How to Introduce Face Masks at Childcare Centers During COVID-19

As more childcare centers are opening up during the COVID-19 crisis, face masks are becoming part of the “new normal” as a way to keep each other safe. 

The CDC recommends wearing cloth face coverings “in public settings where other social distancing measures are difficult to maintain…especially in areas of significant community-based transmission.” Despite our best efforts to social distance in childcare settings, these efforts are definitely challenging for early childcare educators. 

In this article, we’ll go over why ECEs are wearing masks and the best ways to introduce them into an early childhood setting.

Why Wear Masks in the First Place?

Wearing a cloth face covering helps to slow the spread of coronavirus, particularly from those who are asymptomatic (don’t show any symptoms). A mask helps to catch germs from speaking, coughing and sneezing when in close proximity to other people before they can get to the other person. Although this does not catch 100% of the germs, it does a great job of reducing the chances of them being transmitted.

Face Mask Age Requirements

Before implementing a face mask policy, it is important to note that the CDC warns that face coverings should not be placed on:

  • Children under age 2.
  • Anyone who has trouble breathing.
  • Anyone who is unconscious, incapacitated or otherwise unable to remove the mask without assistance.

In other words, newborns, infants and toddlers should definitely not be wearing masks, and they should only be considered for older children if they are able to remove them themselves.

How Do Early Childhood Educators Feel About Masks?

While it is easy to understand the benefits of wearing masks as a precaution, the reception within the ECE community has been mixed. 

Some are accepting that face masks are simply a part of life now:

Some are have a hard time believing that masks will work from a practical standpoint:

And others have been enjoying their masks perhaps a bit too much:

Whatever your thoughts may be on face masks, if they are being used at your center, it is important to do so in a safe way that is most beneficial to your staff and children.

Ways to Make Masks Less Scary

face masks can be very unsettling at first to a young child. Children thrive when they feel loved, supported and safe, and seeing their teacher’s face covered can make them feel anxious and scared. That’s why it’s so important to carefully introduce masks in a positive way that they can understand.

Below are some inspiring techniques we’ve seen from the early childhood community!

Explain Why You’re Wearing a Mask

This may seem like an obvious step, but take the time to make sure the children understand why you’re wearing your mask — they might not know or remember why they’re needed. Here’s a great example of a teacher who recorded a song explaining why she’s wearing a mask, and that even gives her superpowers! 

Play a Guessing Game

In our Managing Mental Health During COVID-19 webinar, Elisabeth shared in the chat how she made a video guessing game for the children to watch and try to guess which teacher was behind which mask:

I made a video about face masks that started with a social story explaining WHY we need to wear masks. Then I collected pictures off all of my co-workers wearing a face mask. I added the photos to the video and did a voice over to make it a game — “Can you guess who this is? That’s right! It’s Ms. _____!” — then I added in clips of myself sewing a face mask so the children could see the process of a swatch of fabric becoming a mask. My parents gave great feedback about the children becoming less frightened/concerned about masks!

This is a great way to get the kids comfortable with masks before they return to their class so they are more comfortable right from the start. Alternatively, you could play this game in-person, just be extra careful when touching your masks because that can be dangerous for transferring anything that might be on your hands onto your face.

Make Buttons

The staff at SickKids hospital in Toronto created this button mobile, where they create a button with each staff member’s face on it for them to wear so they know who is underneath each mask. This is a great way for young children to remember who is behind a mask and see their face while everyone remains protected.

Choose a Fun Design

Non-medical face masks are essentially just fabric sewed in a certain way, so why not get creative? There are so many fun designs to choose from on Etsy or other online stores that feature kid-friendly characters, patterns, objects and more!

A small sample of animal-themed face masks available on Etsy.

Take a look around online and feel free to personalize your mask with something that’s meaningful to you and the children in your class!

Wear Special T-Shirts

We recently came across this “welcome back” shirt that one director’s staff are wearing to help give face masks a fun life of their own:

Although face masks are not ideal, for many centers they are an important precaution to help keep everyone safe to control the spread of COVID-19. Is your center using face masks? What techniques have you found to be effective? Let us know in the comments!

Download our COVID-19 kit and run your center with confidence during the new normal!

covid-19 guide download

Michael Keshen

Michael writes for HiMama's early childhood education blog and ECE Weekly newsletter. When not developing content for early childhood professionals, he can usually be found out and about with his wife and daughter exploring all that Toronto has to offer, or playing music with his karaoke band.


  • Wijdan says:

    I am daycare teacher working in infant room
    There is any recommendation regarding infants program when we reopen also we have 10 infants in our room
    Thank you
    Wijdan Madhlom
    Plan’s rd. child care centre

    • Michael Keshen says:

      Hi Wijdan, according to CDC guidelines, infants are too young to wear face masks, so if you would like to use them then it is best just for your staff to wear them and keep the infants at least 6 feet apart from one another.

