‘My Teacher Wears a Mask’ Book Helps Toddlers, Pre-K Children Understand Masks

By Amy Widner

“My Teacher Wears a Mask” is a free online book and activity set intended to help with just that problem. It was developed in part by the researchers and child behavior experts in the Division of Research and Evaluation (RED) in the Department of Family and Preventive Medicine in the UAMS College of Medicine.

“We’ve all seen videos of toddlers who don’t recognize their dads after they shave their beards. Well, with masks, there can be similar issues at play,” said Professor Nicola “Nikki” Edge, Ph.D. “Masks can make it hard to recognize people, difficult to recognize emotion, or just be a little scary or confusing. This book allows parents, teachers and children to explore these issues on their own level while teaching them that masks are about health and safety.”

The book shows pictures of a variety of people wearing masks and teaches concepts like:

  • Masks aren’t scary.
  • Masks are for safety.
  • You can tell the teacher is smiling by looking at her eyes.
  • It’s not OK to pull down the teacher’s mask.

The book includes a cutout mask that children can color and play with, seeing how it changes their appearance in the mirror or putting it on their toys and stuffed animals. It suggests additional activities and mask-normalizing rituals for parents and teachers to try.

All of these suggestions come from evidence-based best practices for how young children learn and process information.

“Play, books and opportunities to practice new routines are all great ways to help toddlers and preschoolers learn and process new information,” Edge said. “When a trusted adult calmly and repeatedly introduces key concepts and kids are given time and space to explore the new concepts, it helps them adjust to new ideas.”

RED developed “My Teacher Wears a Mask” with the help of Edge, Kim Whitman and Mark Currey from UAMS, along with Melissa Sutton and Leslie Corbell from Arkansas State University Childhood Services, and staff from Arkansas Building Effective Services for Trauma (ARBEST), which is part of the Psychiatric Research Institute at UAMS.

“We work with community partners across the state in all types of early childcare facilities, and this was something they asked for as teachers, parents and children prepare to go back to childcare,” Edge said. “One of the things we know is that parents’ feelings are contagious. So if parents are anxious, it will be contagious for the kids, but if the parents are really supportive of the concepts and supportive of the teacher, and then the teacher reinforces those same concepts, the kids will be more at ease.”

“My Teacher Wears a Mask” is part of RED’s overall mission to design and study interventions for early care and educational programs designed to support children’s social and emotional development and to manage challenging behaviors in productive ways. Other RED projects focus on healthy eating, effective parenting, effective pre-K education, emotional well-being, fetal alcohol syndrome, screening for adverse childhood experiences (ACES) and more.