As more childcare centers are opening up during the COVID-19 crisis, face masks are becoming part of the “new normal” as a way to keep each other safe.
The CDC recommends wearing cloth face coverings “in public settings where other social distancing measures are difficult to maintain…especially in areas of significant community-based transmission.” Despite our best efforts to social distance in childcare settings, these efforts are definitely challenging for early childcare educators.
In this article, we’ll go over why ECEs are wearing masks and the best ways to introduce them into an early childhood setting.
Why Wear Masks in the First Place?
Wearing a cloth face covering helps to slow the spread of coronavirus, particularly from those who are asymptomatic (don’t show any symptoms). A mask helps to catch germs from speaking, coughing and sneezing when in close proximity to other people before they can get to the other person. Although this does not catch 100% of the germs, it does a great job of reducing the chances of them being transmitted.
Face Mask Age Requirements
Before implementing a face mask policy, it is important to note that the CDC warns that face coverings should not be placed on:
- Children under age 2.
- Anyone who has trouble breathing.
- Anyone who is unconscious, incapacitated or otherwise unable to remove the mask without assistance.
In other words, newborns, infants and toddlers should definitely not be wearing masks, and they should only be considered for older children if they are able to remove them themselves.
How Do Early Childhood Educators Feel About Masks?
While it is easy to understand the benefits of wearing masks as a precaution, the reception within the ECE community has been mixed.
Some are accepting that face masks are simply a part of life now:
Some are have a hard time believing that masks will work from a practical standpoint:
And others have been enjoying their masks perhaps a bit too much:
Whatever your thoughts may be on face masks, if they are being used at your center, it is important to do so in a safe way that is most beneficial to your staff and children.
Ways to Make Masks Less Scary
face masks can be very unsettling at first to a young child. Children thrive when they feel loved, supported and safe, and seeing their teacher’s face covered can make them feel anxious and scared. That’s why it’s so important to carefully introduce masks in a positive way that they can understand.
Below are some inspiring techniques we’ve seen from the early childhood community!
Explain Why You’re Wearing a Mask
This may seem like an obvious step, but take the time to make sure the children understand why you’re wearing your mask — they might not know or remember why they’re needed. Here’s a great example of a teacher who recorded a song explaining why she’s wearing a mask, and that even gives her superpowers!
Play a Guessing Game
In our Managing Mental Health During COVID-19 webinar, Elisabeth shared in the chat how she made a video guessing game for the children to watch and try to guess which teacher was behind which mask:
I made a video about face masks that started with a social story explaining WHY we need to wear masks. Then I collected pictures off all of my co-workers wearing a face mask. I added the photos to the video and did a voice over to make it a game — “Can you guess who this is? That’s right! It’s Ms. _____!” — then I added in clips of myself sewing a face mask so the children could see the process of a swatch of fabric becoming a mask. My parents gave great feedback about the children becoming less frightened/concerned about masks!
This is a great way to get the kids comfortable with masks before they return to their class so they are more comfortable right from the start. Alternatively, you could play this game in-person, just be extra careful when touching your masks because that can be dangerous for transferring anything that might be on your hands onto your face.
The staff at SickKids hospital in Toronto created this button mobile, where they create a button with each staff member’s face on it for them to wear so they know who is underneath each mask. This is a great way for young children to remember who is behind a mask and see their face while everyone remains protected.
Choose a Fun Design
Non-medical face masks are essentially just fabric sewed in a certain way, so why not get creative? There are so many fun designs to choose from on Etsy or other online stores that feature kid-friendly characters, patterns, objects and more!
Take a look around online and feel free to personalize your mask with something that’s meaningful to you and the children in your class!
Wear Special T-Shirts
In the HiMama ECE Professionals Slack Group, Kathy shared this “welcome back” shirt that her staff are wearing to help give face masks a fun life of their own:
Although face masks are not ideal, for many centers they are an important precaution to help keep everyone safe to control the spread of COVID-19. Is your center using face masks? What techniques have you found to be effective? Let us know in the comments!