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How to Talk to Little Learners About Coronavirus

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“Teacher, I don't feel good” is a phrase we, as early childhood educators, hear a lot. Our littlest learners are naturally curious and love to explore and share everything, including germs. With the arrival of COVID-19, the challenge of keeping our students and classrooms safe is more important than ever. When talking to our youngest learners and even their families, we can all take a lesson from Mister Rogers. 

Dr. Karen Paciorek, a student of Mister Rogers, shared that having hard conversations can be E.A.S.Y.:

Eye level - speak to children at their eye level

Age appropriate language

Soft voice

Yield for a moment to allow children to share thoughts or ask questions

I have successfully been using this technique in my class since Karen shared it with me. I began the conversation in my classroom by joining my class, eye level, at the carpet. Here is a sneak peek of our conversation: 

I said, “Friends, Mr Garmon and I have been noticing that some of our friends are worried about getting sick. So I talked to our school nurse and some other people who like to stay healthy about what we can do to keep the germs away.” 

Hands shot up and I called on each student and listened to their ideas and tried to ease their concerns. I shared that there were things they could do to be helpers that keep germs away. It can be helpful to give them an elevated role in this situation that they otherwise have no control over. 

We talked about washing our hands, keeping things out of our mouths and not touching our faces. Giving my littles real information and inviting them to help keep themselves and their friends healthy, empowered them and they got excited about their new job as germ fighters! 

Share with your Littles Families 

I gave our classroom families the same information on my webpage and via the Remind app that we use for parent communication. Parents had real concerns and I was able to share with them what I said in class so that they could use the same language at home. By communicating with the families we can work like a team to not only keep the students healthy but also feel safe. 

Here are some of the things we have done that you can use in your class to help your students, their families and your classroom.   

4 Tips to Stay Germ Free 

1. Let your students help

What does every classroom have a lot of? Littles who want to be helpers! With some developmentally appropriate information, students can help each other stay healthy. Daniel Tiger is a great resource for teachers and students. In the episode Daniel gets a cold, Daniel sings a song called Germs Germs Go Away. After singing along, students will know how to wash their hands and cover a cough to keep germs away. Make an anchor chart together showing the ways Daniel washed the germs away. Be sure to sing Germs Germs Go Away on the way to bathroom breaks and lunch. Repetition is key!

2. Disinfect frequently 

The National Association of School Nurses recommends disinfecting frequently touched surfaces and objects. This can be a daunting task when we think about kitchen centers, art tables, and makers spaces. Custodians suggest using disinfecting wipes twice a day. But what about the cafeteria? Placemats are an easy solution for that germy problem. Littles love to spread out a special mat from home or even one made at school. Be sure to send them home to be washed nightly.

3. Go to PBS LearningMedia for free and informative activities 

PBS LearningMedia is a great resource to find free, developmentally appropriate  information and activities to share with their children about staying healthy. For instance, Super Why has a fun alphabet activity that teaches children their ABCs as they wash the germs away. This healthy kids clip is perfect to show students and their families the right way to wash their hands. Teachers can share the link instantly with families via the Remind tab linked with the lessons. Keeping parents in the loop will reinforce the learning that is happening in class.

4. Being a good friend includes being healthy and clean

As early childhood educators we know that learning to build friendships is just as important as learning the ABC’s. Our youngest students come to us as very social little people and, with our guidance, they are soon surrounded by a group of best friends. I teach my first graders that friends help each other be better. They can help be a better reader or kickball player. Why not take this idea one step further - friends can help each other stay healthy to the anchor chart. Add that friends cover their coughs, use a tissue, and wash their hands to the list of things that good friends do. Soon those friends will be reminding each other to sing the alphabet song while they wash their hands.

Now, let’s all collectively take a deep breath. Let’s grab the Clorox wipes, tissues and some markers. Keep in mind that you are not the only one who is worried or even afraid. Getting sick can be even scarier for young children. Many children are watching the news alongside their families. Be ready to answer their questions with, “I know a lot of people are getting sick right now and here are some things we can do to help us stay healthy.” Communicating with parents and modeling healthy habits with the help of friends from school and friends from PBSKIDS is a positive way to empower our little learners to keep those germs away!

Michelle Garmon

Michelle Garmon Kindergarten Teacher

Student Greeters welcome visitors to Michelle’s first grade classroom with a cheerful “Hello neighbor!” “It’s a beautiful day in the neighborhood,” is stenciled above the smartboard. Michelle’s goal is to instill the same developmentally appropriate positive learning experience she had growing up into her class of 21st century learners. She lovingly meets this goal using technology. Her students’ code during math, research using tablets, use voice to text to tell stories, and Chromebooks help bring the whole world into room 108. Michelle’s class also meets via video chat monthly with fellow All-star Julie Hildebrand’s first grade class in Austin, Texas for fun hands-on science lessons. Michelle believes that digital citizenship should be taught as a foundational skill along with reading, writing, and arithmetic.

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