Update Feb 2023
Due to my recent interactions with Brightwheel, I received an email notification of their latest software update. Why would I share these improvements in an article comparing Child Care Seer® to Brightwheel? Let me explain.
Because Seer was created by childcare center owners and directors specifically for owners and directors, we've known all along how important billing & payments are to our customers and the families they serve! While we pride ourselves on improving Child Care Seer based on customer feedback, we did not need to "wait for feedback”, as Brightwheel did, on this subject because we knew how important it was to get it right! Every item in the Brightwheel list shown below has been in Child Care Seer for over two years, long before our official release to customers one year ago.
Because I like to know what innovations are coming in other products, I followed the learn more link in the email. In addition to a short video of changes to expect, I found an extensive list of items that were "pain points" with Brightwheel but were now "solved" with this update. I found myself wondering, if these very important things were broken in Brightwheel, what else in the software cannot be trusted to behave correctly when needed?
What are we working on at Child Care Seer this month?
While we released a small update in mid-February, detailed in the latest Release Spotlight, we have mostly been hard-at-work designing and developing several brand new features to release soon. Over the next few months, look for our new Multi-center Dashboard (where you can see critical information about ALL your centers in real-time in one place!), a brand new Transportation Schedule (keep track of which children are on which bus in real-time and make last minute changes when Mom calls the center), extensive Food Reporting to support participation in CACFP, a comprehensive display of everything (documents, tags, immunizations, certifications, etc.) that is expired or expiring soon, and much, much more!
Because we have childcare owners and directors on staff, we understand the business of childcare! We are always developing new features you won’t find in other software to help you run your center with more efficiency, lower cost, and higher parent and staff satisfaction. “Automating everything with child care except your love of children” remains our top priority!
What Makes Child Care Seer® Better Than…
No less than fifteen viable software products are available for child care centers, and I am often asked, “What makes Child Care Seer® better than xxx?” Throughout this blog series, I will attempt to answer exactly that question. Today, we take on
About once a year, I sign up for a Brightwheel demo. Because Child Care Seer® has directors and owners on staff, I am able to use information that makes me appear to be a child care center staff member, and I generally invite one of my coworkers with center director experience to join me on the call. I say this only to suggest that the Brightwheel representative has no reason to think I am anything other than a potential customer, and given the size of my two centers, should be very interested in my business.
Brightwheel does not present a live-action, interactive demo, rather the representative uses a prepared script with a slide show of screenshots and a designated response for the most frequently asked questions. If you ask for more details or further information about what something looks like that is not in the slides, they generally aren’t well prepared or able to provide answers. During my first demo, I was frustrated by this.
But after further research, time spent in the product, and discussions with actual users, I discovered that Brightwheel was actually giving me the perfect demo that represents their product well. Brightwheel, in general, is a product that looks pretty. While the app is simple and easy to use, actual functionality is superficial and lightweight. Modules of the product that should integrate with one another--such as scheduling and child check-in, or billing and subsidy--don’t. Depth and detail are difficult to find if they are there at all. Just like the demo slide show, what you see is exactly what you get, don’t go looking for anything more.
Like many things, I find it best to begin at the beginning. In this case, let’s compare the homescreens of Child Care Seer and Brightwheel. As Brightwheel believes their mobile app to be their premier feature, I’ll give them the easy win. Or not. These are the screens admin staff members start at when logging into the mobile app.
Brightwheel Administrator Mobile Home Screen
Child Care Seer Mobile Dashboard
Child Care Seer shows all the information needed to see how my center is performing right now, with live action updates. In just one glance, I can see how many messages I haven’t read, and more importantly how many messages have not yet had a reply from my fellow staff members. I can see how many staff and children are present, as well as how many are scheduled for today. I can see how much outstanding money is owed by my families (and with just one click, see details of exactly which children owe exactly how much, and pay the bill!). I can see the ratio in each classroom, and if I expand the detail arrow, I can see which staff and children are in the class without ever leaving this screen. I can see immediately when there is an issue I need to address (denoted by the pink 1 in the top right corner). In addition, I can check children and staff in or out of my center, view a child’s detailed profile, or view my other center with just two clicks on my Seer Dashboard.
