Virtual Support Labs Help Families Face Challenges

Monday, February 8th, 2021

While it might look like business as usual at some childcare and pre-school facilities, a lot has changed. Including the introduction of virtual support labs at Building Blocks. Operating a childcare center in the age of coronavirus is challenging to say the least. Zubeen Saeed, President & CEO of Building Blocks Learning Center understands that it’s challenging for families as well. “In this time of rising COVID-19 numbers, working parents are seeking safe and dependable childcare they can count on for their changing needs,” Saeed said. “We want them to know we’re here for them, with flexible solutions to fit their requirements.”

“For those working outside the home, as well as those facing the pressures of transitioning to working at home while trying to help children with schoolwork, weekdays can be extremely stressful. That’s why it’s imperative that we remain safely open to provide childcare and educational services for our community,” Saeed added. “It also enables us to give children and families a sense of normalcy by enabling them to participate in their daily routines in a safe manner.”

VSL enhances childcare & early learning programs

In addition to childcare and pre-school programs, Building Blocks also provides after-school care at several area schools in the Wilkes-Barre Area and Dallas School District. They’ve also partnered with West Side CTC for a Pre-k program and Lake Lehman School District for Building Blocks at Lake Lehman Early Learning.  Their newest program designed to assist families during these challenging times is VSL (Virtual Support Labs). VSL is focused on assisting students in their virtual school learning. The goal of VSL is to keep students connected to school while having to be away from the classroom.

Remote or distance learning has been overwhelming for student, parents and educators alike. It has also been difficult for schools to differentiate and support students with diverse learning needs and provide the individual support they need. Because COVID-19 has presented so many challenges related to how children are schooled, the team at Building Blocks felt that many children may not be receiving the help they need to succeed. VSL was their solution to address this important need.

VSL keep children connected to classroom

Versatile VSL spaces have been specially designed with stringent health and safety guidelines in mind. A comfortable atmosphere conducive to learning was also important. Building Blocks currently offers virtual support labs in their Wilkes-Barre, Mountain Top, and Dallas locations.  Introduced about six months ago, the VSL program has been well-received by parents looking for a more effective learning environment for their children. 

Students in each of the labs are supervised by an onsite virtual support facilitator who keeps students on their individual school schedule and provides assistance with school work as needed. The facilitators ensure students are logged on for classes on time and that they stay focused during classes. They also supervise classwork as it is being completed, as well as independent work, providing assistance where needed. Students enrolled in the different VSL locations are from various area school districts and are on many different schedules. Some with a virtual learning schedule and others with non-virtual classwork. The Building Blocks staff ensures each student is on track and receiving the individual assistance they need. This has been a big stress relief for many parents who have been juggling both work and in-home educating duties.

Assisting students with virtual learning

VSL was the brainchild of Building Blocks Learning Center’s Chief Administrative Officer, Lake Gemzik. “We always strive to provide the services and solutions our community needs, and we saw a real need in assistance with virtual learning,” Gemzik said. “Feedback from parents regarding the virtual support labs, has been very positive. Working parents have found this to be a big relief during this stressful time. Knowing their child has somewhere to go that is age appropriate and dedicated to learning with one on one attention takes the stress off of parents who are already being stretched in so many directions. They even receive a progress report when they pick up their child as to the school work completed and any left to be done.”

Safety top priority at Building Blocks

Safety remains top of mind at Building Blocks Learning Center. If plans are not implemented and steps in place to prevent the spread of COVID-19 in a childcare setting, the results could be disastrous. The Building Blocks team feels confident they are proactively taking all of the steps necessary to protect the children and staff. They have created an environment that minimizes the risk of the virus in their classrooms and childcare spaces. Saeed and her team believe their active response plan, designed with guidance from the CDC, PA Department of Health, and DHS Licensing Agency, along with cooperation from parents, has enabled them to curtail health risks and any long term closures from occurring.

The plan includes a strict mask policy for children over 2 years of age and staff, a “What if” scenario for parents. There are also strict guidelines regarding dropping off and picking up children including temperature checks and a drop-off and pick-up station, frequent hand washing, a stringent disinfection policy, and special shoes that remain on-site. Reduced classroom sizes and restricted age groupings have also been implemented. Building Blocks also requires health screenings for children and staff returning from vacation, as well as those who have been in a large group setting, or those in contact with anyone diagnosed with COVID-19. 

Communication is key

The staff communicates regularly with parents through memos, letters, and emails. They keep parents updated on safety policies and procedures and reinforce the importance of following policy in keeping the facility safe and open. They also provide parents with helpful tips on helping children adapt to mask-wearing and adjust to repeated hand washing. Even with the added precautions, many parents are still grappling with the decision of whether or not to return their children to daycare/preschool.

According to Gemzik, enrollment is down approximately 40% because of the pandemic. “We’ve adapted and adjusted our programs to be as safe as possible, while still providing children with a positive experience to learn and grow,” Gemzik said. This includes incorporating fun and festive activities within the center, such as a Roaring 20’s day and other enrichment days that enable children to still enjoy a more creative learning experience with mask and social distancing guidelines in place every day.

Quality childcare & childhood education you can count on

As a parent looking for childcare or pre-school placement, Building Blocks encourages you to evaluate different facilities to ensure they have the staffing and plan in place to implement all of the necessary safety and disinfecting precautions, while still providing your child with a quality care and learning experience. Don’t hesitate to speak to your pediatrician about your childcare concerns.

“Parents should be able to feel completely comfortable that they have placed their child in a safe environment,” said Saeed.  “A strong focus on risk mitigation will enable Building Blocks Learning Center and other childcare and daycare facilities to earn the confidence of parents looking to find safe childcare options.”

