While there is a fair amount of joking at the school where I teach — kids sneezing and then teasing they have coronavirus -- there is also a fair amount of research we can review together. Kids have questions and, fortunately, our community has empowered them with inquiry and a thirst for facts. Kids are kids. Their fears and anxieties manifest in ways that may seem sometimes silly. But often they’re serious.
When I asked a group to participate in a discussion with me about COVID-19, my fifth and sixth graders planned ahead. Collaborating on a document in which they shared their understandings and fears beforehand, we talked at length about what they knew. It was a lot. In the space of an hour, they articulated facts, fears, and some tips for adults as we help them cope and understand. Kids want and need to be listened to. They need to ask questions and research the answers. They want to educate others.
As adults, we may not have all the answers, but we can help kids by giving them space to ask, feel, and learn. We need to support them as we all develop new and healthier habits.
It also helps to have a giant container of hand sanitizer — which I notice kids make regular and judicious use of. We must help develop a new normal — an elbow bump instead of the high five and reminders of “hey, please don’t chew on the pencil.” Mostly, we need to be kind. We are all worried and could use compassion and information as we embark on whatever comes next.
Nancy Ironside is a teacher at Science Leadership Academy Middle School.