School life with COVID-19: Is hand hygiene a learning experience?

Waiting in line seems to be the skill of the moment, we are spending a lot of time in schools practicing with our students. We’ve been back in school about three weeks now and it is hard work for staff to remember all the measures that need to be in place to make sure the risk of contamination is small. Simple things like a child falling down in the yard with a cut knee, now involves a level of personal protective equipment that was previously only standard practice in health care centres and hospitals. 

I work in an elementary school and everything is taking a lot longer, going out into the yard for recess for example. Before the virus, on the way to the yard there was always the stop by the restroom on the way out to make sure everyone’s ready for a happy and uninterrupted time to play, not all children need to use the facilities, but as they were all keen to be outside it was generally quite a quick process. On the way back the obligatory stop by the water fountain to rehydrate after a busy recess, again this would take a while but not everyone needed a drink generally. With the virus, we have stopped the use of the water fountain and everyone has a water bottle that is filled up in the classroom, but we have not saved any time. Now, on the way out to recess there is the washing of everyone’s hands as well as the need to use the bathroom. The lines form to use the three sinks we have in our bathroom and it takes a lot longer to get out into the yard. Then when coming in from the yard, it is the same process of hand washing again. So the process that would have normally taken about eight minutes, now takes about  twelve to fifteen at both ends of recess. I know that there is ‘magic soap’ as our first graders call hand sanitizer, but that’s mainly used at points where we are not transitioning, to avoid gaps in learning activities.

hygiene-2945807_1920The children are having to wait in line more than they used to, as so many points in the day are needed for making sure hands are being washed. The school I work in is an inner city school and it is very small so we have only one kindergarten class and the teacher has got the washing hands part of the day  well organised, happens at a good pace, quite adult intensive and the children are able to do it without too much fuss. Even with this system being very efficient the children have to stand in line a lot and wait for a sink to become free to wash their hands, this waiting in line is still a work in progress and some are better at it than others. The other day I was helping with this process in class and started to think about the effect of all this hand washing could have on our children. 

On the negative side, are we creating a generation of children who become a little obsessional about germs and need to wash their hands all the time. For a few maybe, but perhaps for the majority this would be a good thing as being more hand hygiene conscious will help stop the spread of this virus and whatever virus comes along next. 

On the positive side, this is where I think we will gain and this is my thinking. Being as old as I am, when I was at school there were no flash interactive boards in the classroom, we had a chalk board and that was it. If you were giving a piece of homework and you didn’t know the answer, you needed to look it up in a book, talk to your parents or you had to use the local public library when it was open. You had to be quite planned and organised to get the homework done, there was no pulling your cell phone out of your pocket and ‘googling it’.  If anyone does not know something now, you just look it up on the internet and you have pages of answers in under a second after you’ve typed the question. So we are asking the ‘have it now/know it now’ generation to wait, so this is where I think the positives will emerge. 

We are having to take the time to stop, wait and be mindful of others’ needs

 

In the hand washing line, they are interacting with whoever is in the line in front or behind them, not necessarily their friends, these children will change throughout the day and will take varying amounts of time to get their hand washing done. The children are learning that everyone is different and that being patient is something everyone is finding hard at the minute, including their parents at the grocery store. It is slowing life in school just a little, we are having to take the time to stop, wait, chat to peers, be mindful of others’ needs, and finally wash hands. This happens for our kindergarteners about six times a day. Obviously this takes time away from curriculum learning and the things that children will be tested in, but as we are having to do it, I think it needs to be seen as just another learning opportunity for our students to learn things like patience, getting along with others and mindfulness of others, rather than the disruption of the school day and a waste of time.

 

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