Ways to Social Distance at Preschool During COVID-19

As centers across the world start to reopen or start planning on reopening, there have been many questions around how to social distance within the classroom and re-introducing children back to the routine of childcare. Ideally, you want to follow the requirements that your government has set out. Do your homework and make sure you know what these requirements are and that it is possible for your teachers and children to start returning to childcare safely. 

Many centers are doing a “slow” or “soft” opening. Some centers are still open and have been helping with essential service families and some have been closed for a while. Here are some tips on ways to social distance within the classroom based on our conversations with the HiMama community:

Work With Reduced Ratios

Working with fewer children in the classroom will help ease any anxiety as the children re-enter daycare and also help create a control group. This way the children, teachers and families are safer while returning. 

This may need to come in the form of hiring more staff or temporarily de-enrolling some children. It is hard to pick and choose families to welcome back, but with limiting the number of children coming and going, it will help contain any outbreaks from recurring.

Same Group of Children and Teachers Every Day

The idea here is to restrict the amount of people crossing paths with one another because each additional person is another chance for exposure to COVID-19. Carefully assign your classrooms and keep the teacher and child assignments consistent as much as possible.

Alter or Halt Daily Group Activities

Within the classroom, it is best to limit the contact that the children are having in large groups. Plan activities that the children can stay spread out and do on their own for the time being. 

Stagger Playground Times

Limit the number of groups outside on the playground at one time so there are less people crossing paths.

Move Cots & Cribs 6 Feet Apart (If Possible)

With having a limited number of children in the classroom at this time, spreading out their cots at nap time to allow for more personal space. 

Only Children and Staff Allowed Inside

Have parents sign their kiddos in and out at the entrance to your facilities without actually coming inside. This is much different than what they’re used to, so sending parents a picture once their child is inside and settled can help to reassure any anxiety with this process.

Stagger Arrival and Pick-Up Times

Give parents specific time windows so you do not have too many families coming at once. If the timing does overlap, ensure that everyone stays at least 6 feet apart.

Take Temperatures Upon Arrival

Verify that no child has a fever when they arrive at your center for some extra reassurance that no one is bringing any illness into your facility.

Cancel or Postpone Any Planned Events

Wait to have any gatherings until it has been deemed safe to do so.

Wear Masks (When Age-Appropriate)

Safety of the children, teachers and families is on the top of everyone’s list so make sure to not place any face masks over babies faces or children under the age of two as the suffocation risk increases dramatically. If you are a center that is wearing masks and having the older children wear them, take the time to make sure that everyone is wearing it correctly. And of course, wash your hands every step of the way!

Set Up Social Distancing Pods

Having a smaller number of children in the classroom allows for creativity with how to set up and maintain social distancing while still allowing for conversation and interaction with peers. Depending on the size of your class, the age of the children, and the number of children you have, you can separate the classroom into “pods” for each child. Think of these like mini apartments for each child where they have all of the supplies they’ll need.

You can lay painter’s tape down on the floor and have the children help you name their special area. Within each pod, try to give each child the same amount of toys and creative supplies. An example list could be: several books, paper, crayons, trucks, blocks, personal sensory bin, animals, and access to a table. You want to set the furniture up so friends can see each other but are intrigued to stay in their area. Using a child-size bookshelf or storage unit to separate two pods while allowing the children to still sit and chat with each other at a table while playing is ideal. 

The hardest part of the pods will be keeping the children in them, but if you help them create a personal space while encouraging conversation from afar the children will catch on. Modeling this will be key and reinforcing that their pod is their space and because of this they need to stay in their space in a positive way will help create a good experience for the children. As the children get used to the new playing set up, teachers will have to encourage open play and keep the children busy. 

Here’s a great example of social distancing pods from Roberta Webb Child Care Center:

How Parents Can Help

As children return to the classroom, there will be lots of anxiety and scared feelings. Work with your families to help ensure that this is an easy transition. If possible, have parents follow the routine of the center while at home. This will help ease anxiety as the children will know what to expect. Communicate with the children via phone or video calls, so they know your face and reconnect with the relationship you have with them. Have parents start talking about going back to daycare and reminding their children of the fun things that happen as to create anticipation versus feelings of anxiety. Model the excitement of going back and remind them it is a safe place and that you will be coming back to get them. 

