As communities open up for outdoor exercise, open parks like ours did recently, and the late spring weather forces more of us outside, more and more children will be in public places. Whether it is when a parent is forced to take a child to a grocery store for essential goods because there is no available childcare or a chance run-in with another family at a park or running trail, we need to equip our children and students with the tools to remain safe when they are in shared spaces inside and out. Here are some of my ideas for how to teach children to stay 6 feet apart from others in public.
These tools are about maintaining proper social distancing, for more about how to explain COVID-19 / Coronavirus to young children check out this PBSParents article. It’s the most appropriate advice I have found for preschoolers.
How To Teach Young Children To Stay 6 Feet Apart
Explain why we need to stay 6 feet apart.
There is no perfect way to do this because every child processes information differently. Some are very sensitive and will turn a little information into a dire warning, others will need constant reminders, and it still won’t sink in. The general information all children should have is that there are germs going around, and if we stay 6 feet apart, we make it harder for the germs to spread. If your family is wearing masks, this is also when you would explain those are added protection to keep germs from spreading.
Get out the measuring tape and show your child how far 6 feet is. Make it fun. Go to different areas of your home and have your child make estimations about what is 6 feet from where they are standing. Is the wall? Measure it. Is the bathtub 6 feet from the toilet? How about the fridge to the kitchen table? If you have a yard take it outside. This is all part of learning about staying 6 feet apart.
Can you throw a pillow 6 feet? What about a ball? Find whatever is safe to throw and try. Again, this is all part of giving your child the tools to understand how to keep themselves safe. Part of that is a firm understanding of what 6 feet is essential for when you remind them, ” Sally, 6 feet back.”.
Red Light, Green Light
This game is an essential tool for parents of very young children that do not yet have a firm grasp on what 6 feet looks like. Yelling “Stop” can scare kids and should only be used in an emergency. Yelling it as they are getting too close to a neighbor could be very upsetting to a young child, and we don’t want to instill fear of people they shouldn’t fear into our children. Instead, play the game Red Light Green Light Often, especially if and when you are in public. If you aren’t familiar with the game, it’s simple; Children line up in front of a caller (you). When you say green light, they go. When you say yellow light, they slow down, and red light means stop. We play it all the time at preschool, so we too can use this tactic if we need children to stop abruptly but do not what them to be scared. By practicing this often and making it fun, you can use it if your child is getting too close.
This is not my idea, but it’s genius. In my area, much like other parts of the world, we do a lot of outdoor activities. Running, biking, walking on forest trails, and visits to the beach, I live on an island, so there are lots of that. This pandemic has shifted how we explore these places, but most of us are still getting outdoors safely. This will help you do that, especially if you have a few kids. While walking together in a park or forest trail, it’s okay for children to spread out, but when there is another person, the family needs to quickly get together to make enough space for other people to pass safely. This is when a parent or observant kiddo yells, “Bubble up!” the family scoots together, clearing the way for the other party to pass. This can also work if your child is getting too far from you at the park, or you need to pick them up to provide proper social distancing for others or your family. “Bubble up!” is a light-hearted way to get to you fast without using fear. This is a scary enough time for kids. We need them to know they are safe, but that simple measures like this are how they stay safe.
These tools will help, but they can only help if you practice. Social distancing is a new skill we all need to learn. Play bubble up at funny times, like when you have a family movie night and pile up on the couch, you can play red light green light as your kiddos are running upstairs for bathtime. Get in on the fun and have your children be the one calling out red light green light too. Mine used to love to yell red light just as I was heading to the bathroom. Stinkers!
We have no choice that, for now, this is our norm, but we do have an opportunity to empower our kids through play. Answering their questions about not giving their buddy a high five when they see them in the neighborhood with “Because I said so.” might stop the questions, but it won’t stop them from wondering why and jumping to their own conclusions. Talk to your children, answer their questions, and use play to practice these new skills.
Please note social distancing rules are different based on your local community, and you may not be in a position to leave your home. I am not advocating for anyone to break those rules and take a child out when it’s not safe. Your local rules rea set up by your local officials based on the situation in your area. Please follow them to the best of your ability.