent.com and domesticemployers.org have some that are COVID-19 specific.

Step 3: Nanny Orientation. Before the first day of school, I will need to have the nanny come to the house to meet our daughter and our pets, learn the lay of the land, get the code for the front door, etc.

And that’s the plan! Stressful, expensive, and it feels very last-minute, but it is what it is in the time of COVID. I wrote this article because all of us parents, grandparents, and others who watch over children are in the same boat right now, and I hope that sharing my journey will let others know they are not alone facing these challenges. I know we can get through this!!

Best of luck to you on your childcare adventure.

-Ellen Miles, Programming & Outreach Coordinator
July 24, 2020

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