Back to School Training: 8 Things to Practice With Your Kids Now for COVID-19 Classroom Safety

If you’re considering sending your child back to the classroom this fall, safety is probably on your mind. Schools will be taking lots of precautions to keep kids safe from coronavirus. You can too – starting right now.

Pediatrician Patricia Garcia, MD, MPH, who directs Connecticut Children’s Resident Education in Advocacy and Community Health (REACH) program, joins the blog with advice for what families can practice during the next few weeks of summer.

1. Practice with masks.

  • For all the tips you need to get your child comfortable with a mask, check out 7 Ways to Introduce Your Child to Wearing a Mask.
  • Make sure your child understands that the mask must cover their mouth and
  • Show your child how to properly take on and off their mask (without touching the cloth, by handling only the ties or ear loops), and remind them that if they touch the cloth of the mask they need to wash their hands after.
  • Write your child’s name with permanent marker on their masks and label the front and back, and get in the habit of storing masks in individual bags or containers when they’re not being worn.
  • Talk to your child about when they’ll be wearing masks at school – like when they’ll be less than six feet apart from other students – and when they’ll probably be able to take masks off – like during recess. The CDC website includes a chart with more details.
  • Finally: If you haven’t already, get in the habit now of washing masks daily.

> Want fun activities to help your child practice wearing a mask? Here are 16 ideas.

2. Make a big deal out of handwashing.

  • Teach kids the five steps for handwashing: wet, lather, scrub, rinse and dry.
  • Teach them how long to wash their hands: scrubbing with soap and water for at least 20 seconds, or twice through the “Happy Birthday” song (bonus points if your family makes up your own song!).
  • And teach them when to wash hands: After using the restroom, playing outside, coughing, sneezing or blowing their nose, before or after eating, and upon entering the home (or school).
  • Then reinforce these lessons with regular reminders of how and when to wash hands.

3. Supervise with hand sanitizer.

  • Hand sanitizer can be dangerous if ingested, so young kids should only use it with adult supervision, and large quantities should be kept away from kids and teens of all ages. If a child accidentally ingests hand sanitizer, contact the National Poison Control Center at 1.800.222.1222 or check their website at poison.org.
  • If your child needs to wash their hands but you don’t have access to soap and water – for example, out at a public park – explain to your child why you’re using hand sanitizer in this situation, and remind them they should always have an adult help when they clean their hands this way.
  • Teach them to spread the sanitizer evenly and entirely over both hands and to allow their hands to air-dry.
  • The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has noticed an increase in the number of hand sanitizers that contain methanol, or wood alcohol, but which have been mislabeled as ethanol. It’s very important to avoid these products: Wood alcohol is toxic when absorbed through the skin, and life threatening if ingested. Check FDA.gov for the list of hand sanitizers to avoid.

> Parents, read on for safety: Hand Sanitizer Is a Newly Recognized COVID-19 Danger for Kids and Teens.

4. Start a morning symptom check.

Mom takes son's temperature
Woman taking teenage son temperature in small city apartment self-isolating from Covid-19. Mother and boy are latin american. Horizontal waist up indoors shot with copy space.
  • To prepare for what may soon be a school-day routine, start taking your child’s temperature every morning and asking if they have a sore throat, cough, upset stomach, headache or body aches. (Have younger children explain back to you what each of these symptoms might feel like, so you can be sure they know what you’re asking.)
  • When school starts, a temperature of 100.4 or any of the above symptoms means you should keep your child home. Children need to stay home when sick until at least 24 hours after they no longer have a fever or signs of a fever (without the use of fever-reducing medicine) and other symptoms have improved, and 10 days since the symptoms first appeared.
  • Note: The CDC currently does not recommend universal symptom screens to be conducted by school but that may change, and certain school districts may decide to do temperature checks anyway. However, it really is up to parents to be responsible and not send a sick child to school.

5. Work on proper coughing, sneezing and nose-blowing.

  • Show younger kids the proper techniques with tissues: Have them practice by play-acting, and by teaching a favorite stuffed animal what they’ve learned.
  • Practice coughing into an elbow for when there isn’t time to get a tissue, and remind kids to back away and give space to anyone else who’s coughing, sneezing or blowing their nose.
  • Be consistent about reinforcing these lessons every time they – or you – actually cough, sneeze or blow their nose. With a little attention and practice, it’ll become second-nature.

> Want more articles like this from pediatric experts you trust? Get our weekly newsletter.

6. Remind your child not to touch their face.

  • If your child has long hair that might fall in their face, now’s a great time to practice different hairstyles to keep it pulled back.
  • If your child has a habit of scratching itches on their face, give them a packet of tissues to carry, and encourage them to cover their hand with a tissue before itching.
  • You can also get kids used to carrying a device like a fidget spinner or fidget cube to keep their hands busy – and away from their face and mouth.

7. Identify high-touch surfaces.

  • Help your child think about which surfaces they (and other people) touch frequently. Make it a game: Have them say the word “touch!” or “tag!” every time they touch a doorknob, light switch or handrail, or challenge them to find 10 high-touch surfaces while you time them.
  • If your child is old enough, consider making them part of a household “clean squad,” and make wiping down high-touch surfaces a daily assignment. These activities will make your child more aware of common high-touch surfaces when they’re outside the home too – like at school.

> Check out all of our coronavirus resources for families.

8. Show what six feet looks like.

School-age child practices social distancing with stuffed animals
A young boy uses a play tape measure to make sure he is practicing social distancing properly. It is proper to understand and practice using the technique to keep COVID-19, the coronavirus, from spreading from friend to friend.
  • Find a household item that’s about six feet long, and have your child get used to imagining it as an example of social distancing.
  • For example, have a parent who’s about six feet tall lay on the floor and have your child walk the length of their body, counting their own steps to get a sense of the distance, or duct tape a couple hula-hoops together and make a game of carrying it around outside, one person on each side.
  • Pause during activities to ask your child to guess how many feet are between them and the couch, the dog, etc. When you’re sitting down to read, ask your child which spot in the living room looks closest to six feet away.
  • When you’re playing outside, talk about what recess and play will look like at school – and how it’s still a good idea for to keep some distance from other people, even outdoors.

To help your child build these (or any) new habits, try these techniques:

  • Role model good behavior – and especially for younger kids, narrate what you’re doing.
  • Use visual cues like social stories, picture schedules and video modeling.
  • Give positive reinforcement like compliments and high-fives.
  • Offer small rewards like a few minutes of a favorite activity.
  • Consistently and gently remind them when they need to adjust their behavior.
  • Point out and praise when they’re doing things correctly.

For school openings to be successful, everyone needs to do their part – including keeping kids who are sick at home, even with mild symptoms or fever; wearing masks; and maintaining distancing. Practicing all of these healthy habits at home now, during the summertime, will help.

With practice and encouragement, your child will become more comfortable with new routines. That’ll reduce the risk of coronavirus at schools this year – and create healthy habits that will keep your child healthier long-term.

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