To achieve the goals described above, children and young people should understand basic, age-appropriate information about coronavirus disease (COVID-19), including its symptoms, complications, and how it is transmitted and prevented. Activities should be contextualised further based on the specific needs of children (language, ability, gender, etc). Information should be shared in a fun and interactive way and repeated periodically. Below are the guidelines from UNICEF, WHO and IFRC on the information and activities that can be shared with children in different age groups. For ready-to-use resources, the WASH in Schools Network has compiled a knowledge map with links to relevant materials (e.g. songs, videos, activities, and information sheets) about COVID-19 for learners, their families and the education system.

Preschool (approximately age 2-5)

Children in this age group are rapidly expanding their language, social-emotional and cognitive skills and learn best through play, exploration and hands-on learning. Use stimulating activities and materials to share COVID-19-related messages with preschool-age children:

  • Focus on teaching young children good health behaviours, such as covering coughs and sneezes with the elbow and washing hands with soap frequently.
  • Sing a song while washing hands to practice the recommended 20 second duration. Children can also practice washing their hands with hand sanitiser if this is something that is available in the local context.
  • Develop a way to track handwashing and reward frequent and timely handwashing. For example, try creating a handwashing sticker chart or giving certificates to students who are practicing good handwashing. Teachers should ensure that rewards are suitable for the local context.
  • Use puppets or dolls to teach good health behaviours, to demonstrate symptoms (sneezing, coughing, fever) and what to do if feeling sick, and how to comfort someone who is sick (cultivating empathy and safe caring behaviours). There are many videos available online demonstrating how to make puppets such as this one.
  • Use story books such as this to teach children about the virus and why we need to practice good health behaviours.
  • Have children sit further apart from one another, have them practice stretching their arms out or ‘flapping their wings’, they should keep enough space to not touch their friends.

Primary school (approximately age 5-12)

Play-based learning is important for children in primary school. Fun, interactive opportunities enhance children’s mastery of taught concepts and build motivation to learn. Use interactive activities and stimulating materials to share COVID-19-related messages with primary school children:

  • Listen to children’s concerns and answer their questions in an age-appropriate manner; don’t overwhelm them with too much information. Encourage them to express and communicate their feelings.
  • Emphasize that children can do a lot to keep themselves and others safe. For example, introduce the concept of physical distancing (standing further away from friends, avoiding large crowds, not touching people if you don’t need to, etc.). Focus on good health behaviours, such as covering coughs and sneezes with the elbow and washing hands with soap.
  • Give children illustrated books such as this to share messages about COVID-19 and how to control it.
  • Help children understand the basic concepts of disease prevention and control. For example, use exercises that demonstrate how germs can spread. For example, by putting coloured water in a spray bottle and spraying over a piece of white paper, observing how far the droplets travel.
  • Sing a song while washing hands to practice the recommended 20-second duration.
  • Demonstrate why it is important to wash hands for 20 seconds with soap and water using fun, interactive activities. For example, put a small amount of vaseline on students’ hands and then sprinkle some glitter on top representing the virus. Have them wash them with just water, notice how much glitter remains, then have them wash for 20 seconds with soap and water. See a demonstration of this activity here. This activity can also be done with water-based paint instead of glitter. To also demonstrate how easily the virus spreads, have children touch frequently-touched surfaces, such as door handles, to see how the glitter/paint remains. Alternatively, put some ground black pepper (virus particles) into a bowl of water and ask a child to dip their finger into the “virus water”. When the child takes their finger out of the water, it has specks of pepper attached to it, representing “the virus”. Ask the child to then put some soap on their finger before dipping it back into the bowl of pepper and observe how the pepper rapidly moves away from the soap-covered finger. See a demonstration of this activity here. This activity also works with glitter and a toothpick.

Source: Restoration Place

  • Have students analyse texts to identify high risk behaviours and suggest modifying behaviours. For example, a teacher comes to school with a cold. He sneezes and covers it with his hand. He shakes hands with a colleague. He wipes his hands after with a handkerchief then goes to class to teach. What did the teacher do that was risky? What should he have done instead?

Secondary school (approximately ages 12-18)

Children in this age group learn best via interpersonal approaches involving activities like discussion, group work and interaction with other students. Teaching related to COVID-19 should build on their prior knowledge and experiences:

  • Make sure to listen to students’ concerns and answer their questions.
  • Emphasize that students can do a lot to keep themselves and others safe. For example, introduce the concept of physical distancing. Also focus on good health behaviours, such as covering coughs and sneezes with the elbow and washing hands with soap. Remind students that they can model healthy behaviours for their families for example practicing good health washing at home and reminding and encouraging their families to do the same.
  • Encourage students to confront and prevent social stigma related to COVID-19 (i.e. labelling, stereotyping, discriminating against someone or a group of people because of a perceived link with the disease). For example, discuss the different reactions they may experience around discrimination. Encourage them to express and communicate their feelings but also explain that fear and stigma make a difficult situation worse. Teach them that using language that perpetuates existing stereotypes can drive people away from taking the actions they need to protect themselves.
  • Build students’ agency and have them promote facts about public health. For example, have students make their own Public Service Announcements through school announcements and posters or encourage already existing student leadership bodies to spearhead sharing messages related to COVID-19 in their schools.
  • Incorporate relevant health education into other subjects. For example science classes can cover the study of viruses, disease transmission and the importance of vaccinations. Social studies can focus on the history of pandemics and evolution of policies on public health and safety. This can also include the role of various stakeholders including local leaders and the students in the fight against the COVID-19 pandemic. Media literacy lessons can empower students to be critical thinkers and makers, effective communicators and active citizens. Literacy studies can encourage students to contribute to community actions, for example, writing letters to members of the community who might be vulnerable during this time and joining local organisations in carrying out COVID-19 awareness campaigns.

Want to know more about COVID-19 control strategies for open schools:

Editor Notes:

Written by: Julie Watson

Reviewed by: Kondwani Chidziwisano, Matthew Freeman, Linda Engel, Mohini Venkatesh, WinS Network, Sian White, Robert Dreibelbis

Last updated: 26.5.2020

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