What Will Kindergarten Be Like With Masks?
Perhaps the education sector has been one of the hardest hit due to COVID-19, because while many economic and social activities have since gradually resumed in most countries of the world, schools have remained closed.
As medical experts have advised that the virus is here to stay, however, and there appears to be no point in keeping schools indefinitely closed, many countries are on the verge of resuming in-person education despite the concerns and anxiety over the potential risks of doing so, and their governments are currently in debate over the conditions for this imminent reopening of schools.
Use of facemasks: one inevitable condition for school reopening
Since covering the mouth and nose happen to be among the most effective ways of guarding against the virus, it should come as no surprise to anyone that one of the major conditions virtually every government has given, or will give, for the reopening of its schools is the mandatory use of facemasks.
That means…you guessed it…facemasks are about to become the new normal in schools at all levels – yes, even in kindergartens!
In other words, educators in kindergartens will be required – or mandated – to come to school with their facemasks, while parents will be expected to provide each of their kids with a facemask before sending them to school every day.
But how is this really going to play out? How will kindergarten even look like with everyone wearing masks? Surely things would be somewhat different, both for the teachers and for the young students? Let’s see.
Masks may create some learning challenges
For one, there is the issue of clearly communicating emotions to children while putting on a facemask.
It just so happens that the mouth and eyes are significantly important indicators of expression; and while adults tend to get most of their non-verbal social information from speakers’ eyes, children usually focus on speakers’ mouths – which, in this case, will be covered by masks.
It’s also worth considering that in any given kindergarten, there are likely to be kids who, for one reason or the other, learn mostly by reading lips.
These kids may be hard of hearing, autistic, or English-language learners who rely on mouth movements for grammatical cues.
The concern here is that when a kindergarten teacher is masked while teaching, the students – especially the group above – may miss a lot of emotional and other information contained in non-verbal cues which they would otherwise have observed if the mask was absent. In other words, it is likely that the kids’ social emotional learning will suffer a bit.
The impact on teachers
While they understand the reasons for it, the prospect of wearing a face mask in school isn’t exactly one kindergarten teachers will be looking forward to. Many will simply find it uncomfortable to teach and talk for many hours while masked.
Not being very comfortable while teaching, and struggling to communicate visual cues may make it harder for the educators – especially those assigned to teach a new group of students – to build rapport with the children.
There is also the potential of physical injury. Masked teachers will most times find it necessary to talk louder in order to be heard and understood by the children, and talking for hours in a louder-than-usual volume may increase the risk of vocal strain, which is already an occupational hazard in the field.
How teachers could cope
To overcome or prevent some of these disadvantages of wearing a mask in the classroom, teachers can learn from mask wearing nurses who care for pediatric patients. For instance, they can enhance expression and communication by emphasizing head and eye movement, and other cues besides those provided by the mouth. They can also teach children to look out for, and properly interpret, these emotional cues which may come in form of exaggerated nodding, winks, and “happy crinkles.”
The use of masks which have a comfortable fit could help teachers feel more at ease while teaching, and psychologists have even recommended using clear masks which, while offering the required protection, will also allow the children to observe the teachers’ mouths and access as much social and emotional information as possible. Educators in some kindergartens may also have the option of temporarily unmasking while teaching.
Regarding vocal strain, kindergarten teachers may have to resort to using wireless microphones which will amplify their voice without effort on their part, while offering them freedom of movement. They could also alternate between teacher-led and student-led modes of teaching to create rest periods for their voices.
What wearing masks would be like for kindergarteners
Now how about the kindergarteners themselves? What will wearing masks during school hours be like for these young children? Well, not as unpleasant as you may think, it seems, because young children are known to adapt quite easily. Moreover, once school resumes, it is expected that educators at kindergartens will help the children quickly get accustomed to wearing masks within the school environment.
Educators at The Apple Tree Kindergarten, for example, have been trained to always give the children the impression that masks are now a new, everyday lifestyle, and not scary or awkward things to wear; to teach them, not just how to use masks properly, but also how to use them in fun ways; and to help them replace the masks if for some reason they get wet, soiled, or broken.
Going further, TAT educators are equipped to guide the kids under their care to observe other COVID-19 prevention protocols, such as frequent hand washing, not touching their eyes, or the masks they are wearing with dirty hands, etc.; and this will go a long way towards making the school environment as safe as possible for everyone.
If kindergarten administrators all over the world follow this example, there is no doubt that kindergartners will become comfortable with wearing masks, and find it easier to adapt to the new way of life & learning in a COVID-19 aware school environment.
Parents would have a role to play, too
We cannot end this brief discussion on how kindergarten will be like with masks, without pointing out how parents fit into the picture. The role of parents here cannot be overlooked because if kindergartners are going to be compliant and comfortable with wearing masks in school every day, their parents will be the first to prepare them physically and mentally, right from home.
If parents themselves embrace mask wearing, make their kids see masks as part of their dressing to school – just like their shirts, socks, etc. – as well as a necessary protection, and then provide them with (or let them pick) comfortably-fitting, colorful masks with fun designs, the children will be much more likely to wear them without coercion, and less likely to want to take them off while in school.
With parents and educators leading by example, and living up to their responsibilities of instilling the right attitude towards masks into kindergarteners, as well as coaching and guiding them on the proper use of same, the challenges of wearing masks in school can be minimized or overcome, and kindergarten with masks could eventually turn out to be only slightly less pleasant than kindergarten without masks, but safer.