St. John Valley

A parent/teacher offers ideas for helping children navigate abnormal school year|

MADAWASKA, Maine — With school back in session, parents and teachers are finding creative ways to comply with school COVID-19 guidelines, while keeping their children safe and healthy. 

Life Skills teacher and parent, Vanessa Gagnon, came up with some practical tips to help children navigate an abnormal school year. 

While school is already in session, practicing mask wearing at home can help the student become more accustomed to them. Gagnon suggested turning it into a game or a challenge. 

“Practice while reading a story and see if you can make it to the end without touching it,” Gagnon said. 

Another thing to do to help children acclimate to the new normal is taking younger kids out in public to get them used to seeing masks on everyone, so it won’t be alarming to see teachers and friends wearing masks as well. 

Gagnon said she plans to use clear bags and mark each side pocket as “clean” and “dirty” as a way to differentiate which masks are sanitized. 

“My kids plan on changing their masks throughout the day as it ‘feels gross when it gets wet,’” Gagnon said. “This way I can hopefully manage between the five of us, which masks are dirty, and keep the germs contained inside the clear bags instead of all over their backpacks.” 

By using a break-away lanyard, children can safely keep their masks from hitting the ground or losing them. Another way to prevent mask loss Gagnon said is to label the masks so the younger ones can identify theirs. 

Without labels, Gagnon said “kids will not recognize their own — hence the size of the lost and found piles at the schools.”

While it is not mask related, a child can help prevent the spread of germs by being as independent as possible. This would include being able to open their own lunch items and tie their own shoes to minimize as much contact between staff and students as possible. 

Gagnon went on to suggest that parents purchase new shoes that the student can put on and fasten by themselves. It is also important to remind kids that even though they might know how to tie shoes, their friends need to tie their own or ask for help from a teacher who can practice safe hygiene when a student cannot tie their own shoes or perform an independent task. 

“The more independent they can be the better,” Gagnon said. 

When the issue of handwashing arises, Gagnon said washing to the tune of “Frere Jacques,” with new lyrics, helps children to completely wash their hands:  “Top and bottom, top and bottom … in between … in between … rub them both together … rub them both together … now they’re clean.”

Prior to the students washing their hands, Gagnon suggested the parents teach their children to set up a paper towel before turning on the faucet. That way, the students can use the paper towel right away and use it to turn off the water and open the door without touching those surfaces with their hands. 

“Practice hand hygiene before they eat, after they eat, after they come back in from playing outside, etc.,” Gagnon said. 

Contact between a student and their friends should be at a minimum. But Gagnon said a conversation with the child can help them think of fun new ways to greet their friends and hangout without making physical contact. 

“Come up with fun ways such as a bow, air high five, a wink, or thumbs up,’ Gagnon said. 

Despite the changes to school and how to interact with friends to keep the students healthy and safe, Gagnon said the students need to know something very important. 

“Their teachers are very excited to see them, are excited to help them to learn and grow, and they’re smiling underneath their masks,” Gagnon said. 

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