A pediatrician offers strategies for a successful, socially distanced school year.
As schools continue to iron out the remaining wrinkles in their reopening plans, parents and their children should begin to think about the ways they can prepare for a brand new classroom and learning experience.
“The American Academy of Pediatrics’ current recommendation is that children return to schools,” says Dr. Samantha Lowe, a pediatrician with White Plains Hospital Physician Associates. “We have to consider children’s physical health, but we also have to remember their social and emotional health. Being back to school in some capacity, interacting with their teachers and age-appropriate peers, is so important for their continuing development.”
This does not diminish the fact that coronavirus risk is still very real, Dr. Lowe adds. Every parent needs to consult with their pediatrician or family physician to weigh the risks against the benefits of returning to in-person school based on individual health conditions and family circumstances.
Even with all the new adjustments, pediatricians generally agree that the move to re-open school facilities is a good thing. Here’s how you can prep your child for a smooth and safe re-entry:
Ease Their Anxiety
Anxiety over the virus is very real. You want to provide your children with appropriate guidance as to how to manage themselves safely while not making them nervous. Dr Lowe’s best advice is to communicate with your school district and get as many facts as you can. “A lot of kids are anxious, as they have been living in a cocoon these past few months,” she says. “The more facts you have as a parent, the more you can help to calm their anxiety for the best chance of a successful school year.”
Choose a Wearable Mask
Kids are not used to wearing masks all day. Choosing the right mask for your child to wear during school hours therefore is extremely important. Dr. Lowe prefers surgical masks for children because they are light, disposable, and don’t annoyingly tug on the ears of little ones. “The best mask for your child is the one they will not take off, that they can breathe in, and that covers their nose, mouth and goes over the chin properly,” says Dr. Lowe, adding that face shape and size will also determine the appropriate type of covering for your child.
Otherwise, Dr. Lowe suggests a reusable mask with a filter that can be replaced daily without needing to wash the covering itself every day. Also, doing a fit test is key: “It’s the same as when you get them a new pair of sneakers, ask them, ‘Are you sure these are going to fit you? They aren’t too small or too big?”
Organize Their Backpacks
Many schools are talking about eliminating access to lockers to further minimize touch surfaces. “Having a 15-year-old take his entire locker everywhere he goes is a recipe for back problems,” says Dr. Lowe. “It’s a good idea, every night, to make sure your child’s backpack is organized, with only the essential supplies and books he needs for the next day.”
You can also brush up on back health using this orthopedic surgeon’s backpack safety tips.
Keep Them Properly Hydrated
Keeping the body hydrated helps keep the immune system in top shape to fight viruses. Water has also been shown to improve thinking skills. “With water fountains off limits, it’s important to send kids in with bottles since water won’t be in ready supply,” says Dr. Lowe. “Check with your school’s policy on when it is okay to uncover faces to sip water, as mask-wearing will surely lead to decreased drinking. With the lack of ventilation due to masks, the oral membranes of the mouth will be drier and kids may get thirsty more quickly.” School age children need to drink between 5 to 8 cups of water a day, depending on their exact age, she says.
Don’t Forget Exercise
To limit exposure and transmission, children may be placed in small groups or “pods” and even remain in the same classroom all day, including for lunch. That will drastically cut down on the number of steps during the day, and an opportunity to expend some much needed energy and frustration. Distance-learners face a similar issue. In many districts, physical education class is still a question. “Daily exercise is going to be more important than ever,” says Dr. Lowe, who advises that parents ask schools what they will do to ensure kids get adequate body movement and brain rest during their day, which is essential to keeping hyperactivity at bay.
“I would really enforce getting some movement when they get home, and not going on the computer or screen,” she adds. “They need to get outside and play and really move their bodies, not only for physical benefits but for emotional benefits.”