By Anaridis Rodriguez

NEWTON (CBS) – Many daycares across the state are either empty or have far fewer kids. But that doesn’t mean children are missing that connection. Some parents are turning to virtual daycares, to keep their kids home but engaged.

“They’re in their own homes, safe, and able to explore what they want to explore. [They’re] basically inviting us in,” said Reed Donahue, owner of Little Red Wagon PlaySchool.

Reed Donahue has opened a virtual preschool as she closes her Newton space. (WBZ-TV)

On Wednesday, as she sat in her empty daycare center, she taught an online class full of pre-schoolers. The virtual venture is a consequence of the pandemic. We first met Donahue back in April, during an extended shutdown that threatened the facility’s existence.

“Last time we spoke, I was unsure what was going to happen. The regulations came down, and for the way we’re set up in my school, the regulations were really too constrictive for me to open up,” Donahue said.

Pre-pandemic, the Department of Early Education and Care (DEEC) licensed nearly 9,000 childcare programs. So far, state officials say, 4,989 programs have received approval to reopen. Of those, 4,357 have already reopened. Strict health guidelines have forced Donahue to close the Newton center’s physical space.

Reed Donahue said many parents find virtual daycare allows them to get things done. (WBZ-TV)

“I know why they’re in place, and they should be in place,” said Donahue. “What’s happened since then, which has kind of morphed into something really exciting is, when we went online when we first had our closure, the response was amazing from parents and the children. The parents asked me to continue into the summer.”

Right now, Donahue offers families options three days a week, three-and-a-half hours a day. She plans on expanding in the fall. She’s capped this first session to 20 kids, three are from families who live out of state.

“It’s really been great,” said Jessica Ortiz who lives in New Jersey. The mom of two, too nervous to send her toddler to daycare, enrolled him in the Newton virtual program instead. “They send us a weekly activity box full of stuff that he can do when he’s interacting with them. Or things that they can do together when they’re done with the day.”

“Definitely we’re not providing child care, per se, an adult has to be around somewhere,” said Donahue. “But what we’re finding from parents is that they are able to get things done.”

Anaridis Rodriguez

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