    • Teri says:

      I too work with infants. I believe facial expressions so important to an infants intellectual and emotional development. I read they are developing clear masks but I’m not ready to cover my fave in plastic yet. I am going to try to find a tightly woven, sheer fabric that when doubled is still transparent enough to see my smile. Wish me luck! ❤️

      • Kirsten Webb says:

        Did you find any material that would work? I would love to make some like that for the infant room teachers.

  • Carla Pedrotty says:

    I love that t shirt! A great way to introduce masks and make them fun. I have not closed my in home center and this t-shirt is a wonderful way to encourage masks now that they are encouraged. Are they for sale? If so where can one purchase it?


  • William Beaird says:

    Reference HIMAMA

    • Michael Keshen says:

      Carla, our community member who posted the picture of the shirt has confirmed that the shirts can be ordered from William and that they can be shipped anywhere in the United States.

      • MRS. CHERIE says:

        Yaaay! Very cool idea! It saddens me to think that ECE’s are not “essential”, even now to some degree.
        I want this t-shirt for myself to wear in and out of the classroom!

  • Derly says:

    In the daycare center where I work Im really the only one wearing a mask or I see people wearing it in their chin sometimes…what is that gonna help?? And now they want all the staff to come back even when there is not many kids…what should I do? I mean they said that mask are not required if we are y ft but nobody is even keeping their distance?

  • Sharon says:

    Can you help us with suggestions on how to establish I individual play spaces? we are hoping to be outdoors all day when we can. But we want to organize some outdoor classroom and separate play spaces for our smaller groups.

  • Nancy Paki says:

    Does anyone have the text of a letter to give both to parents and staff as a liability shield that preschool will not be liable if anyone gets sick etc etc
    How can directors protect themselves against any law suits as we reopen our schools

  • Kevin says:

    Most children in a daycare / preschool / childcare attend for 8-9 hours while their parents are at work. #1 it is not safe for a 3 or 4 year old to have their breathing restricted for that many hours! Adults are recommended to not exceed 4-5 hours wearing a mask.

    The hazards of choking, strangulation, suffocation and toxic carbon dioxide is very real and scary! You cant even keep shoes or clothes on a toddler for very long.

    The mental impact, losing the visual of speech and communication, a smile is another huge factor!

    I understand putting a mask on going to the doctors office, to the store. But your childcare center where children spend 40+ hours a week is an extension of their home.

    So trying to mandate something that could kill children is asinine!!! As an adult, after 30 minutes i want my mask off!!

    How do we get lawmakers to not put a blanket policy out there that is impossible to abide by, and cause more harm that good?

  • Jen says:

    I feel it is important to wear face mask in the childcare setting and it is my understanding the CDC recommends teachers wear masks. My problem is I’m literally the only teacher in the building wearing one. It’s your choice. The children seem a bit scared and quite frankly I feel uncomfortable being the only one wearing one. Any helpful advice would be appreciated.

  • SHAWN says:

    I work with infants 6months-1 yr , it’s impossible to keep them 6 ft apart!!!
    They crawl & beginning to pull up and walk so they are all over the room with each other. I tried wearing a mask and several have Stranger Danger at this age, so they were crying even when I talked to them telling them it was me, and when I pulled the Mack down they were like ok it’s our teacher but as soon as I pulled the mask up, they began to cry and pull away.
    What do you suggest?

  • Bridget says:

    We care for some children for up to 10 hours. They don’t want to come. One mother was in tears because she has to work and her child who loved daycare now hates it. He says things like- I just want to be at home forever. How is that healthy? If we loose our humanity in all of this noone comes out of it ok. The kids are stressed because they don’t understand any of this no matter how many t-shirts we wear, conversations we have, or teddy bears we put a mask on. All they know is the mask is a constant reminder of a world that doesn’t feel safe. I understand that going out in public we should wear a mask but our daycare is their 2nd home. These children and their families are my family.

  • Wren says:

    I have a home daycare and all of my children wear masks. This protects them and my family from getting the virus. I have not had any issues with my group ages 2 and up. I have centers so they can place alone inside and out It’s not always easy to social distance but I’m trying. I think we need more information on rate of virus spread in the daycares. We don’t have that and I think we should it keeps us in the dark.

  • Linda Jackson says:

    We actually found that most of our children had been wearing masks all summer so they were very used to them already when school started. We didn’t have any who resisted wearing a mask when asked to or any who were afraid of us when we were wearing them. I did see an idea during the summer that we approach the car during drop off without the mask, but put it on aswe were walking so they knew who it was coming to get them but even that was not needed after the first day or two.