Which parent engagement software is right for your Preschool?
For many childcare providers, using technology to connect with families is a new concept.
Online parent engagement is a new buzz phrase in early childhood education. Apps that use photos and videos to share daily activity of pre-K children with parents in real-time -- allowing parents to keep track of their child and to encourage parent engagement -- is one of the hottest parts of the education technology market in North America.
Early childhood centers are being presented with multiple options these days. There is no denying the positive impact products like Educa, HiMama and Brightwheel have on the communities that use them, but how do you know which one is right for your preschool or daycare center?
In this post, we’ll compare the features, pricing and support aspects of leading childcare software products so that when the time comes, you have all the information you need to make an informed decision.
Which platforms are we talking about?
Educa (full disclaimer: this is our product!), HiMama and Brightwheel!
Let’s dive in…
How does the prime purpose of each product vary?
You can tell a lot about a product by understanding the founding vision. There are quite interesting differences.
HiMama was developed simply and purely as a photo sharing app, a way for daycares to share moments during the day with parents.
Brightwheel has a broader mission. It was conceived as a daycare child tracking app -- to reduce paper in the center -- particularly checklists -- by using an app to record student activity. Part of this activity is the sharing of photos with parents.
Educa was developed as a time-saving platform for preschool teachers with a focus on educational outcomes. It was developed in New Zealand, which has had universal pre-K with a prescribed learning curriculum since 1995. Educa uses photo sharing with learning stories to track child progress against curriculum goals as well as to encourage parent feedback on the learning occurring in the preschool.
Do they have similar features?
Yes. All three products connect preschool teachers with parents, and all three provide parents with real-time access to photos of their children and the ability to invite relatives to view these.
Other common features include the ability to input enrolment and contact details, use of calendars and the ability to login across platforms.
What about security and privacy?
Brightwheel is a free app that can be downloaded by anyone, anywhere. The lack of platform management has caused security breaches for some free apps. It’s also worth noting that if you sign up to Brightwheel they may collect information about your online activity, both while you are using their services and after you leave their services. In certain situations, businesses or third party websites Brightwheel are affiliated with may offer to sell or provide products or services to you.
Educa and HiMama are paid for products that do not rely on selling your user name to other services for revenue. They are also both managed and supported platforms.
Which devices will they work on?
Brightwheel “works on nearly all mobile devices and computers” but according to their faq page “teachers complete daily reporting in the app, and parents view the activity feed in the app — neither can be done via the web experience” so it’s basically an app. This can impact the security of the system, what users can do, and how they do it.
HiMama has both an app and online interface - but is a “tablet based” app so users must have a tablet to record stories. As they say, you’ll need a tablet and wi-fi in each room, which might be a bit limiting.
Educa is the only one of the three that has a fully integrated online/app service, meaning Educa can be used on the device of your choice. Educa offers clients and parents the most flexibility in terms of how they use and access the product.
Are there any major differences?
HiMama parents can’t save photos from the app.
Educa and HiMama have a more advanced set of features which focus on enhancing early learning.
Educa and HiMama parents can view and comment on videos and learning stories.
Brightwheel parents are limited to response options for attendance only.
In this respect HiMama and Educa are superior products.
How does the product support teaching?
Educa has an educational mission. Its focus is preschool as opposed to daycare where the educational goals are limited or secondary. Educa allows teachers to easily plan individual and group lessons, set individual or group learning goals and track progress using instant reports. Child observations are linked to goals, philosophies and curriculum. Educa also includes a ‘teacher portfolio’ which supports teacher’s individual professional development.
HiMama allows teachers to use the program planner to record planned learning experiences for the week, which are linked to teacher observations and development reports.
Educa allows teachers to upload their own curriculum (or choose from lots of options) while HiMama aligns teaching plans with the program’s learning domains - set by the center.
Brightwheel has no similar features.
Sounds great, how do I try it?
Educa is the only product which offers a free 30 day trial, whenever suits you. Set up is easy and takes minutes, with free support offered if required.
You cannot trial HiMama, however you can request a free scheduled demo. HiMama set up takes about a week.
Brightwheel has a free app option, available to anyone and everyone, which you can download once you have signed up. Set up is immediate.
If I get stuck, who do I call?
Brightwheel is a free app. There is no phone number on their website - -they offer only email support. The premium (paid subscription) product offers 24/7 support.
HiMama and Educa have the best support offerings. Each has a telephone helpdesk, email support, and comprehensive resources, including ‘how to’ videos. Both offer training for center staff. Educa also offers live chat support meaning they have the most support options included.
Ok - so what are their unique features?
Here are the highlights of the unique features of each product:
The key unique feature of the Brightwheel app is that it can be used for children’s attendance reports with a daily reporting provided. There is a digital check-in option. The premium product can also be used for tuition billing.
HiMama allows for student attendance management, scheduling and reporting. It also includes online daily information about meals, naps, activities, mood, meals and bathroom info. Daily reports are provided - all reports are emailed as a .csv file.
Educa includes two unique information libraries:
• Resource Library - Share important documents with staff privately for feedback and comments.
• Policy Library - Staff and families have instant access to policies and the ability to leave feedback.
Other unique features of Educa include:
• Instant Reporting - 10 instant reports & graphs - from parent engagement to curriculum usage
• Print Wizard - Easily print observations, resources and policies
• Transition Statements - Ensure a smooth start to school with Educa transition statements.
• Portfolio Downloads - Families can download and keep their child's portfolio as a special keepsake.
• Multi Language Enabled
How much will they cost me?
Educa pricing starts at $49 a month, with the ability to tailor plans based on how many children you have. Of the three companies only Educa is upfront about its pricing policy on its website. There are no lock in contracts with Educa and subscription is on a monthly basis.
Brightwheel currently has a two tier structure - a free app with limited support and a “premium” version with extra features including the billing service (which according to reviews is a key Brightwheel feature) and support, for a $40-200 monthly subscription. The founder was recently quoted as intending to move Brightwheel to a full-paying model soon.
Prospective HiMama users need to schedule a demo to find out pricing structures but getapp (the HiMama app) has subscription starting at $29 per month based on classrooms subscribed
All three products are currently free for parents.
If comparing price for functionality, Educa comes out on top, at roughly $1 per child per month and the most features. While Brightwheel offers a free version with limited functionality, their premium version could be the most expensive version on the market.
No surprises here. Educa having been in the game the longest boasts the most features. It also offers the best flexibility, reliability and security, as it isn’t reliant on an app.
Having said that, it depends what you’re looking for….
If you are happy to limit yourself to only digital check in and photo sharing Brightwheel is free, (if you read the research and know that parent engagement is a two way street then you’ll want to go with HiMama or Educa).
HiMama has some good features, the simple easy to read daily reports and linking lesson plans/observations/development reports makes it more than just a photo stream.
Shameless plug here, but if you are want a full service early education software or if you are concerned about the security issues that can occur with free download apps, Educa is the one. Educa not only links parents and educators, observations and curriculum, planning and reporting, it also provides teachers with software they can tailor to look and operate the way that works best for them. Plus, it is a managed and supported platform that is secure.