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Back to After-School: What Parents Need to Know to Keep Kids Safe

As after-school programs like gymnastics, piano lessons and sports ramp up again, here are tips on how to help keep your kids safe and healthy.

You may already be nervous about your kids going back to school. Now headlines are warning us about the rapid spread of the highly infectious Delta variant, which complicates the impact of COVID-19 on in-person schooling. At the same time, after-school programs like gymnastics, piano lessons and indoor sports are returning.

You and your kids are eager to participate, and you appreciate the benefits of after-school extracurricular programs. They add to social, emotional and mental health and engage children in fun, interesting activities. For many kids, the dance studio or art class is also a safe haven where they get to spend time with their friends. As important as it is to keep your kids healthy at school, you’ve also got to do your homework on safety protocols at extracurricular venues.

Health recommendations for keeping kids safe will likely continue to evolve. We asked our expert, Lisa Yakas, a consumer product safety specialist and microbiologist at NSF, for recommendations to help keep kids safe inside the classroom and also outside of school. She was quick to point out that much of her advice comes from research she’s done into the guidelines being issued by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and the American Academy of Pediatrics.

  • Get vaccinated. Parents and children 12 years and older should get a COVID-19 vaccine. A mother of two sons aged 13 and 11, Lisa signed up her 13-year-old for the first date possible. “But now our family is in the situation where my youngest doesn’t qualify for the vaccine quite yet, so I understand what families with younger kids are going through,” Lisa says. “It is especially important if you have younger children to make sure the ones who can qualify and the adults are vaccinated.”
  • Mask up. Even if a sports venue or after-school program does not require masks, parents should encourage their children to wear masks.
  • Keep a good distance. Parents should also encourage their children to stay three feet apart as much as possible. “My 11-year-old son played baseball which is great because you are outside on a playing field, but when he was in the dugout, I encouraged him to stay as far away from others as possible,” she says.
  • Ask questions. Parents have the right to ask the owner of a private facility, such as a gymnastics or karate studio, if they and their staff have been vaccinated. “Of course, they don’t have to answer you, but it doesn’t hurt to ask,” says Lisa. “Like schools, these after-school programs are responsible for the care and safety of children, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic. You shouldn’t be afraid to stand up for your children’s health. If they’re not following pandemic protocols in order to deliver a fun and safe experience for kids and you don’t feel safe and comfortable, consider sending your child somewhere else.”

As you’re getting your kids ready to go back to school, it’s the perfect chance to review proper hand washing, Scrub Club® style.

  • Take a breath (safely): Airborne transmission is a significant risk factor for infection. Every dance studio, basketball court or indoor facility should have undertaken an air handling systems evaluation by a certified professional prior to the school year. In that evaluation, recommendations for ventilation, filtration and air cleaning (like UV) and other controls would have been identified, ideally followed by implementation at the facility. “Also, parents can take advantage of the fall and the many outdoor sports that are played in the fresh air,” says Lisa.
  • Scrub up: As you’re getting kids ready to go back to school and participate in after-school activities, it’s the perfect time to review proper hand washing, Scrub Club® style. Hand washing is by far the best way to keep kids from getting sick and spreading germs.
  • Talk to your children: Ask them how they’re feeling about going to school and address their concerns without passing your anxiety on to them. Try to make it fun. For example, let your children select (or make) their own masks. Make a game out of hand sanitizing.

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