We all know that most students returning to school this year will be required to wear a mask. Start preparing them now, so it will be easier when they go back to class.
Model and practice
One of the most useful ways to prepare your student is to model and practice proper mask-wearing yourself. Show them the right way to put it on – using the straps while avoiding touching the outside surface – and covering their chin and nose. Incorporate the mask into your daily routine, so it becomes normal for your student, no different than putting on your shoes so you can go to school.
Encourage your younger students to play “mask dress up” with their dolls or stuffed animals. This is a good way to practice the proper placement of the mask. Ask them to explain to their animals why it is important to wear the masks around the other animals to check for comprehension.
When you “catch” your child doing the right thing, praise them. Provide positive reinforcement regularly throughout the day.
It’s okay to acknowledge students’ possible feelings of frustration or annoyance at wearing a mask. We have all felt that way, and your child’s feelings are no less valid. It’s important to continue to encourage them and help educate them on the importance of mask wearing.
Read our blog Super Hacks For Student Anxiety During Online Learning for ways to talk to your student using tips from guidance counselor and social emotional learning expert, Nancy Fernandez.
Explain the science
Children want to understand why they must wear a mask to school. Don’t be afraid to walk them through the science of masks. Go through the process of Covid-19 spread and how the mask both prevents them from spreading and getting the unwanted virus. You can say something like,
“By having everyone wear a mask, we reduce the spread of the COVID-19 virus. This helps keep your friends, teachers, and their families safe so that you can keep going to school with your friends.”
If you don’t feel confident enough to explain, there are plenty of videos available for all age levels. The one below is appropriate for young students.
Practice masking to build endurance
“Students with sensory sensitivities may struggle with masks – whether due to feel or smell,” said Lauren Eckendorf, MS, MA, OTR/L, an Account Manager with E-Therapy.
“Practice masking” will help determine if the current mask is comfortable for the student, because your student may not like the feel of the first mask they try. You may have to go through some trial-and-error. Eckendorf suggests testing different ways of attaching the masks like ear loops, tie back, or straps attached to a headband or hat.
“For students irritated by the feel, try different materials, especially those that are lighter and softer,” suggests Eckendorf. “Understand that your student may need to build up tolerance. Practice wearing the mask to gradually gain “mask endurance” to build up to the extended periods of time like students will be at school.”
If students are sensitive to the smell of either the mask or their own breath, try mints, chewing gum, or scented chapsticks.
Express yourself through your mask
Allow your student to choose their own mask design. There are some cute unicorn and cool superhero ones, as well as fashionable ones that can match outfits. Just be sure that if little Junior goes to school wearing an Incredible Hulk mask, that he doesn’t come home with a Spiderman mask!
Also key is making their mask their “own”. Work together to sew or craft a mask that helps your student express their own unique personality and style. Create a message or their own unique “flair” ideas for a mask. If they are really creative, maybe they do one for each day of the week. Get fun fabric, and accents to help them find their style.
Another idea is to create one for a friend or with a friend to help create more fun in the process. This also helps promote supporting others during this unusual time.
Some states are actually doing state contests for mask making, so you may want to see what your community may be sponsoring. In Colorado, Governor, Jarod Polis, launched a mask designing campaign and some really cool designs from kids of all ages came in.
Ideas for Teachers
Teachers, the mask design contest above can be promoted in your class or school-wide to help create more excitement and community.
Foster community with joint presentations on mask-wearing
Foster a “teamwork” attitude within your class and school; we’re in this together and working together to stay healthy and safe.
If you are in a hybrid model with some of your students on-site and others remote, you can engage students in mask creativity and pride by having the class that is online create a presentation on why masks help stop the spread of Covid-19. They will present this to the on-site students via TikTok.
The on-site students could create a presentation using PowerPoint or GoogleSlides of what it is like to navigate through the school day wearing a mask and present that to their online classmates. The class could then compare the two, and figure out how one type of presentation could be converted into the other platform. Have the teams offer tips on how the other team can improve their presentation.
“The idea of grabbing content and changing genres is a really useful exercise in terms of language development and making distinctions between the content and the form,” says Tomás Galguera, a professor of education in the Online MA in Educational Leadership program at Mills College in Oakland, Calif.
“This helps connect students while they may be distant from each other, while learning the value in masks.” Read more about this and other synchronous lessons.
Allow for mask breaks
If the student needs to step out in the hallway for a minute or so to remove their mask for their comfort, let them. Ensure that students know they won’t be penalized for requesting a mask break.
A special thanks goes to contributor Lauren Eckendorf, MS, MA, OTR/L. Lauren is an Account Manager with E-Therapy, where she supports E-Therapists in their work with students, schools, and caregivers. She is an Occupational Therapist and also has her Master of Arts in Teaching. Lauren lives in Pennsylvania, where she enjoys triathlons and going for walks with her dog, Cooper.