- Helping elementary students adjust to wearing face masks for extended periods of time to prevent the spread of coronavirus when schools reopen will be difficult — but not impossible, Lori Desautels, an assistant professor of education at Butler University, writes for Edutopia.
- Educators can encourage parents to have students wear masks for increasing periods of time prior to the start of school, she suggests, and they also can create a safe and predictable environment to reduce anxiety around the change. Among these strategies can include providing bags with calming items for each student, creating new class routines that ease fear and discomfort around masks, and building relationships with parents to better understand how to acclimate students to masks.
- Other tactics can include focused attention practice tying superpowers to masks, asking questions about masks during morning sessions, creating theme weeks, and practicing reading emotions with masks on.
When it comes to social distancing and mask protocols in schools, getting compliance from the youngest students may be one of the greatest challenges. Elementary students are often curious, restless and lack boundaries by nature, so discouraging them from touching other people or getting them to wear masks can be a hurdle.
But it can be done, expert say.
Ultimately, elementary students' reactions — which will likely range from curiosity and restlessness to anxiety and fear — can be managed through straightforward communication at their comprehension level, role-play activities and exercises in recognizing emotions when half of a person's face is obscured.
These efforts, however, also accompany the reality that the pandemic has been a difficult time for many within school communities. Students will be returning following an extended period away from school and will need to be reacclimated to class schedules and being in large group settings once again. Some may also have experienced the loss of loved ones, difficult home environments, major changes due to family financial situations and more.
Ultimately, the return to school and adjustments to safety protocols will require supports for social-emotional and mental health needs as much as pure academics and expectations.