Libraries are always working to find ways to meet our customers’ needs, especially during times of crisis. Nearly 18 months into the pandemic, we continue to face the unique challenges brought on by COVID-19. One of those challenges is mask-wearing.
Masking presents unique challenges to connecting with young learners. It can impact their social-emotional development due to lack of facial expressions and muffled speech, which makes it harder to recognize sounds and could inhibit their phonological awareness.
Luckily, we have learned a few things since the start of the pandemic. Below are some handy tips to help you better engage with small children and their caregivers while wearing a mask.
Embrace that mask
Don’t bother trying to pretend it’s not there. Embrace the mask! A mask with a big smile on it or some colorful dinosaurs will go a long way toward making you seem more friendly and less intimidating. A clear mask is a great option that provides protection but also allows visible facial expressions.
Give out cute masks to the kids. They will think it’s fun to be like the librarian! You can also put a mask on your library mascot, a favorite puppet, or a stuffed animal. Every time the kids see a mask, it becomes more familiar and less scary.
Masks do make it harder to hear your voice. You will need to speak louder, enunciate clearly, and project much more than you would without a mask.
If you have a sound system, use it! Check your microphone in advance to determine if adjustments need to be made. You may need to move the microphone away from your face so it doesn’t hit the cloth of the mask, or turn up the volume if your voice is muffled.
Another option is to use recorded music instead of relying on your voice. It will be easier for the kids to hear and follow along.
Communicate with more than your voice
Use your eyes dramatically. Eye contact is more important than ever when your mouth is covered. Smiling eyes will make a strong connection.
Use visual cues such as whiteboards, posters, flip charts and props. You will draw attention to the item you are holding and away from yourself as the main focal point.
Use gestures to get your points across: point to the pictures, act out the stretch of the bear in stories. These are standard story time techniques that will be even more important in a masked program. This approach will also be helpful for families who speak other languages and who might have extra challenges understanding your words behind a mask.
Simple stories are best
Now is not the time to tell long, involved stories. Choose books and rhymes that are shorter and catchier so kids can stay engaged even if they cannot hear all of the words.
Masks are a temporary solution to a worldwide problem, but the physical barrier can be overcome with some creativity and flexibility. Programming librarians can continue to enjoy sharing their enthusiasm for story time and keep their strong connections with their communities, even while wearing a mask!