Mask up

Wearing masks can help prevent the spread of COVID-19.

Parents of children heading to school later this month likely have a new addition to their back-to-school supply lists: face masks.

Many public schools in Arkansas plan to re-open later this month. Depending on the school, they are offering on-site instruction, remote learning or both options. Many students attending onsite may be required to wear face masks though requirements vary from school to school.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends children 2 years and older wear a mask over their nose and mouth when in public settings where it's difficult to practice social distancing. Arkansas’ mask mandate requires people to wear masks in all indoor and outdoor environments where people are exposed to non-household members and where social distancing isn't possible. The mandate, however, exempts children under 10.

“The number one thing you can do to help your child wear a mask properly and without complaint is to do so yourself,” says Brittney Schrick, a Ph.D. who is an assistant professor and extension family life specialist with the University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture. “Modeling the behavior your child should show helps them understand that it is normal and not scary.”

Back-to-school preparations should also include conversations with your children about protecting themselves and those around them by wearing a mask, washing their hands well, and keeping a safe distance from others.

Younger children, in particular, may need some practice. Having your younger child wear a mask at home to get used to it before starting school can make the first day easier, Schrick said.

Having a comfortable mask is important too. Masks can be made or purchased in a variety of sizes, styles and colors.

“If they find one type uncomfortable (such as those that attach to the ears), look for another style such as a gaiter, one that attaches behind the neck, or use one with ties behind the head,” Schrick said.

Schrick offers the following suggestions for helping youth return to school safely:

Young children

-- Consider masks as part of their outfit or an accessory and let them choose ones they like to wear

-- Let them decorate their own or choose a fun pattern

-- Make play masks for your child’s stuffed animals or dolls

-- Invite your child to draw a self-portrait wearing their mask or a picture of their new class

Older children and teens

-- Explain their school’s rules related to wearing a mask and what consequences may exist if they don’t wear it

-- Consider masks as part of their outfit or an accessory and let them choose ones they like to wear

-- If your child is expected to wear a mask all day, consider sending a second mask with them to change into after lunch.

Preparing for school

-- Check with your school district in advance on mask requirements

-- Label your child’s masks with his or her name

-- Send an extra mask in a plastic sandwich bag or sealed container in case your child loses the mask or gets it dirty

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