Many parents who want to send their children to day care facilities from next April are gearing up preparations, the first step of which includes having a tour of the centers they want to apply for to see if one would be better than another.

But many are canceling such tours in order to help prevent the spread of COVID-19, prompting voices of concern from potential applicants, since the visits are the only way for parents to see children, teachers and the centers’ everyday scenes.

“I got rejected by my first choice of day care, and now I don’t know which day care I should apply for,” said a 36-year-old working mother in Tokyo who has a 1-year-old daughter.

She is currently on child care leave, hoping to put her daughter in day care when she returns to work in April next year. But most of the facilities in her neighborhood have canceled tours, and the few which have not only allow viewing from outside.

Kaori Suzuki, who heads a day care facility in Tokyo's Itabashi Ward, responds to questions from prospective applicants in an online roundtable event in September. | KYODO
Kaori Suzuki, who heads a day care facility in Tokyo’s Itabashi Ward, responds to questions from prospective applicants in an online roundtable event in September. | KYODO

Nursery tours are an indispensable step towards selecting a day care center because, for parents, that is where their children will spend a large part of their day.

“Although I understand the situation, I feel unsure applying without even knowing the atmosphere of the nursery,” the mother said.

Local authorities, too, are having a hard time responding to those needs.

In Kodaira in western Tokyo, the city banned all in-person tours of public nurseries. In Shibuya Ward, tours are restricted to days and times when there are fewer children in the nurseries. Even though Shibuya Ward is allowing only one family for each tour to avoid the “three Cs,” it is still concerned over in-person nursery tours.

“Taking into account the risk of infection, we want to cancel the tour entirely,” a Shibuya Ward official said.

Nevertheless, there is a movement that navigates new ways of hokatsu — nursery hunting — during the coronavirus pandemic: online tours. In a day care center in Tokyo’s Itabashi Ward, instead of in-person tours, the facility has been offering tours online for potential applicants since June.

Parents apply prior to the event and can participate by accessing a link and watching a live video in which the center’s director gives a tour.

The nursery is also holding a roundtable event online to answer questions from parents. Since participants do not have to worry about the risk of infection, the events have been very well attended.

“In the near future, I also want to try organizing online events that foster local interactions,” said Kaori Suzuki, who heads the day care.

Sumida Ward, Tokyo, has placed a ban on all in-person tours for public nurseries. Instead, each day care facility has created a five- to six-minute video that will be uploaded to the ward’s official YouTube channel in the near future.

Videos include everyday scenes from the nursery, with children spending time in classrooms and playgrounds, offering an inside look from which viewers can experience the atmosphere at the facilities.

“Whether it’s a photo or video, I expect nurseries to offer something that shows how the teachers are interacting with the children on a daily basis,” said Aki Fukoin, a director of a parents’ group on day cares centers.

“Even if you were rejected, I hope that parents visit the day care where they want to send their child at least once. There is a lot of information you can get from visiting, such as the distance from home and the location,” said Fukoin.

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