Daycares are going digital with apps to keep parents connected to kids

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Technology is changing the way we live and revolutionizing the way we communicate.

Smartphones are making it easier to 'stay connected' at work, home or school from just about anywhere. Now, the digital age has arrived at daycare and childhood learning centers logging onto apps to help parents stay connected to their kids.

We visited Danelle Meyers who is a mom and in-home daycare provider in Brandon. The kids she cares for vary day-to-day but she says the 'Brightwheel' app is pretty consistent in her playroom.

When we decided to start an in-home daycare, the first thing I told my husband was that I wanted to have an app. I wanted other parents to see their kids throughout the day and how they were doing," Danelle Meyers said.

She keeps her parents 'in the loop' with the app and really enjoys it.

Being able to share that their kids are playing with other kids throughout the day. They're smiling and having fun. That's the best part. I know you can do that through texting. But the other updates like changing their diapers, having everything all in one spot," Meyers said.

Meyers isn't the only one using this technology. Kids Crossing Daycare Center in south Sioux Falls is, too.

"Since we've gotten into the groove of just using it consistently, it's been really really nice to have it all in one spot," Kids Crossing Daycare Center leader Tonya Gingrich said.

With the 'Tadpoles' app, they're doing away with all the paperwork and instead documenting a child's day on iPads.

"From what I've heard from the parents, they really appreciate that. Just getting a picture of their baby throughout the day is nice to have throughout work or whatever," Gingrich said.

Unlike Meyers in Brandon, who sends information to her parents throughout the day, Kids Crossing only sends photos. Daycare employees save the rest of the information for child pick-up.

"We'll take the photo on the iPad, it'll get sent down, approved, then sent directly to the parents," Gingrich said.

One of those parents is KSFY's Bridget Bennett, in the newsroom, who gets those photos sent right to her phone. She says the app, in a way, brings her a little closer to her two little ones while she's away at work.

"I'm thinking about them all day at work anyway. So I might as well get to see them every once in awhile a little bit," KSFY's Bridget Bennett said. "Getting notifications throughout the day, seeing pictures, makes me feel like I'm still with them."

A recent study conducted by Gallup in October of 2015 found "only 20% of parents in the study were fully engaged with their child's school. Another 57% of parents in the study were indifferent, and 23% of parents were actively disengaged with the school their child attends."

We asked KSFY 'Moms Everyday' expert Jenny Leeper Miller about this technology. She's the director of a child development lab school in Lincoln, Nebraska. With these various smartphone apps, she said, that narrative is changing.

"Because it's really inviting parents in a different way. It's quick access to information. It's inviting this open door classroom that the parent can have access to what's happening in the classroom," Jenny Leeper Miller said.

Also a parent, Miller says these apps can sometimes serve as a conversation starter.

And so I'll get a note about his day that he went sledding down a hill and absolutely loved it from his teacher, and then they'll send me pictures. And so I'm able to just pull that up on my phone and say, "Hey Dexter look at what you did today!" Where I was before, I might have said, "Dexter, what did you do at school today?" And he'd say, "I don't know." And so now I can use this resource as a point of reference to say "Look Dexter - you went sledding!" and ask him some more open-ended questions with using this as a resource," Miller said.

However, on the flip side, she says the app should never replace face-to-face contact.

"That's what really builds a strong early childhood environment is be face-to-face connection with parents. So the apps can really connect the parents and the teachers for the quick information that they need to get out," she said.

Meyers knows having her phone around while she's on-the-job is a good thing.

"At least I'm distracted with the kids. If we didn't have it, someone could just be sitting on their phone texting all day. I think majority of people have their phones nowadays. I think if they have it for the purpose of the kids, it's benefiting the kids and the families," Meyers said.

And, she says, her parents appreciate it.

"They'll tell me when they pick up their kids, they wentr through some on the way, this is their favorite. I haven't had anyone not use it. Everyone has signed up and everyone uses it," Meyers said.

While our MomsEveryday expert had good things to say about these apps, she cautions parents with the following advice:

- It may be tempting because it's non-confrontational, but DO NOT use an app to
discuss sensitive topics (e.g. behavioral issues). Do those in person.
- Teachers should not be taking time away from kids in order to use the app (they
should send updates outside of class time OR do it with the kids)
- Teachers are responsible for making sure parents know how to download and
use the app. No matter how great the app is, it won't matter if no one uses it.
- Make sure your app is secure & has privacy settings