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Social distancing challenges: Tips to help kids at school

By Amanda Morin

Social distancing at school is hard for many kids. The rules can be tricky to follow — especially when they’re always changing. Currently, the CDC recommends 3 feet of distance in school. (In some cases they still recommend 6 feet.)

Find out why social distancing rules can be hard for kids who learn and think differently to follow and adapt to. And get tips to help.

Impulsivity and social distancing

Kids who are impulsive have a hard time putting on the brakes and thinking through their actions. If they’re excited to talk or play with other kids, they may get too close without realizing it.

Quick tip for families

Practice putting on the brakes by playing a version of “Red Light Green Light.” Put stuffed animals or other objects around the house. When your child starts getting close, call out “yellow light.” If they get closer than the allowed space, call out “red light.” You can also use these phrases in public so you’re not yelling “Stop!” 

Quick tip for teachers

Agree on a verbal and a visual class signal for kids to use when others get too close to them. For example, the word might be “Halt!” and the signal is putting up a palm. Tell them everybody can use those signals when someone gets too close to them.

Sensory challenges and social distancing

Sometimes, kids with sensory processing challenges have trouble knowing where their body is in space. They can’t always tell how close they are to other people.

Quick tip for families

Use a measuring tape to show exactly how far 3 feet is (or 6 feet, depending on your school’s rules). If you have a locking measuring tape, lock it in place and let kids measure how many arm lengths and toe-to-heel footsteps that is. (You can also use a 3-foot piece of string.) Practice being that far away from people.

Quick tip for teachers

Add tactile elements to the way-finding markers on your classroom and hallway floors. It can help kids feel with their feet when they’ve moved out of their space “bubble” and into someone else’s. This may mean using textured tape or adding nonslip shower strips or stickers to marked-off areas.

Trouble with focus and social distancing

Kids who are easily distracted or who don’t pay attention may not realize they’ve moved too close to someone. They may not be aware of what’s going on around them and where other people are.

Quick tip for families

Agree on an easy reminder phrase, word, or sound you can use when your child gets too close to others. At home, you can practice visualizing the distance with a piece of string. Hold one end and have kids hold the other end. Then back away until you’re the correct distance apart. You can make a game of it by first guessing how far 3 (or 6) feet is, and then measuring to see how close your guesses are.

Quick tip for teachers

Agree on a simple phrase or word the class can use to let other kids know they’ve wandered too close. It’s a quick reminder and can ward off “distance shaming.”

Next steps

Families and educators: Stay in contact about student challenges this year with our back-to-school update form.

Back-to-School Update: Tell Teachers How Your Child Is Doing

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  • Coming soonGoogle Classroom