Home-school communication is essential in an early childhood classroom. Parents love knowing what is happening in school, but it can sometimes seem like another added task to a teacher’s already full plate. So when we heard about the brightwheel app and its fantastic possibilities, we knew we had to try it out and provide our teacher friends with an honest brightwheel review. (*By clicking on the affiliate link, you can get a free month to try the app.)
For 16 years, we completed a “daily report” on a half-sheet of paper for every student in our preschool class. The daily report included a little note about what we learned at circle time, a list of the centers that the child visited, how much food they ate at snack time, what the storytime book was, and a couple of notes from the teacher.
We spent the entire snack time feverishly writing these notes so they could go home in the students’ backpacks each day. For the most part, the parents enjoyed the daily communication. Occasionally, we would feel frustrated when the notes would pile up in the student’s take-home folder, obviously unread, or when we spotted piles of them on the car floor at pick-up time.
We estimate that we wrote 15-20 THOUSAND of those daily reports over the years! We used so much paper each year and knew there had to be a better way.
Looking for a Better Way
At the beginning of the 2021-2022 school year, it was time for a change. We decided to use a mobile app and website called brightwheel for all our daily reports and parent communication needs. After a full year of using brightwheel, we are ready to give an honest brightwheel review.
Initially, our goal was to use brightwheel to replace the daily paper reports we had written over the years. We also decided to use it for all of our parent communications. This means brightwheel replaces giving our personal phone numbers to the parents for text messaging. Finally, we wanted to simplify the billing process for parents who pay monthly tuition. Brightwheel allows us to collect all tuition payments through the app at a minimum fee.
It was fairly simple for us to get started with brightwheel. The website has many tools and offers live training events for administrators and teachers. Their customer support department was responsive and quick to help us get everything set up. There are easy getting started guides for the parents. We found it fairly effortless to encourage all of the parents in our class to download the brightwheel app.
Benefits of brightwheel
Everything is centrally located: student information, billing, communication, daily reports, and emergency contacts. It’s a one-stop shop.
In addition to parent Communications, we have the parents sign all their admissions paperwork through the app. This includes permission to apply topical medications, tuition contract acknowledgments, immunization records, and all of the paperwork required by our state. This happens right on the brightwheel app. The only paperwork we keep a hard copy of is the permission to secure emergency medical care. Everything else is digitally signed or uploaded as a PDF on the child’s profile. Check with your licensing agency, as reception may vary. Our inspector is happy to log on to brightwheel and look through each child’s paperwork on the computer. She does not require us to maintain hard copies of the paperwork in our classroom. Parents can electronically sign all of the required paperwork. This alone saves us tons of work and space each year.
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Greeting Each Other | Preschool Classroom Routine$3.00
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Teachers or parents check the child in each day with a timestamp and check the child out each day. Keeping track of attendance and pulling records for past months is easy.
Photos and Videos
Each day, we upload a handful of pictures of each student so the parent can see what their child has been doing at school that day. Photos and videos are powerful. They illustrate all of the cooperation, play, and learning in the classroom better than a couple of sentences from the teacher.
It’s helpful to scroll back through the entire year to see all of the learning and playing that happened in the classroom. There wasn’t a year-long journal of their activities with the paper daily reports like on the app.
The billing function on the app has been seamless for us. We didn’t have a single late payment, a single bounced check, a lost check in a backpack, or any parents who forgot to pay. The app sends reminders to the parents a couple of days before tuition is due. The parents can also opt-in to have the tuition automatically debited from their checking account or a credit card. The tuition payments are seamlessly transferred to our bank account the day after each payment is made. We have had absolutely no problems with billing.
We love having the ability to communicate via text on the app rather than having the parents message our personal cell phones. It’s nice that both teachers can see every message the parents send. It’s also very easy for us to send quick notifications and alerts to the parents.
The cost of the app is very reasonable. Our small home-based preschool has ten students per year. The app costs us $25 per month (accurate in September 2022). Click HERE to try a month for free.
Parents brightwheel review
- “I definitely prefer the app over the paper notes. You can save the photos right to your phone and send them to family members.”
- “When I have been on vacation, I don’t have to worry about missing anything in the folder because it is all communicated. For example, if the teacher messages us a reminder to wear a Halloween costume next week, I get the message through the app and can quickly inform the caretaker.”
Drawbacks and Areas for Improvement
- Camera Roll – Uploading photos can be glitchy. We prefer to take the pictures during the day when the students are here but upload them and write the notes immediately after they have gone home at noon each day. Accessing the camera roll from the app is hit or miss.
- Tangible Notes – Sometimes, we miss writing physical notes, having the students watch us write for meaning, and having an actual piece of paper to put in each child’s folder at the end of the day.
- Lesson Plans – We haven’t used the app to upload our daily lesson plans or weekly thematic units. We still upload the complete PDF for the parents to see in the document section. We have not utilized the assessment or learning objective features on brightwheel.
- Missing Features – A few features are just lacking on the brightwheel app. For example, there is no way to tell if a parent has read a note we sent them. There is no read receipt feature. Also, it’s not easy for parents to reply directly to comments we make on the app or send us photos as necessary. There is an active Facebook group for brightwheel users, and we had good luck requesting features through the Facebook group or their online help desk.
- Parent brightwheel review – “I still use email to facilitate playdates with other preschool parents, organize TAW, Birthdays, etc. it would be awesome if there were a parent chat room or a way to message within the classroom… that could also get tricky!”
- Larger Schools – We’ve only used brightwheel with our small group of 10 students. Our understanding from other users in the Facebook group is that some of the reporting and features are more difficult to access in larger schools. For example, pulling a list of birthdays in each classroom is impossible. Our review only reflects our experience with one small classroom.
Overall, we are delighted with our decision to switch from paper to Brightwheel. Do you use it? What is your brightwheel review? Please share your feedback!
Do you have other questions that we didn’t answer? Ask them in the comments!