SELINSGROVE — Four-year-old John Skotedis left the SUMMIT Early Learning day care center Friday afternoon with a big smile.
"He's just happy to see his friends," said the tot's father, Alex, as John spent several times waving goodbye to several preschoolers gathered at one of the center windows.
The return of Valley children to day care centers this week after a 2 1/2-month shutdown because of the COVID-19 pandemic went surprisingly well, area child care providers said.
"We were worried about how they would react and about separation anxiety, but they are managing the transition very well," said center Director Alyssa Heggenstaller.
Helen and Brandon Kiso were hesitant about sending their 18-month-old daughter, Solana, back to day care due to the health crisis.
"Like any other parent," said Helen Kiso, who was reassured of the safety precautions being taken by SUMMIT staff. "They've been very transparent."
Heggenstaller said a video detailing the new drop-off and pick-up procedures and how staff members are keeping the centers clean by regular sanitizing of surfaces helped "ease some fears." The Selinsgrove facility has several playgrounds so children are able to play outside in small groups.
"All the child care staff is doing their best with safety in mind," said Bryan Sprenkel as he picked up his two sons, Hagan, 8, and Beckett, 5.
Sprenkel said his children were ready to get back to the center.
"They've been out of their element. They're so used to being in school with their friends," he said. "They've been taking some classes by Zoom, but it's not the same."
Parents like Skotedis and the Kisos said their children were not disturbed that staff were masked.
"Exciting but strange" is how Danville Child Development Center (DCDC) staffer Tina Horne summed up her first week back at work.
As Horne and colleague Tianna Pride described being back at work in a familiar but different environment, children frolicked in an outdoor play area.
"It's definitely a new normal," said Pride, who struggled a bit not being able to hug the kids in her care.
Only about one-third of the students have returned to the two DCDC's two centers in Danville, said Executive Director Diana Verbeck.
"A lot of families are working from home or not working," she said.
The required face coverings on staff and extra cleaning to keep everyone healthy has been a little stressful for some, said education director Michele Jenkins, but morale has been very good and there haven't been any problems.
"The kids don't seem bugged by it at all," she said.
Doug Bertanzetti, executive director at SUMMIT Early Learning, said all the centers in Selinsgrove, Lewisburg and Mifflinburg experienced a "smooth opening" week.
"We thought we'd have more trauma, for the lack of a better word, but the kids were excited to return," he said, describing very little anxiety among the youngsters who returned to centers where the adults are wearing masks.
The positive feedback from staff and families has SUMMIT administrators planning to increase capacity in the centers while continuing to follow the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines, including frequent cleaning of surfaces, hand-washing and maintaining social distance.
The most difficult issue facing families is the lack of affordable child care, an issue that was prevalent prior to the coronavirus outbreak, and the limited number of summer camps operating due to the health crisis, he said.
"Even our own staff are facing this. It's a Susquehanna Valley problem," Bertanzetti said.