#WearAMask: Preparing Your Kid(s) for September Back-to-School

All right, photographer dad and mom, September is just around the corner and we are all, parents, kids and teachers, anxious and concerned about sending our kids back to school.

Mask wearing saves lives and can help protect our kids, teachers, parents and grand-parents from contracting COVID-19. If you are sending your kids back to school this September and they will be wearing a mask, how do you train them to wear a mask during the whole school day? We read and see how school kids in Asian countries seem to wear a mask and keep physical distancing with no drama. How do they do that?

Photo by Jerry Wang on Unsplash

Photo by Jerry Wang on Unsplash

It’s not a big deal and easier than you think: In fact, kids LOVE wearing masks. Give them a Hulk, Spiderman, Darth Vader, Thor mask — and see how eager they are to wear them — all day, if you allowed them.

Photo by John Benitez on Unsplash

Photo by R.D. Smith on Unsplash

Show them pictures of other kids wearing masks and what their teacher would probably be wearing. Tell them they get to be Ninjas all day long. Show them how to put them on, take them off, store them.

Photo by kian zhang on Unsplash

Photo by engin akyurt on Unsplash

But how do you help a kid get used to wearing a mask the whole school day? Let me share with you one way that I learned from teachers. This is a page borrowed from how teachers teach kids to become independent readers, quietly reading without disturbing other kids or the teacher who is working with a small group. The strategy is very simple and pain-free, but instead of reading a book, we’ll adapt it to mask wearing (or better, combine the two: independent reading and mask wearing).

1. First day: Have the child wear the mask, and you start the timer. Let the child do whatever activity he or she wants, say reading a book independently. (Why not teach both at the same time? His and her teacher will thank you!)

2. As soon as you notice the child has lost focus reading or is feeling uncomfortable with the mask (fidgeting, touching the mask), call a stop, a win, applaud, congratulate and tell the child how long he or she has worn the mask (usually the first time, about 1 minute). High-fives all around.

3. Second try (maybe after a few hours or even the next day): Have the child wear the mask, and you start the timer, and tell the child we are going to aim to add just 1 more minute to the length of time. But follow the same strategy, stopping as soon as you notice fidgeting and lost of focus. Do not wait until the child cries out in frustration; you want to stop earlier than that so the child does not even notice it’s gotten uncomfortable. The child has to be surprised that he or she has added a whole minute — and feel that he or she could have gone longer. You want to hear, “That was easy!” Usually the child should be able to go for 2 or 3 more minutes longer, but don’t reveal that. Tell the truth though: “You have successfully gone for more than a minute.” Applaud, congratulate and high-fives all around.

4. Third try: repeat step 3, this time aiming to add maybe 3-5 more minutes, but set the child up for a reasonable expectation: tell that we are aiming to add one or two more minutes this time. Same process as in step 3. Stop early enough before discomfort or discontent sets in. You can choose to surprise the child that he or she has gone 3 minutes more — and that was easy!

5. Continue until the child can sit and read independently wearing a mask for a full 20 minutes. And that’s sitting reading or doing another activity independently without once calling you or talking to another child. 100% IN-DE-PEN-DENT.

6. After that, just let the child wear the mask as long as he or she can tolerate it throughout the day. It’s now become a habit and there is no need to applaud, congratulate or draw attention to it. The child knows what is expected of him or her, and feel not only responsible but empowered that he or she can do it.

It’s doable and we owe it to our children, their teachers and ourselves to ensure that everyone is safe.

During a pandemic, the mask is a badge of honor, indicating the important role that individuals play in protecting the health of others during a crisis.

— Eric Klopfer, Professor and head of MIT Comparative Media Studies/Writing (CMS/W) and director of the Scheller Teacher Education Program and the Education Arcade at MIT
MIT News

What about when the child comes home? How do we ensure that he or she does not introduce the virus to those at home? Follow a simple ritual: straight to the shower after school, clothes straight into the laundry machine (not hanging in room), and complete sanitizing of school bag, lunch bag and books/folders. You wouldn’t have to do that if the kid is just exposed for a few minutes, but he or she (and their belongings) will be in the classroom and school for about 7 hours, so there is a risk they might be carrying some virus back home on themselves or their belongings. Better be safe than sorry.

Related Links:
Can’t decide whether to send your kids back to school? Here’s what the experts say