The COVID-19 pandemic has altered life for everyone in different ways, but schoolchildren are among those most affected. Their daily routines and activities have undergone an intense adaptation since the pandemic started in early 2020. Because of this, many parents are trying to determine how to keep their young children comfortable with wearing masks and following other social distancing policies.
Carla Biggert, instructional assistant for grades two to four at Menlo Park Academy in Cleveland, and Karen Leeds, director/teacher at Fairmount Early Childhood Center in Beachwood, said there was a learning adjustment for the students when they originally returned to school in-person.
“In early childhood settings, the biggest challenge we have found is in regard to social distancing,” Leeds said. “Kids at this age want to have fun and play with their friends and it’s natural for them to gravitate close to one another while interacting. As teachers, we have become even more creative to find ways to allow kids to interact from further away or with a clear divider between them.”
In order to get creative, Biggert said they had to impose those new policies in a continuous and unique way. This includes telling children to put on their masks in a more creative way, rather than simply saying put your mask on.
“Just being consistent, that was the challenge,” she said. “To just continue to be consistent and build those routines into your education and academic day. You have to allow children time to wash their hands and not rush them. You have to have some little pet phrases like hide your nose for me and show them how to adjust their mask and coach them through that.”
Biggert added it was important to let the children know that they also had a responsibility to keep themselves and their fellow classmates safe and healthy.
“We kind of built in a partnership with them, and everyone pitched in,” Biggert said. “Everybody took turns replacing paper towels and making sure the soap dispensers were full. Instead of watering the plants and sharpening the pencils, they kind of took on different roles. And having them be active in their community, we got better buy-in from them.”
While teachers and staff do their best to instill a safe and healthy environment in their schools, Leeds added that parents can help, too.
“The best thing parents can do to help is to talk with their child about these new policies and practice them at home,” Leeds said. “Students can practice wearing a mask and washing their hands properly for 20 seconds.”
One of the ways that parents can also help is by making sure their child has a properly-fitted mask.
“When we first came back, we had a couple children whose masks did not fit right, and it was uncomfortable,” Biggert said. “So I would suggest that the parents find a mask and a brand and stick with it. Don’t just buy one because it has a Halloween design on it. Kids are creatures of habit and they like wearing the same style.”