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Wonderschool Interviews: Caren Renee Haynes of Mama Goose Daycare

This month we sat down with Caren Renee Haynes, owner of MaMA Goose Daycare Inc., to talk about how she’s dealt with running her business through the pandemic, what motivates and excites her about her work, and how Wonderschool has helped her exceed and excel at providing the best care to her charges.

So, why don’t you start by telling us a little bit about yourself?

Well, I am a family daycare provider. I have been doing family childcare for 27 years this year. We are in New Jersey, where we’re allowed to keep 5 children in licensed family daycare so that’s what I do. I take care of infants to children three years old and I’m very happy doing it. We do have very busy days. I do a lot of multitasking, but I love it.

I’m happy with all the things that Program for Parents is trying to do for their providers in New Jersey and in our county, Essex County. Every day we’re learning something new and I think that’s a wonderful thing. I think that the takeaway from each day should be to gain some knowledge, and they’ve been putting a lot of things before us on all platforms that are really all for the greater good.

I really like the One to School Platform. I kind of jumped on it and was able to set up some things, and I liked the way it progressed along. I really just have a lot of good things to say about it.

Interesting! I’m going to circle back to that because I have more questions. But first off, how did you get started in childcare? 27 years, you’ve been at it a while!

You know what, I was a banking officer. I was in customer service and worked my way up from the ‘70s to the ‘90s. I ended up getting to the point where I didn’t want to take my boss’s job and she thought she was grooming me for her job so she could be a VP. And I said to my husband, “That is not what I want.” You know, after doing that for 15 years, I really would have loved to work with children. I was a home economics major and childcare minor, and my heart was always with the children. I watched everyone’s kids. I have my own kids. We have adopted children. And so through the years, I just found that childcare was my thing. So my husband said you need to quit what you’re doing and go with your passion, so that’s what I did.

And now I’m very happy working in family childcare. I knew I didn’t want to go into a Center because I didn’t want all that overhead and I wanted to be able to work with children more than all that pomp and circumstance that went along with it. So family daycare was just a great fit for me.

So, tell us more about your daycare.

My daycare is Mama Goose Daycare Inc. The name came from a friend of mine’s daughter when she was little. She said because I always had children around me, I was like a mother duck with all the baby ducks. I wasn’t sure Mother Duck would work well with little kids having trouble pronouncing words and all, but I did like Mama Goose, so that became the name.

Wonderful. So, tell me a bit about Programs for Parents, how you got involved with them, and how you’ve been involved with them.

Programs for Parents is the Essex County agency for resources and referrals, and they actually do the training. You have to be registered through Program for Parents to be a family childcare provider in our county.

Back in the ‘90s, they would do their little module training in the office and they only came out to the house, you know, to certify the space and make sure everything was done properly. Through the years they have actually evolved into this fabulous service that is not only a referral service for the parents looking for childcare, but they’re also a good advocate for their providers and now the daycare centers as well.

They give us all the information. We get all of our training. They help providers that accept subsidies. They have a food program. They have CDA training. They just do it all now. First aid, CPR, they handle all that. Everything we need, we can go to Program for Parents. They actually took care of a lot of us through the pandemic. They made grants available for us, ran health and safety trainings, and different things. They have really been upfront and doing a great job for the providers during this pandemic.

Well, that was actually on my list of questions. I was going to ask how you survived this year and what you had to change and adjust. I know how hard it’s been, but I’m curious to know how it’s been for you.

So the governor in New Jersey closed all the schools and childcares in March of 2020.

Oh wow, that was early on.

Well, we’re near New York so you have to understand that the pandemic was real here. I remember my oldest daughters and grandchildren were in Florida like “la la la” while we were in hunker down in the house mode. We could only get groceries. The corner store was closed. The restaurants were closed. The car washes were closed. The coffee shops were closed. With no change in sight. That’s how it was in March. Family and childcare were closed. Everything was at a standstill. People were not going to work unless they were essential workers, which meant that you were a doctor or nurse in a hospital.

