Several new and revamped programs and services at Oregon State University are seeking to help parents dealing with limited child care options and state mandates requiring many school districts to teach online due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Our Little Village (OLV) short-term child care program in Corvallis, administered through the Family Resource Center, is expanding and re-opening this month and can now serve children of employees as well as students. The university has allocated additional funding to expand the program to serve faculty and staff at a new location, OLV|Milne, designed to serve children ages 5 months to 12 years. Short-term reservable child care will be provided in the Milne Computer Lab and Dixon Recreation Center. The program is cohort-based and informed by the applicable Early Learning Division COVID-19 guidelines. Two- and three-day morning and afternoon sessions will be available, in addition to Saturday and Sunday hours at OLV|Dixon. For more information: https://familyresources.oregonstate.edu/OLV

“We’re working to provide short term child and youth care and educational support,” said Amy Luhn, director of the Family Resource Center at Oregon State. Many parents are currently juggling work, caring for young children and/or managing on-line learning in K-12 school. The Family Resource Center can provide care from seven to ten hours a week, where staff can support that learning in a safe environment.

“We’re designing this as one of a multiple set of options for parents,” she said. There is no one-size fits all solution for parents, she said, so consistent, safe care in small cohorts, can at least offer some relief. Consistent cohorts means reduced exposure for kids and parents.

KidSpirit is taking a different approach. They are not a child care facility, but rather offer enrichment programs and camps to children and young adults several times a week. They have modified the ACES (no-school camps) to KidSpirit Base Camps (Belonging, Art, Sport and Enrichment). In-person camps are scheduled to start Sept. 26. Groups will consist of 10 kids in grades K-12, and will meet for two hours, one to three days per week, for four-week or eight-week sessions in Langton Hall on the Corvallis campus. KidSpirit recreation gymnastics will be offered for two hours per week, along with movement and dance activities.

KidSpirit is also continuing to offer virtual camps. Register online. For more information, contact kidspirit@oregonstate.edu or 541-737-KIDS (5437). Scholarships are available.

Karen Swanger, director of KidSpirit, has a lot of experience providing ‘fill-in’ care when public schools aren’t in session, but this is a whole new world, and she’s spent the summer trying to figure out what kind of programs can help parents who usually depend on sending their kids to school during work hours.

“We are trying to figure out how we can help with longer term care and educational support,” within a very limited budget, Swanger said. Her student employees will be weaving mindfulness work into the camps, as well as educational support for students doing distance learning.

“It’s a great opportunity for college students to mentor kids,” Swanger said. “Strong mentors are more important now than ever.

In addition to helping out parents, Swanger said the programs and camps can help students to not feel so isolated by providing a way to socialize and interact with other kids in a cohort.

“The question is not about babysitting,” Swanger said. “It’s about how do I keep kids active and enriched during these times when they’re not physically at school.”

Eric Cardella, director of youth safety & compliance at Oregon State, said there are a variety of other youth programs that OSU sponsors statewide, both on campuses and through Extension and Research Stations.

“OSU is uniquely positioned to meet the needs of children and families throughout the state through our Extension Service programs in 36 counties, many of which are actively responding to the new normal of distance learning, limited in-person classroom instruction time, and families who need access to technology resources, academic supports, healthy food options, and so on,” Cardella said. Those include Benton and Linn County 4-H, which offer many youth development opportunities.

Additionally, there are a variety of other opportunities, including many programs offered through OSU Precollege Programs (like STEM Academy and iINVENT camp), and other online versions of camps and enrichment programs offered through SMILE ClubsOSU Open Campus and the IMPACT program, all of which are offering virtual programming in the Fall. 

“My office is new, but part of its intended purpose is to develop a centralized database of OSU-affiliated youth programs,” Cardella said. His office is currently working on a one-stop website highlighting various programs available to youth through Oregon State. For now, individual programs offer information on their websites.

Both Corvallis campus children’s centers have re-opened for younger children. Parents can contact Bright Horizons and KinderCare, regarding possible openings. Contact the Family Resource Center for information on service levels, safety precautions and other details. The OSU Child Development Center will be re-opening its preschool programs during fall term.

 All OSU employees have free access to Care.com, a third-party service that provides free and helpful child care-provider referrals. Care.com has created a back-to-school resource guide, on how to navigate complicated child care scenarios that COVID-19 has created. Employees can access child care and distance learning resources including resources for tutors, nanny shares, pod teachers, pod shares, babysitters and more. Employees can post jobs on Care.com, such as a job for a tutor to help their children manage their Zoom schedule and schoolwork. Care.com will offer several upcoming webinars that address the challenges of providing distance learning and care for children and teens during COVID-19. Employees can find information about these webinars online.

~ Theresa Hogue