On first glance, Brightwheel shows me how many rooms I have and how many reminders I have set. Assuming my building is not under construction, I’m pretty sure the number of rooms I have stays the same and isn’t critical information for running my center. To get useful data to manage my center in the moment, I would need to click multiple buttons and move back and forth several times with the Brightwheel app to see everything that Child Care Seer displays right from the start. For multiple centers, Brightwheel’s admin app requires 5 clicks to move between them. Child Care Seer requires only two. Between clicking different buttons to access needed information and clicking over twice as much to move between my centers, there is no “quickly” about the Brightwheel app!
Maybe the desktop is different. Let’s look…
Child Care Seer gives me generally the same information as the mobile dashboard. In addition to ratios, I can see avatars of all staff and children right away. Seer lets me choose which order to view my classrooms, so I’ve put the most active at the top.
Brightwheel’s desktop home screen has considerably less data than their app. I can see total staff and students, but I cannot see where they are without clicking View All simply because the classrooms are only shown in alphabetical order. I am able to see today’s date, and upcoming birthdays. I can also see that 75 activities were logged in daily reports so far today. Perhaps most telling about this dashboard is that a significant portion of it is used for a Brightwheel promotion rather than critical information required to run my center effectively.
Perhaps a former Brightwheel, now Seer user says it best: “The Seer dashboard is unmatched. As an owner I can get everything I need in a moment from the dashboard. With Brightwheel I had to dig to find an error. With Seer, I don’t even need to be at the center, I can get it all on mobile in minutes!”
Family Connection/Parent Engagement
Brightwheel was created for parent engagement, and they are considered one of the best in the industry. Let’s see how Child Care Seer compares!
First, a look at the classroom device home screens:
Child Care Seer Classroom Tablet
Brightwheel Teacher App
Child Care Seer shows all staff and students present. It shows the current ratio, as well as how many classroom messages are awaiting reply. Tags indicate children with special considerations, such as allergies or medical conditions (simply click for details). Brightwheel shows children checked into class, and other children enrolled in this class in transparent fashion. Please note, the Brightwheel list has nothing to do with which children are scheduled for today, but rather shows all children assigned to this class via their profile page.
Child Care Seer has a Classroom Tablet which allows teachers to come and go throughout the day by simply joining the class and picking up the tablet. For classes with multiple teachers, easily switch between users by clicking the staff avatar. Brightwheel has a Teacher App, requiring each teacher to log into a separate device. In addition, the teacher only has access to the classes specified on her profile page, and only to the children who are assigned to those classes for their homeroom. If a teacher or child must be in a different classroom for any kind of scheduling change, admin must rearrange class access to allow activities to be recorded.
Child Care Seer was created for staff and student scheduling, and therefore includes an Upcoming screen which Brightwheel does not include at all.
From the Upcoming tab, teachers can see exactly what is scheduled next. Whether it’s students and staff arriving and leaving, or events such as naps, meals and trips to the playground, Seer helps teachers manage their classroom with confidence and efficiency! Start or stop an event or allow a child to join or leave a classroom with just one click. Seer also handles classroom merges at the beginning and end of the day with ease – just one click moves all children and staff to the designated classroom and updates the Dashboard and ratio counts automatically as well!
Let’s take a look at the interface for adding an entry to the child’s daily report.
