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6 Tips for a Safe Return to School

Published on Aug. 27, 2021

Back-to-school is around the corner. The benefits of in-person instruction are numerous. Not only do students tend to be more engaged, but they can see their friends, practice real-life skills, and more. School also opens more access to technology, healthy food, and other important services for many children. But many parents are understandably concerned. What will the school year look like in the middle of a continued pandemic with the Delta variant on the rise?

Here are the essential, science-backed ways to protect your child and ensure he/she has a happy, healthy, and safe school year.


If your child is age 12 and older, strongly consider having them vaccinated against COVID-19 if you have not already. The vaccines range from 86-95% effective against the virus (remember no vaccine can offer 100% protection).

But the COVID-19 vaccine won't just help protect your child from contracting the virus – it can also keep kids from developing severe symptoms that could even lead to hospitalization or life-threatening complications.

Keep in mind that two of the three vaccines are two-dose shots, and both shots plus an additional 10-12 day waiting period is required for kids to be fully vaccinated.


Should your child wear a mask even if he/she isn't required to in school? When worn properly over both their nose and mouth, masks help prevent the spread of respiratory droplets, which become easily airborne while talking, laughing, coughing, etc.

Since kids aren't as practiced at coughing into their elbows, sneezing into a tissue (and then immediately discarding it), and frequent handwashing, masking can help provide that extra layer of protection while allowing kids to still do what they do best – learn, socialize, and play!

With the emergence of the Delta variant, masking is highly recommended right now for everyone ages 2 years and older, per the American Academy of Pediatrics, Michigan Department of Health and Human Services (MDHHS), and CDC guidelines. But what about children who are already fully vaccinated – should they really mask up too?

The answer is a strong yes! With the highly contagious and potentially more dangerous Delta variant, which can be spread among both vaccinated and unvaccinated people, masking is the safest choice for everyone.

Social Distancing

While six feet or more proves difficult in a crowded classroom, encouraging your child to maintain even just a three-foot distance from others can protect them from dangerous viruses like COVID-19.

In fact, a handful of studies conducted during the 2020-2021 school year showed low spreadability of COVID-19 in classrooms where students were less than six feet apart when other ACTion steps were taken, such as masking and handwashing (Source: American Academy of Pediatrics).

If your child isn't fully vaccinated, insist on masking even if his/her school doesn't require it, and be sure to talk to your son or daughter about the importance of physical distancing of six feet or more during activities where they can't wear masks, such as lunch or a music class.

Frequent Handwashing

There's a good chance that your child eased up on frequent handwashing over the summer. While it's important for kids to be kids, equally important are clean hands! Did you know that handwashing can remove all germs, plus other harmful agents like chemicals?

Since kids especially tend to touch everything due to their highly inquisitive minds, teaching them the importance of frequent hand washing is one of the key ways to Avoid COVID-19 Today. But how can you convince them to put this into practice when you're not around?

How to Make Handwashing Fun

First, have your child choose a favorite song or two that can be hummed while washing. This will keep them engaged while ensuring they're lathering for 20-seconds or more.

You can also let them pick out a fun soap that makes them smile and even consider donating some to your child's classroom so everyone can be in on the fun.

Finally, show kids how germs work by gently covering their hands with something small yet visible like glitter, explaining that germs are a lot like the glitter but just invisible. Challenge them to remove the glitter from their hands via handwashing so they can begin to better understand the concept as well as the effort they should be exerting to remove germs.

When kids of all ages (and adults) should wash their hands:

  • Before and after eating
  • After playing with others
  • After using the bathroom
  • After coughing, sneezing, or blowing their nose

Monitoring Symptoms

COVID-19 spreads more easily once symptoms have surfaced. Therefore, it's important to be on the lookout for symptoms… and put your thermometer to good use! Keep your child home if he/she is displaying symptoms or has a temperature over 100.3 degrees F. Then be sure to call your child's primary care physician to discuss next steps.

While most children who contract COVID-19 only experience mild illness, your child is still at risk of complications such as Multisystem inflammatory syndrome in children (MIS-C) and RSV, so it's always a good idea to consult your care provider.

A quick review of the most common COVID-19 symptoms:

  • Fever or chills
  • Cough
  • Shortness of breath or difficulty breathing
  • Fatigue
  • Muscle or body aches
  • Headache
  • New loss of taste or smell
  • Sore throat
  • Congestion or runny nose
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Diarrhea

Emergency Warning signs (call 9-1-1 IMMEDIATELY):

Look for emergency warning signs for COVID-19. If your child is showing any of these signs, seek emergency medical care immediately:

  • Trouble breathing
  • Persistent pain or pressure in the chest
  • New confusion
  • Inability to wake or stay awake
  • Pale, gray, or blue-colored skin, lips, or nail beds, depending on skin tone

Behavioral Health Support

Returning to school – and the many pressures like homework and making friends – can be daunting enough. But the pandemic has added an additional layer of stress for kids of all ages. So what can you do as a parent or caretaker?

First, familiarize yourself with the symptoms of depression and anxiety so you can recognize the warning signs and help your child get needed support, including mental health services right at school.

You can also use our resilience activities below to help teach your child how to navigate the wide range of feelings he/she may be experiencing. Finally, don’t hesitate to seek professional guidance outside of school, whether a free service or paid counseling.

Glitter Jar Activity
Feelings Flashcards

Finally, don’t hesitate to seek professional guidance outside of school, whether a free service or paid counseling.

Mental Health Matters - For Kids Too!

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