These are challenging times and change seems to be happening at a rapid pace.  Be mindful of the changes that impact your families, children and teachers as we open society back up and start to return to normal. Anxiety is high, emotions are high and we so desperately want normal back. Take the time to create steps for parents and teachers to maintain health and safety so we all can move forward together. 

We would love to hear from you about what your center is doing to maintain social distancing — let us know in the comments!

Ria Simon

Ria Simon in the Community Ambassador at Himama. Prior to starting at Himama, Ria was an Early Childhood Educator and worked 6 years in the classroom. She taught all ages but mainly preschoolers. Ria lives in Toronto with her fiancé. In her spare time, she enjoys time with her niece and nephew and being on the water.


  • Danny Henrickson says:

    Just curious how a face to face no mask 2, 3, 4 year child is safe to be in a daycare setting not knowing what their parents have been up to or how seriously they have been taking this virus. All other businesses returning to work are requiring 6 ft social distancing. All other businesses are requiring mask and ppe. How does a child stay six feet apart in daycare how does a child ware a mask. How does a child return to a house where they lives with a grandparent.

    • Terri ware says:

      Yes i have the same question. ?? How do you social distanced kids of that age group . They love to play and interact with each other

      • Ria Simon says:

        Hi Terri, Yes this is a very hot topic and we are all very curious to see how everything works when back in the classroom. So far, the only insight I have heard is classes seem to be operating at a lower ratio and centers are arranging the room so that there are less meeting points for physical interaction.

    • Ria Simon says:

      Hi Danny,
      For the children wearing masks, I would check with your local guidelines and possibly reach out to other centers to see how they are tackling the wearing of masks.Everywhere is a little different as to the guidelines being set out, so I also can point you to the direction of our blog post: How to Introduce Face Masks at Childcare Centers During COVID-19. In regards to children staying 6 feet apart, I believe many centers are opening at reduced ratios to accommodate for more space, and allowing children to be more spread out during the day.

  • Barbara says:

    I have raised 10 children in my lifetime. I have yet to see a pre k or younger child that will wear a mask for 10 hours. These children are expected to eat and put a mask back on, sleep and put a mask back on. No way. The adult in charge will end up putting the mask back on the children and there goes social distancing and hands touching the face.

  • Jill says:

    I am particularly interested in how to reopen with Twos. Masks don’t seem feasible, but Twos rarely contain their coughs and sneezes.

  • Liz says:

    One of the main objectives of preschool is to teach little ones how to socialize. It seems counterintuitive and counterproductive to intentionally keep them apart. How does one go about keeping them apart without the children feeling like they are being “punished” for lack of a better word.

  • Sarah says:

    I read a bit in this article about an option of de-enrolling some kids. How do they decide to to turn away, and how is that fair to deny a child the benefit of preschool. They would be behind then suddenly starting kindergarten the next year, not to mention be socially stunted. Actual 4-k preschool spots fill up fast. Are they suggesting some kids just won’t get the benefit of a pre-k education before kindergarten? There are far more rising preschoolers than available preschools. Especially if they severely reduce class sizes.

    Not to mention I can’t see 4 year olds cooperating with wresting masks all day. They are still very young. Even with parents and teachers encouragement. Teachers will spend more time correcting kids to wear them than teaching the children the basics.

    Even older kids that should be able to keep them on. There are kids with ADHD, sensory issues, kids on the spectrum, or with certain 504 plans and IEPs that will spend more time distracted or melting down to be able to focus on school work.

    With my son in middle school I’m dreading it. All the work, therapy, etc to get him where he is today will be undone if he has to wear a mask all day. His anxiety, sensory issues, and inability to see as well as hear the teacher speaking will undo everything we’ve worked YEARS to improve. I hope the answer isn’t “well there will be casualties” attitude doesn’t pop up. Parents have to fight to advocate for their 504 plan IEP kids enough as it is.

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