For parents interested in help with virtual learning, the Building Blocks Learning Center VSL Program is open to all school-aged children. VSLs are located in the Building Blocks Learning Centers in the Twin Stacks Center in Dallas, in Wilkes-Barre on Route 315 across from the Woodlands and on South Mountain Blvd. in Mountain Top. To learn more about VSLs, visit or call 570-793-1725.

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How to keep your child healthier in daycare & preschool

Sunday, January 26th, 2020

Childcare centers and preschools are fabulous for providing toddlers with opportunities to socialize and learn in a safe and nurturing environment. You may be considering enrolling your child in daycare or preschool but are concerned about the prospect of dealing with frequent illness. Fear not. While kids do pass things on to one another, there are precautions you can take to keep your child safe and help prevent the spread of germs.

Tips for keeping your child healthier in daycare & preschool 

  1. Teach your child about proper handwashing. This is their best defense against the spread of germs. They should always wash their hands with warm water and soap. Lathering and then scrubbing for about 15-20 seconds. Perhaps teach them to sing a song in their head or recite the alphabet as they wash to ensure the adequate time. They should then rinse hands under warm, running water and dry with a clean towel. Teach your child to wash frequently. This includes prior to eating, after using the bathroom and after playing.
  2. Stress to your children the importance of not touching their faces, putting their fingers in their mouths or biting their nails. This simple lesson will go far in helping to prevent the spread of germs.
  3. Be sure your child is up to date on all recommended vaccinations and has regular checkups with a pediatrician.
  4. Be sure your child is getting plenty of sleep each night. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that children 1-2 years of age should sleep 11-14 hours per 24-hour period including naps. Children 3-5 should sleep 10-13 hours. Make sufficient sleep a priority for your entire family. You are a role model for your child, so set a good example. You should also reduce screen time around bedtime. Too much screen time can impair your child’s quality of sleep.
  5. Encourage a healthy diet. Just as getting enough quality sleep can reduce your child’s risk of getting sick, so can maintaining a healthy diet. Be sure your child starts each day with a healthy breakfast. Plan for healthy snacks and make mealtime a priority. Whole foods, such as fruits and vegetables, provide many nutrients to a growing child.
  6. Hydrate, hydrate, hydrate. Hydration is as important as nutrition. We can’t stress this enough. Staying hydrated can prevent fatigue and improve mood and overall health. Promote healthy drink choices like water, sugar-free juice, and milk.
  7. Teach your child to cover their nose and mouth when coughing or sneezing and to wash their hands afterward.
  8. Although you like your child to share, there are certain things they should never share. Tell your child not to share a snack or drink container with other children in daycare & preschool. Drinking from the same bottle or straw or eating a snack from the same bag can spread germs quickly.
  9. Encourage your child to get plenty of exercise. Exercise helps boost the immune system and prepares a body to fight off germs.
  10. Choose a clean childcare facility with a formal sick policy and adequate preventative measures. Be sure to do a site visit to the daycare/preschool prior to enrolling your child. Ask how often the toys, sleep mats, and other shared items are cleaned and sanitized. Ask about other facility cleaning policies, such as the cleaning and disinfecting of changing tables. Does the facility teach and encourage good hygiene habits on a daily basis? Are there adequate sinks for proper handwashing? Does the staff take adequate germ spread prevention measures? Hand washing is as important for staff as it is for children. Finally, ask the childcare facility about their sick policy. These are all important points when choosing the right daycare center.

When should you keep your child home from daycare & preschool

For an overview of Building Blocks Learning Center’s sick policy, please reach out to any of our center administrators in Wilkes-Barre, Mountaintop or Dallas.  Remember, even the healthiest children will get sick occasionally. How sick is too sick to send to daycare or preschool? If your child has a fever, a persistent cough, is vomiting or has diarrhea, you should keep your child home. If they have a contagious condition such as pink eye or head lice, they should also be kept home. If you have questions or are unsure, contact your childcare provider for their specific policies.

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Five Tips for Selecting a Good Child Care Center

Tuesday, December 18th, 2018

  1. Be sure to do a childcare center site visit. You will want to observe how the staff interacts with the children and also take a look at the cleanliness, safety, and organization of the child care or daycare facility. The childcare center should be properly lit and ventilated and have adequate spacing for the number of children. Ask about emergency procedures and illness policies. Inquire about curriculum and developmental activities. Don’t be afraid to pop in for a surprise visit.
  2. Look for a stimulating, structured curriculum. A daycare or child care center in the Wilkes-Barre area should have a structured schedule that includes plenty of learning activities, playtime, physical activities, group interactions, creative activities, meals and individual time. All curriculum and activities should be age appropriate and tailored to the educational, social and emotional development of the child.
  3. An educated, well-trained and caring staff is essential. Education in early childhood education and ongoing training is important, especially for preschool and pre k staff. Most importantly, the staff should truly enjoy teaching and helping to develop the children in their care. Staff should also be trained in first aid and CPR.
  4. Ask about the staff to child ratio. A childcare center, daycare or preschool needs to have an appropriate ratio of teachers or caregivers to children. Recommended for infants is a ratio of 1 staff for every 4 children. For 1-year-olds a 1 to 5 is required and for older toddlers, you should expect a ratio of 1 to 6. For preschool and pre-k a ratio of 1 to 10 is recommended.
  5. Check licenses and accreditation for the preschool, daycare or childcare facility you are considering. For instance, Building Blocks Learning Center is licensed by the PA Department of Human Services, PA Dept of Education and Keystone STARS accredited.
  6. Finally, ask for recommendations from other parents. Family and friends is a great starting point in developing a list of child care centers, daycares, and preschools for your consideration.

For more helpful tips such as these, follow us on Facebook or watch for more Building Blocks Learning Center blog articles.

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