WATERLOO -- As Ontario works on a back-to-school plan amid the COVID-19 pandemic, one University of Waterloo expert says young children will be able to maintain some degree of physical distancing.

In a question-and-answer published to the university’s website on Thursday, psychology Prof. Heather Henderson states that kids as young as three or four years old can understand the rules at a basic level.

According to the developmental psychology expert, parents and teachers can use simple explanations like making sure germs don’t get passed around as a way to get the message across.

By the age of five or six, however, the kids are likely to have a few more questions.

“Children need to know they are safe and adults should do their best to explain that everyone in their family and school are working hard to maintain social distancing so we can keep each other safe,” Henderson is quoted in the Q and A.

When it comes to keeping kids safe and spaced out in a classroom or preschool setting, the professor has a few tips:

  • Physical reminders, like circles on the floor showing each child’s spot to sit
  • Routine that builds in physical distancing (i.e. standing in line with one arm in front and one arm behind to maintain close to two metres in space)
  • Doing individual activities in parallel with other children while spaced apart, like colouring

Henderson says that, while isolation is difficult for children and adults, she doesn’t think physical distancing will create a general risk of mental health.

“I think it’s really important to have honest conversations with our children about how hard this feels, but to explain that we are doing this now to make sure we all stay safe,” she’s quoted.

“Children should be given a chance to talk about what they find difficult about distancing.”

Henderson also recommends parents and teachers allow to children to create closeness, like writing letters to friends about what they will do once the pandemic is over.