Coronavirus: How to Talk to Students About It and Keep Your Classroom Safe


Coronavirus: How to Talk to Students About It and Keep Your Classroom Safe

It is nearly impossible to go more than a few minutes without conversation turning to coronavirus. All public schools in Fulton County, Georgia (metro Atlanta area) closed Tuesday, March 10 for deep cleaning after a teacher tested positive. Schools all across the country are having meetings to determine the best course of action to limit the spread of COVID-19. All of the worry, information, and misinformation swirling around can be stressful and overwhelming for adults – and downright scary and confusing for kids. Here are some tips for explaining coronavirus to kids and reducing the risk of an outbreak in your classroom.

How to talk to kids about COVID-19? 

There’s no reason to try to keep kids from learning about the virus. They are hearing about it and filling in the gaps in the misunderstanding with playground hearsay. Some teachers have heard students say the coronavirus turns you into zombies or makes your eyes pop out. There is power in knowledge, so give kids the facts. 

  • Stay calm. If the trusted adults in their lives are calm and reassuring, kids are less likely to panic. 
  • Ask what they’ve heard. This is a good way to clear up wrong information and to hear their main concerns. 
  • Give the facts in an age-appropriate way. Scholastic has put together resources for teachers broken down into age groups. 
  • Answer questions. If you don’t know the answers, tell students you’ll get back to them and then make sure you do.
  • Discuss what you’re doing to stay safe. Talk about hand washing, sneezing and coughing into elbows instead of hands, throwing away tissues, staying home when sick, etc. 
  • Keep them updated. This isn’t a conversation you can have just once and be done with it. Keep students updated and continue answering questions. 
  • Turn it into a teaching plan. Use COVID-19 as a learning opportunity. There are health and science topics to dive into. Tracking the disease provides a starting point for lessons on geography, social studies, and tolerance. The CDC has a free lesson plan packet for teachers about the flu. Much of this is applicable to COVID-19, including coloring pages and activity sheets about handwashing. 
  • Provide resources for more info.  Talking to kids about the virus doesn’t mean they should have constant access to mainstream media coverage. Some good resources for kids are:
    • Kidshealth.org provides great info written for kids on the Coronavirus. It dives into the questions kids really have and provides the answers they need. What is Coronavirus? How do I get it? What will happen if I get it? What if my mom or dad get it? Can my dog get it? How do I keep from getting it?

A great video you might want to show your students:

Ways to reduce germs and risk of contracting COVID-19

  • Increased hand washing: The CDC has made it clear the best prevention is frequent handwashing with soap and running water.  Wash your own hands frequently and prompt students to wash theirs often throughout the day. Teach proper hand washing and go over it daily.  Ways to encourage correct and frequent hand washing:
    • Turn to YouTube: YouTube has dozens of videos geared at talking (or singing!) kids through proper handwashing techniques. 
    • Put a stamp on it: One elementary school teacher had a handwashing hack that went viral. She put a stamp on each student’s hand. If the stamp was completely washed off by the end of the day, they got a prize. 
  • Sing while you scrub. Work together to come up with a list of songs to sing to ensure everyone is scrubbing for a full twenty seconds. Consider it a language arts activity. 
  • Check out blacklight footage. Even celebrities are promoting handwashing. Actress Kristen Bell shared a viral photo of bacteria on hands under a blacklight before washing, at different increments of washing and after being washed with soap for twenty seconds. The visual really hits home the importance of washing with soap for a full twenty seconds. 
  • Go over proper cough/sneeze techniques. Practice vampire coughs/sneezes. This is coughing or sneezing into the elbow instead of the hands (or someone else’s face). 
  • Use hand sanitizer. Carry hand sanitizer with you at all times. Use it yourself and squirt it into kids’ hands when you’re away from sinks.
  • No touching!  Avoid contact and instruct students to do the same. No hugs, handholding, high fives, thumb wars, fist bumps, etc. 
  • Don’t touch faces. Don’t touch other people, but also don’t touch your own face. Viruses enter our bodies through our mouths and noses, so keep hands away from the face.
  • Throw away used tissues. This sounds obvious, but make it easy for kids by adding more trash cans and reminding them frequently to throw away their tissues (and then wash their hands!).
  • This isn’t the time for sharing. Give everyone their own set of supplies to keep in their desk. 
  • Wipe surfaces. Wipe down high traffic surfaces regularly with antibacterial wipes. The EPA has just released a list of approved cleaners for fighting Coronavirus. 
  • Reduce your social exposure inside and outside of school. Stay home as much as possible. Stay away from large gatherings, stores, restaurants, etc. as much as possible. The fewer people you come in contact with, the lower your risk of exposure.
  • Don’t travel. Skip travel for now if at all possible. 
  • Make sure kids and parents know how to reduce risk. You can do everything right in your classroom and home, but it takes a team to keep COVID-19 from spreading.

What should parents and teachers ask schools about COVID-19? 

Some important questions to ask include:

  • What is the protocol if a child appears sick at school?
  • Will the school be providing ample supplies of soap, hand sanitizer, cleaning, supplies, and tissues?  If not, what’s the plan for making sure classrooms are equipped?
  • Are there enough substitutes so teachers can stay home if they’re feeling sick?
  • When and how will school closure announcements be made?

What can teachers do to prepare for the impact of COVID-19? 

Teachers should follow the risk elimination protocol, such as frequent hand washing, staying away from the public outside of school and reducing travel. Exercise, healthy eating, and plenty of sleep are great ways to boost immunity. They can also stock up on supplies including non-perishable foods, medications, pet food, toilet paper, and cleaning supplies for their own homes now, just in case.

Where can parents and teachers find more information about their district’s COVID-19 plans? 

Make sure you’re signed up for text, phone call, and email notifications from the schools and districts you need to know about. Check to make sure your contact info is correct and that messages from school aren’t going to your spam folder while you’re at it. Follow both individual schools and the district as a whole on Facebook. Go into your notification settings for each of these Facebook pages to set it so you see updates from them first. Check school and district websites for breaking Coronavirus news. Updates will likely be sent to you by phone call, text or email each day until there becomes less concern. 

You can also find regular news updates on the CDC website:

The best thing you can do to keep yourself and your students healthy is to take preventive measures to keep germs at bay: take care of yourself, keep things clean and use good hygiene. These are things you were probably already doing and should continue doing long after the Coronavirus is one for the history books. Basically, stay calm and wash your hands. 

Also Read:

Talking to Kids About Coronavirus and Keeping Your Classroom Safe

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Rachael Moshman
Rachael Moshman, M.Ed. is a mom, educator, writer, and advocate for self-confidence. She’s been a teacher in classrooms of infants through adult college students. She loves pizza, Netflix and yoga.
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