When we look back at the COVID crisis we’ll remember few things more potently and poignantly than the social and mental effects the pandemic had on our children.
When lockdown struck Brisbane, parents – quite rightly – held deep fears about how their children would handle one of the first tragic events to impact their young lives. Equally, parents felt immense pressure to ensure their little ones didn’t miss opportunities in terms of their learning and development when it became clear that learning from home would be the norm for the foreseeable future.
It was something that weighed heavily on the mind of Timothy Cochrane, too.
Cochrane, the Head of Experience & Marketing at Brisbane-headquartered not-for-profit childcare group Goodstart Early Learning, says the educators and executives at the business weren’t sure what impact the pandemic would ultimately have on families and centres.
“It was such a concerning and worrying time for our educators and our parents,” he says.
“In the first week we had a 50% drop in the amount of children attending and no one knew how long this would last – people were saying we might not see children for up to a year.
“To make things more challenging, our head office was the first place in Queensland to have a staff member with a positive COVID-19 test, which meant we were immediately shut down with all staff working from home. We went completely remote over one weekend.”
Despite the challenges of quite a large business shifting its workforce to remote learning in one weekend, attention turned immediately to how Goodstart could ensure parents felt supported and children continued to be able to benefit from guided learning activities while at home.
“Children don’t understand why they can’t just go to a playground, or go see their friends – the confinement was something that really concerned us,” Cochrane says.
“So we knew we had to help parents tackle the huge task of educating their children at home, and fast.”
Bringing early childhood education home at warp speed
The team of educators, marketers, IT specialists and designers at Goodstart Early Learning immediately sprang into action.
Over the space of two days the team formulated, wrote, designed and deployed 24 at-home learning activity resources that were available and live for parents to access on the Goodstart website.
Expecting a trickle of downloads from parents, the site had more than 8500 registered families using the platform within a week.
Goodstart@Home was born.
And – as the numbers suggest – it was sorely needed.
“Our General Manager of Pedagogy and Practice had said all along that this was going to work and be extremely popular, and she was absolutely correct,” Cochrane says.
“But that is when the real work started.”
Knowing immediately that the model was a success, Goodstart went about scaling the platform to ensure its growth and success. And that meant taking a project that was already on the company’s roadmap to deliver in 2023 with a six-month execution time frame, and delivering it in 2020, in the middle of a pandemic crisis, in two weeks.
“Within 14 days we had engaged a learning management system developer, taken care of all the legals, completed all of the user experience and user interface design, and created 120 activity cards to support parents at home,” he says.
“We went live within two weeks.”
Goodstart@Home was expertly designed by education professionals to help parents educate babies, toddlers and kindy kids at home with things they could find around the house.
“That was super important to us,” Cochrane says.
“We needed to ensure parents didn’t have to go out and buy stuff to do the activities. Pretty much all the activities can be done with things you can find around the house.”
The numbers speak for themselves.
More than 27,000 families have registered and engaged with the platform, and more than 200 pieces of content ranging from activity cards, recipes, videos and more are available on the platform.
And when Melbourne and its surrounds tragically went back into lockdown, it gave the company’s Victorian centres a platform to keep parents and children engaged with early learning in the toughest of circumstances.
“During that time the platform was providing more than 10,000 engagements per week for children across the state, including Zoom catch-ups with their friends, learning sessions and more,” Cochrane says.
“The feedback from parents was just beautiful. The words ‘life-saving’ were used many times.”
What were the key business lessons for Goodstart?
Cochrane says that while he would very much enjoy never doing that much work in a two-week timeframe again, it did expose some valuable lessons for the business, and indeed for every business that manages people, projects and timeframes.
“One of the questions we have found ourselves asking each other at Goodstart is how do we generate and embrace the same sort of alignment company-wide that just seemed to work during that project?” he says.
“We were all swimming in the same direction – both internally and with our vendors – and it let us deliver something we would have never dreamed about delivering that quickly and cost-effectively. We had absolute clarity on it from the beginning.
“So that is definitely the biggest lesson for us – we have the agility and the ability to do incredibly impactful things fast. We just need to maintain the will and the ways to do it in a business-as-usual setting.
“We had been talking about it for years – COVID made it happen now.”
Now that’s a curriculum we can all follow.