TORONTO — It’s back-to-school shopping season, in one of the strangest possible settings: a global pandemic.
So what do panicked parents need to include in their children’s backpacks when they head back to classrooms this fall across the country?
CTVNews.ca has put together a “back-to-school COVID-19 kit” to go over the practical basics for parents and students.
Each province has set out their own specific guidelines for what age of students are recommended or required to wear masks when they come back to school.
In Ontario, for example, non-medical or cloth masks are required for students from Grade 4 to Grade 12, while students from kindergarten to Grade 3 are encouraged, but not required to wear masks indoors.
Individual school boards as well may have released stricter rules than the province-wide regulations, so checking the rules for your province and your kid’s school are the most important first steps.
Dr. Dina Kulik, a pediatric emergency doctor and founder of Kidcrew Medical Services, recommends that if your child will be wearing masks at school, they should have a few cloth masks to bring every day, so that they have backups.
“My expectation is that kids are going to get them wet or they’re going to get them soiled or whatnot,” she said.
It’s not just the number of masks that matter, but the fit.
Parents shouldn’t purchase masks the day before school and hope that everything goes well. Cloth face masks come in numerous designs, from rectangular masks with accordion folds, modelled after surgical masks, to smooth masks more fitted to the face. Some masks fasten around the ears, and others have supports around the back of the head or neck, which can take the pressure off of the ears.
Find out which works best for your child now, well before school starts, Kulik said.
Young children are more likely to remove their masks during the day if they are irritated by the fit.
“This is the time to play with it now, get the best ones that fit your child,” Kulik said. “None of them are going to be comfortable, but we can find the best fit.
“I really think the next couple of weeks are good weeks to model this.”
It’s important, especially if your child is unused to wearing masks for a long period of time, to talk with them about how no one else should be touching their mask — and how they themselves should always take it off by the ear straps and not touch the front of the mask itself.
“If you think that your child is the kind of kid that is going to be chewing or messing with it, absolutely I would try to give them something to keep their hands busy, but clean, of course,” Kulik said, saying a fidget toy could be a possibility for younger children who might need that distraction to keep their hands off of their mask.
Although everyone is meant to have masks on while indoors, inevitably, children are going to take their masks off at some point in the day, whether in the bathroom or during recess.
How do we cut down on losing masks or dropping them in a mud puddle?
Lifestyle expert Julia Black told CTV’s Your Morning last week that numerous portable storage options have been popping up on the market, so that users can keep masks close by and also have a dedicated spot for them, which will cut down on contamination and forgetting them at home.
She suggests heading to Etsy, an online store for handmade goods, to check out options for clip-on or keychain mask containers, which often come in the form of small fabric pouches to carry extra masks in.
Fanny packs, which have had a resurgence in popularity over the past few years, can also be a useful tool for kids during the pandemic.
“The reason why they’re great is you can pack it with all your sanitizing accessories,” she said.
For the most forgetful, there are also now lanyards for face masks, which can keep masks at hand by having them dangling right around your neck when they are not in use.
But while the concept of keeping masks close by and preventing users from forgetting them is valuable, Kulik is uncertain how helpful these lanyards would be for younger children, who might see the lanyard as an opportunity to take the mask on and off with more frequency.
“I feel like if we’re allowing them to hang, they’re going to be hanging more often than they’re not,” Kulik said. “And it’s just another thing to be touching other people. If you’re running and your mask is off [and hanging around your neck by a lanyard], what is this mask going to be hitting? Whereas if it’s on your face, it’s just stuck to your face.”
Classrooms will likely be stocked with hand sanitizer, and teachers will be encouraging children to wash their hands well with soap and water throughout the day.
But parents can also send extra hand sanitizer if they want.
“Depending on the age of the kid, I think having something like a hand sanitizer would be a good idea,” Kulik said. “Certainly, I wouldn’t be giving hand sanitizer to a kid in JK.”
There are lanyards that can be purchased with a pouch to insert a travel-sized hand sanitizer. New ways to make hand sanitization kid friendly also include products such as the Canadian-designed “SqueezyBand,” a brightly coloured wristband that has an opening to be filled up with a small amount of hand sanitizer, which can then be dispensed from the wrist without taking off the band.
Kulik said the most important thing, however, is just frequent hand washing, adding that hand sanitizer is most useful in scenarios where you can’t access soap and water — which will be available to children easily throughout school.
CUTTING DOWN ON THE CLUTTER
School in 2020 comes with a few new essentials, but it also should come with less clutter overall, Kulik recommends.
“Minimize how many things are coming to and from the classroom,” she said.
“Oftentimes parents send more than enough things. There’s extra things in the lockers and there’s extra books and products and toys and all these things. So less is better because you have to be mindful that all of these things have the potential to be contaminated by other people that are sick at school or asymptomatic.”
Don’t bother splurging on a backpack that says it’s been made with anti-viral fabric, or anything fancy — just have a conversation with your children about physical distancing and keeping their belongings to themselves, Kulik said.
“Let’s talk to our kids about not sharing anything. Everything you bring should be touched only by you or your teacher if they’re doing some kind of cleaning process.”
In the same vein, sending children with too many disinfectants and wipes could backfire because these substances have harsh chemicals in it, she pointed out.
“I would not be sending kids with things to sterilize,” she said. “There’s no reason why things should be needing to be sterilized if everyone keeps their distance, everyone keeps their hands to their own things.”
A POSITIVE ATTITUDE
The most important back to school tool for parents is simply to present a positive face to your child. Be clear and matter of fact about the importance of following the new rules, but try not to display your own worry.
“I think parents are really, really stressed out about back to school and their anxiety is founded,” Kulik said. “There’s not a crystal ball about how things are going to go and there’s lots of uncertainty.
“But in general, as much as you can, be honest with your kids, but also sort of fake it ‘till you make it. Because if we’re really anxious about it, [our kids] are typically pretty anxious about it. The more calm we could be about it and the less stress we could [show] in front of our children, the better.”
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