Child Care Seer – Create Entry
Brightwheel – Add Activity
Upon initial review, Brightwheel’s app uses more colors and looks more fun, but upon further investigation there are fewer options available. Let’s dig a bit deeper and look at actual entry of a meal…
Child Care Seer Food Entry
Brightwheel Meal Activity
Child Care Seer is designed to keep teacher’s eyes up on the class and not down on the device, and that definitely shows here! Centers create a weekly menu via the Scheduling page, and then the teacher only needs to select the appropriate meal, then click to say how much the child ate. That’s it! With Brightwheel, the teacher needs to add each meal item from the list of every meal item that was ever served at the center, then say how much the child ate. Even using the search to complete this task requires typing and selecting 4-5 items per child. For a class of 10 children, that’s typing to search for 40-50 items per meal, 80-100 per day if you serve just breakfast and lunch!
Consistently, Child Care Seer has more powerful features in the Family Connection module with fewer clicks required to complete everyday tasks.
Parent Mobile App
Again, Brightwheel is supposed to have one of the best mobile apps, so let’s take a look at the parent experience.
Brightwheel Parent App Homescreen
Child Care Seer Parent Mobile Home
Again, the Brightwheel home screen has minimal information and function. I can see a list of my children that attend this center, and I can check them in and out. To do anything else, I need to navigate various menus or click on my child and click several more times to accomplish even basic tasks.
Child Care Seer reduces clicks to save time for everyone, including your parents! From the main home screen, I can easily find my unread inbox messages, pay my bill, read my child’s daily journal, send an absent note, and find my kiosk pin – all with just one click! In addition, I can request a drop-in visit or load my wallet (prepaid account) – two features Brightwheel doesn’t even offer.
A former Brightwheel, now Seer user, had this to say: “Parents can even view and download tax forms for themselves – with Brightwheel, my centers printed them but then had to redo it in another app because needed information was not included on the reports for Brightwheel.”
What about staff members that are also parents at the center? With Brightwheel, they’ll need two separate logins for the app, one using their email address and the other using their phone number. Child Care Seer knows that this scenario is quite common and makes it very easy to switch between parent and staff accounts with just two clicks, and only one login required!
Please note, I did review the Child Care Seer Daily Journal and the Brightwheel Daily Report – both are comprehensive and quite comparable to each other, so I have not included further details in this document.
Child Profile Information
When running a child care center, you need child information at your fingertips at a moment’s notice. With Child Care Seer, full child details are just one click away on your Dashboard! Brightwheel requires, well, a few more. Let’s take a look at the information that is available on the main child profile page.
Child Care Seer immediately shows child age, tags (allergies, medical, food, or any other critical information such as no-photo), homeclass and schedule for the week (including times actually spent in the center). I can see family contacts and siblings (just one click to go there). I can see balance due information, as well as upcoming bills for the next several weeks. I can check in the child, message the family, or pay a bill with just one click!
Brightwheel shows age, information similar to Seer tags, and homeroom. Parent contact information is available if I scroll down – scroll down 3 full pages! There is no way to immediately message the family, pay a bill, or check-in the child.
Child Care Seer was originally built because no other tool available could help our founder plan staffing to match expected student attendance. As part of the foundation to realizing capacity planning, Seer’s scheduling tools are unmatched! Unlike Brightwheel, nearly everything in Seer interacts with the schedule. From check in to billing to the upcoming tab on the classroom device, all of Seer’s features interact with each other seamlessly, saving time and clicks and helping to manage a well-run center.
As Brightwheel only has one scheduling tab, I’ll start there to compare.
Brightwheel has one basic schedule for staff and students. It is generally expected that teachers and students will only be in one class for one block of time per day. Total hours scheduled for staff for the week are included on the table. Brightwheel is careful to point out in their documentation that schedule has nothing to do with when a child can check into the center, nor does it determine what classes teachers have access to on their Teacher App. Brightwheel does not show any actual times spent in the center on the schedule page.
Child Care Seer has not one, but five scheduling pages. One for staff, children, classes, food, and activity plans. As the schedule is one of the things that keeps a center running well, having the ability to plan everything for every day is exciting!