Everything was still. Then June 15th, they said because people needed to work, that daycare centers could open up for essential workers. And that put a big gap in the daycare centers because only some providers were able to open up if they had children of doctors or nurses. And I didn’t have that, so we were just at a standstill completely through September.

Then in September, we maybe had a few brave people who would consider using the service, but we couldn’t open up our homes for interviews, and at the time Zoom wasn’t really a thing used by providers. I did start using Zoom to read to my children. They call me NeNe, so every Thursday we had ‘NeNe’s Reading Time’, but basically that was it.

Then finally as we started to open, I think it was like the last week in September, we struggled to open for two days a week. Then that fell flat after like a week because someone got exposed. But Program for Parents was right there with different programs to help us providers, and Wonderschool came out of it.

It was Gary Romano and me doing TA training, and then we were introduced to Ross with the Wonderschool platform. He spends a lot of time with us, twice a week on Mondays and Wednesdays to help us if we have any questions or concerns. And I took full advantage of our help hour!

Initially, I wondered if this would be something we would be able to do continually or if this is something that would go away when COVID went away, but he explained to me how this platform is here to connect with different providers, and showed me the chat group and questions and answers. It’s just really nice to be able to have a conversation with someone who knows about childcare and that could give us another group of people that were going through some of the same things. This platform has people from all over the country, which is much different than just being in the Program for Parents in Stark County.

Well, that gets me to my last question and you answered this a little bit, but tell me more about your experience with Wonderschool. What do you like about the platform? What’s good? What’s bad?

Well, first of all, I love the way the dashboard pops up. I just enjoy the way you can use it, edit the website, if there’s anything you need to put in there, it’s right there. It’s user friendly. It has all the right key ingredients as they say, and we just have to come in and tweak it with our personal information that’s going on at our in-home programs. Then it also gives you an area where you can actually look at other programs that are near you, so if there’s something you can’t help a person with, like say overnight care, you can look it up on there and steer them to other providers.

A person can go in, read our testimonials, and see what our scheduling is like. All the information is available right on one page. For a person vetting daycares, everything is right there. I really like that.

What I also really like is you can schedule meetings or tours, they can message me as a director, there’s an area that always prompts you to update whether or not you’re open during COVID, and if you forget to check it one week, they send an email to remind you to update it. So it’s kind of a reverse way of them checking in on you also.

That’s great. You said that Ross [Lehuta] has been meeting with you all to answer questions and help you.

Yes. He’s been helping us set up everything, because you know some people look at different platforms as intimidating. But the idea is that we’re all going through the same training and as each one of us started to enter things into the website we were creating it helped others to take the next step. And Ross was really great. He would take the time and say “go here and look at this and change that and everybody try this” so people could do as much as they could do.

We always came away from our sessions learning a great deal. And some of the things we thought we knew about ourselves, we didn’t know, but this platform gave us a place to really shine and to be aware that it’s not so much a competition. One family childcare can encourage the other. It gave us kind of like a camaraderie, you know? And Ross is always so patient and kind, even when I ask him the same question on Wednesday that I just asked him on Monday. He’s just full of good advice and ready to help.

That’s great! So one of the things that is good about the platform is it’s connecting you to a community of childcare providers and directors, people you can share ideas and learnings with.

Yes, that’s right.

Are you back to being open now?

Yes, I’m open now, but I’m only open for three days a week. Monday, Tuesday, and Friday. And that’s because parents are still trying to keep their children in their little home bubbles, and many in New Jersey are still working from home. In my area we have a lot of people that would commute to the city, but that’s not happening now, so they’re working from home. Very very few parents are working out of the home, so the ones that are bringing their kids to daycare are the ones who have days where they’re scheduling Zoom meetings and different things so they can’t manage the children.

Thank you so much for taking the time to talk with me. I’ll let you know if I have any follow up questions, but this conversation has been very useful.

Yeah, let me know if you have any other questions. Like I said, I’m referring people to Wonderschool. I’m advocating for Wonderschool. I’ve used other websites in the past, but I just think that this one is so user friendly and has all the prompts and bells and whistles you need for everything that’s going on right now.