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Behind the Mask: Staying Connected while Physically Distant

Posted by Laura Perillo on Oct 1, 2020 1:26:01 PM

This fall, parents who were able to send their children into the classroom – whether a full day or via hybrid model – lined up their children’s backpacks and pencil cases the night before their first day of classes. Also sitting among that pile of new school supplies was 2020’s newest necessity required for in-person school days – a mask.

While the CDC requires that masks be worn this fall while in the classroom and out in public to help keep COVID-19 at bay, this new normal does not arrive without its challenges.

One of the biggest challenges with mask-wearing is that faces are covered, therefore making social cues less reliable and sometimes difficult for children to interpret.

With the school year well underway, here are some helpful tips on how teachers and children can connect with one another when faces are not fully visible.

Behind the Mask

Explain the Situation

Simply talking about the situation that we are all faced with during this ongoing pandemic can really do wonders. Parents and teachers alike should discuss with children the reasons why people back in school and out in the community are wearing face coverings. Back-and-forth conversations can be fine-tuned also, depending on the ages of the children.

For instance, when explaining why we wear masks to a preschooler, the conversation should be kept short and simple and might explain that we are all doing our best to prevent germs from entering our body. However, while a teenager can easily understand that mask wearing prevents germs, they might be more worried about how they look in a mask in front of their friends. In this situation, parents and teachers can offer reassurance that this will be the “new normal” for everyone going to school this year.

Keeping the lines of communication open between administrators, parents and children of all ages is vital during this ever-changing pandemic.

Show Your Face

When babies are born, they begin to show preferences for looking for human faces above anything else. In fact, human beings are biologically programmed to recognize faces. Fast forward to this new COVID era with mandatory mask wearing in schools and obviously it becomes more difficult for children to recognize their teacher’s faces and facial expressions.

One way to help those in school pick up on social cues is to have teachers and students record a video of themselves to demonstrate how they speak without a mask on. This way, students will be able to see a teacher’s full expression while unmasked as they talk and vice versa. Also, the wearing of clear masks could help solve the problem.

Additionally, much like the trend started by pediatric doctors who see patients while wearing masks, teachers could print a close up photo of their face and make a large button out it (pinned to clothing or on a lanyard). Like pediatric physicians who want to ease anxiety among their young patients by displaying their smiling faces, teachers could also do so to ease the same fears.

Express Yourself

Another way to get more comfortable interacting with peers and teachers in the class who are wearing masks is to play the “guess my expression” game. Eyes have always been known as the windows to the world and there are different ways teachers and students can figure out the emotion behind the mask. For example, the corner of eyes crinkle up when the person is happy and contrary a person’s eyes look heavy when sad.

Body language, hand gestures and different inflections of voices, can also help children distinguish faces and attitudes behind the mask.

Say, What?

Wearing a mask can make you repeat yourself more times than you are probably used to because our mouths are covered. Students back in the classroom this fall, will learn to speak louder and avoid sounding muffled with their masks on. Many teachers now are wearing microphones to amplify the sound in the classroom. Also, many teachers and students are now sitting behind Plexiglas partitions to shield them from COVID-19, adding yet another sound barrier. Learning to speak louder and finding the right volume for those now wearing a mask in the classroom can take some time to get used to in this new way of learning.

Although this school year may ebb and flow in a different current than last year, teachers and students – whether virtual or in-person – need to be able to effectively communicate with one another to succeed. Wearing a mask will challenge classrooms to become creative with sound and expressions. But, with a little extra effort, new school year bonds and connectivity is bound to happen!

Topics: teaching, elementary school, social and emotional learning, Coronavirus

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