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Social Distancing with Young Learners

DEEL’s Early Learning Team provides parents and providers some ideas and activities to support young learners in understanding and practicing the concept of social distancing.

General Recommendations

  • Remove shared sensory table. Provide individual sensory tubs/trays as an alternative. Use sensory materials that can be easily sanitized or replaced daily (soapy water, shaving cream with foam blocks, torn/shredded paper, leaves & pinecones, etc.). If possible, provide a labeled bin for each child so that bins are never shared.
  • Discourage sharing materials. Provide children individual sets of materials during free choice and small group time.
  • Designate and define appropriate play space. For example, use tape to divide the block area into play spaces that accommodate social distancing recommendations.

Activities to promote social distancing and build community

  • Have children brainstorm methods of greeting without touching. Use these ideas to start each day. Greetings from home cultures are especially welcome! Examples:
    • Say hello in different languages
    • Bow
    • Nod / up nod
    • “Peace” sign
  • Red light, green light modification.Designate a “lane” for each child – e.g. chalk on the concrete (outdoors) or tape on the floor (indoors); make sure lanes are at least 6 feet apart. Also, mark off a line at least 6 feet away from the “light” person to indicate where players should stop. This modification can be used for other traveling games such as “What time is it, Mr. Wolf?” or “Mother, may I?”
  • Dance party modification. Instead of congregating in one area to dance, have each child dance in a different area. The teacher can shine a flashlight to “spotlight” different children throughout the dance party and draw attention to one another and promote a sense of community despite physical distance.
  • Mirror, mirror. Have children pair up and stand six feet apart, mark six feet with tape or chalk line. Each child takes a turn being the leader and making movements that the other child will try to copy, like a mirror image.
  • Row your boat modification. Have each child in a pair sit apart but facing one another, each holding one end of a jump rope. Do the activity as usual; sanitize jump rope handles afterward.
  • Co-create classroom norms with the children. Support children in thinking about norms that will encourage social distancing and keep everyone safe.

Activities that teach the concept of social distancing

Place a line of dominoes / small blocks close together. Take one domino and have it “sneeze”, knocking into the line of dominoes – this shows how germs can spread easily from person to person in close proximity. Repeat the activity with another line of dominoes, with a few close together, but the rest spaced apart – this shows how social distancing can limit the spread of disease.

  • Magnet activity

Demonstration: Put a dab of paint (“germs”) on one end of a magnet. Move it toward the oppositely charged end of another magnet with the painted end, so it sticks. Show how the paint transferred to the new magnet. Repeat the demonstration using ends of magnets with the same charge, so they repel each other. Show that the paint (“germs”) do not transfer.

Activity: Group children into pairs; have them stand facing each other about 6 feet apart. Challenge each pair to pretend they’re magnets with the same charge (as in the second demonstration). Have one child be the “leader”; as they step forward, the other child will step back to maintain the original distance. The leader can vary the direction and speed of the steps, but the goal is to have the pair work together to remain 3-6 feet apart. Repeat with the other child being the “leader”.

  • How much is six feet?

Provide each child with a piece of string or line of tape that is six feet long. Each child will measure out the six-foot distance using different materials (foam blocks, links, cardboard blocks, or even arms, legs, etc.).
Children can report back how many items they used to make six feet. That reference can be used when reminding children of social distancing, “Remember to stand 14 cardboard blocks away from your neighbor.”