Seer expects that staff might move around to different positions during the day, or perhaps be absent for vacation or sick time. Seer also displays actual check-in/out times for staff and children, as quite often actual and planned are not the same at all! Child Care Seer shows not only the total hours planned by day and by week, but the actual hours already worked, and the projected total for the week including highlighting when overtime might be a factor!
From a former Brightwheel user: “Time to complete payroll went from 1.5 – 2 hrs down to 30 min, including cutting checks. Seer has cut our admin time by 75%!”
Comprehensive schedules for children are also available. Part of efficient planning for staff is knowing when students will actually be at the center, not expecting they’ll be there from open to close every day of the week. Because child scheduling is so powerful, Child Care Seer is able to handle standard enrollments, part-time enrollments (either half-day or partial-week combinations), hourly drop-ins, and any other customized scheduling desired.
Food and Activity Planner is where more magic happens in Seer! As mentioned above, planning a weekly menu allows for easy entry in Family Connection for the entire center. Planning Activities (curriculum) allows teachers to see what’s happening next as well as plan for tomorrow, and also provides information to teachers and parents through the Classroom Tablet Activity entry and onto the Daily Journal. All information is already present, so the classroom teacher just needs to snap a quick photo and save the entry – minimal typing required in the classroom setting!
In addition to the Scheduling menu, Child Care Seer offers several other tools to help manage staff and student schedules, including keeping an eye on ratios and warning of potential issues both now and in the future. The Class page gives a detailed graphical view of when everyone is expected (light blue), when everyone actually arrived and left (dark blue), and events and merges happening in the class throughout the day. This screen is updated in real time with a red line denoting “now” when viewed at mid-day.
Child Care Seer also offers Schedule Insights—a look ahead at tomorrow or next week to see where ratios might be an issue, allowing easy correction now, BEFORE it actually happens; and Capacity Planning—look at whether there is room to admit a new student or allow a drop-in visit, or look at where there’s extra staff or open slots available to increase profits without hiring additional staff.
Both Brightwheel and Child Care Seer claim to have responsive support. Both have a help button on every page in their app. Brightwheel claims you will get a response most often within 1 minute. Seer has made no such claim, but a response is generally provided within 30 minutes during extended business hours.
Where Child Care Seer excels is the response provided--live support from a real person! Success representatives prefer to call the customer directly, though will also work through email if preferred, because they recognize customers are usually running busy centers and may not have time for a phone call.
Brightwheel provides over three pages of instructions on how to contact support on their website, none of which includes a phone number. Child Care Seer is simple, a phone number in bold on every webpage.
A former Brightwheel premium user says, “I love talking to a real person with Seer. The only real person I talked to with Brightwheel was during the sales process. Oh, and they finally did call me about two weeks after I cancelled my subscription and went with Child Care Seer!”
While pricing is hard to find for Brightwheel and is calculated during the sales demo for each center based on number of children enrolled as well as licensed capacity, I was able to find pricing information for a mid-sized center in Ohio. Child Care Seer has simple, transparent pricing that is fully disclosed for all on their website.
Brightwheel Premium Pricing
Child Care Seer Pro Pricing
“Seer pricing is simple and encourages me to grow my center. Brightwheel doesn’t allow for expansion – adding a single child may mean a new, higher price. My cost savings compared to Brightwheel is 40-50% per month for a higher quality product,” says a former Brightwheel user.
Brightwheel looks pretty. The app is simple and easy to use, actual functionality is superficial and lightweight. Modules of the product that should integrate with one another don’t. Depth and detail are lacking.
Child Care Seer® also looks pretty! The app is powerful for directors and owners, especially for those with multiple centers. The parent app has most-used options right on the home screen, and staff members who are also parents only need one Seer account. Family Connection is more powerful because it is driven by Seer Scheduling which is unmatched in any other child care software. All time-critical information is easily accessed with just one or two clicks. Support prefers to talk to the customer directly.