Many states and schools require or encourage people to wear a mask to prevent the spread of COVID-19. Since this is all new for both children and adults, teachers can help students understand why they’re asked to wear masks and help them get more comfortable with it. Taking time out of the school day to talk explicitly about the mask can also help deepen the relationship between students and teachers and with each other.
Here are seven quick tips for teachers to help students adapt to wearing a mask.
Explain the Why.
Use child-friendly language to explain why it is important, focusing on safety and being a good friend to others by helping protect everyone. This is a great lesson in kindness and compassion!
In our class, we wear masks, like you do when you are out in public with your family. Does anyone know why we wear masks? (Check for understanding and any background knowledge.) That’s right! We wear masks to stay safe from germs and stay healthy! Another reason we wear masks is to be a good friend. When you wear a mask, you are also keeping your friends healthy! Wave at a friend now and say, “I’m keeping you healthy!” (Have students wave to another student.) There you go! In our class, we always work together. Sometimes the masks may feel a little itchy or might be too tight. Don’t worry. If that happens to you, just let me or another teacher know and we will help you get it just right!
With your mask on, I can’t see your beautiful smiles. But I can see your beautiful eyes and you can see mine! Let’s look at a few pictures of eyes to see how we can stay connected to each other and smile with our eyes!
Watch and Discuss.
There are plenty of great videos out there about the importance of wearing masks. Here’s a simple cartoon that shows five tips to wearing face masks, or scroll around online and search for a video that fits the needs of your student population. After watching the video, take time to answer any questions and open the conversation for discussion.
Take a picture of yourself wearing a mask and post it throughout the classroom. This helps normalize the mask.
Take a picture of yourself without the mask and pin it to your shirt or place it facing students on your desk or teacher table. This helps students remember what you look like with a smile. Teach children to look for and practice using smiling eyes.
Practice Makes Permanent.
Break mask-wearing down into smaller steps and help students practice each step. Start with the right way to hold the mask, how to put it against their face, how to secure the elastic, and how to make sure it covers both the nose and mouth. Help students practice every day, even when they’re doing well. The more they practice, the more permanent the skill becomes. Be aware of students who seem to get anxious or nervous about wearing the mask, and work with them individually and discreetly.
Remember that masks help keep our noses and mouths safe. Sometimes the mask slips down below the nose, so if you see me point to my nose, that’s a way to remind you to pull your mask up to hide your nose. You can remind me, too! If you get a little nervous about wearing your mask, that’s okay. Teachers are here to help with that too.
Play with Roles.
Role-play with your students about the importance of wearing masks. Use role-playing to help practice mask procedures, proper wearing of the mask, and any other skills.
Integrate masks into story time by adding a mask to any characters or stories where it might make sense. For example, when reading a story about students at school, you might say, “If they were in school this year, they would also be wearing masks to keep their friends safe.” In regular stories, point out examples of kids being kind and relate that back to wearing a mask, for example, “In this story, George is very kind to his friends, just like we are being kind by wearing our masks to keep each other safe!”
Find books (or online stories, YouTube read-alouds or any other media) that shows kids wearing masks and include those in your story time, so there’s a mix of regular classroom stories and stories of kids wearing masks. Be sure to point out the masks when they appear in stories and reiterate that wearing masks is kind.
Challenge students to get creative with masks! They can work on them at home or in class. Have them decorate with their favorite colors, pictures of their favorite things, or a superpower word.
Create a social story or comic strip that describes a day in the life of wearing a mask. Design posters for the classroom about the importance of wearing masks. Have students draw self-portraits of themselves in masks. Create a video of students explaining masks. Have students compare wearing a mask to a coat of armor in the days of knights and dragons, or wearing a superhero costume when protecting others. There are countless ways to get creative – the important thing is normalizing the use of masks and helping students grasp the importance.
We all know puppets and dolls are a great conduit for communication with children – we often see children roleplay real-life situations through dolls that they have a hard time articulating otherwise. Use this to your advantage! Design masks for the stuffed animals in the classroom. Use puppets to act out scenes about wearing masks. Pay attention to what students struggle with or seem anxious about, and have one of the puppet characters voice that anxiety and another puppet respond appropriately.
As we all adjust to this new routine, remember to be patient with students (and yourself). The more we practice, the better we’ll be at keeping each other safe this school year.