'Great tool’ to teach kids about the virus

By Latoya Newman Time of article published Mar 27, 2020

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LIFESTYLE - HELLO! I am a virus, cousins with the Flu and the Common Cold My name is Coronavirus.

This e-book title grabbed my attention last week.

It was highlighted in a newsletter that I subscribe to, which urged parents to talk to their children about the coronavirus disease 2019 and encouraged the use of this free-to-download-tool as a means to do so.

Having struggled with trying to help my 4-year-old control her fear around Covid-19, I found this avenue appealing with its bright colours, child-friendly interactive illustrations and easy language.

In his newsletter, Adrian Marnewick, the chief executive and co-founder of Learning Lab Apps, encouraged parents to speak to their children, be the adult, don’t panic and don’t make children worry.

The book is authored and illustrated by Manuela Molina and made available as a free PDF e-book that can be printed and used to help children understand the situation and learn what they should and should not do.

It does this through an introduction of Covid-19 as a cousin of known viruses.

Then, through a simple, yet effective storyline, it takes the child through what Covid-19 is, its effects, and how to protect yourself.

On her website, Molina said she created the short book to support and reassure children, under the age of 7, regarding Covid-19, and as an invitation for families to discuss the full range of emotions arising from the current situation.

What the experts say

The POST sent the link for the book to UKZN’s Covid-19 team for their thoughts and advice.

Dr Lilishia Gounder, a clinical virologist at the Department of Virology at the Inkosi Albert Luthuli Central Hospital and School of Laboratory Medicine and Medical Sciences at UKZN, said the book was a great tool for educating young children.

“It is simple and gives essential facts about Covid-19 and prevention of Covid-19 through hand hygiene. It is also reassuring for children and helps to de-stigmatise the disease.

“In addition to this, it is therapeutic for children who are currently in self-quarantine.

“I like the way it encourages children to explore and express their feelings about Covid-19.

“We can evaluate the child’s reaction to Covid-19 through his or her interaction with the book.

“If the child draws a picture which implies fear or distress, we can respond positively and alleviate the child’s fears.

“Essentially, the book is a starting point for encouraging conversation with children around Covid-19.”

Gounder said Covid-19, the flu, and the common cold belonged to the group of RNA viruses, so calling the viruses cousins was not untrue.

May need a tweak, but still useful

Nisha Nadesanreddy, a public health medicine specialist at UKZN, thought the book was a good start for pre-primary schoolchildren.

“The friendly drawing and bright orange colour help make the virus less monster-like. I especially liked the page with the faces, where the child is asked to describe his or her emotion and then draw it.

“This creates a good opportunity for conversations with the kids and to gauge an understanding of how they view what is happening around them.”

However, pointing out a page where the book said the virus loved to travel the world and was seen travelling in an aeroplane, Nadesanreddy said their team might want to revise this.

“It does like to travel, and originally, came with people on a plane, but I have some reservations with that association. It doesn’t mention droplets that fly out when we sneeze and/or cough.

“In terms of washing the hands, I think it should be singing ‘happy birthday’ twice.

“The time for hand sanitisers is 20seconds - (these are) great counting lessons.

“I would add two more preventive measures for children - the coughing and sneezing into the elbow and not touching the eyes, nose and mouth.”

She said she had read commentary from a professor from the Harvard T Chan School of Public Health, which suggested the following when talking to children about Covid-19:

We need to provide factual information using words that children in the various age groups can understand and relate to. No need to sugar-coat the information.

We need to listen to how our children feel. With teenagers, it is suggested that their parents watch the news with them and encourage them to watch TED-Ed content on pandemics. Parents need to clarify any misconceptions.

We need to understand that children’s biggest concern is more likely to be things that directly affect them.

We need to use this as a teachable moment - science is cool and scientists are heroes, collective action will help us in this pandemic - we are dependent on each other, simple hygiene behaviours have the potential to save lives.

Kid-friendly and actually helps

Marnewick said he received a link to the book via one of their customers.

“We’re using this book personally in my family with my 5-year-old nephew and 3-year-old niece. It has helped them understand that Covid-19 is something that most people recover from, and helped them learn healthy best practices in order to avoid contracting the virus. It’s all explained perfectly at their level with basic illustrations to help them visualise.”

He continued: “As adults, we must never forget that young children are often listening to what we’re saying, even if we’re not talking to them directly, and they understand more than what we give them credit for.

He said his own experience with the wrong information that his 16-year-old was accessing online and on social media, prompted his Covid-19 response newsletter.

“Covid-19 pandemic is a pandemic, a crisis which landed upon us very quickly in the midst of a school term where parents have been hard at work helping their children prepare for the term one school tests, while trying to balance the many other responsibilities of adult life.

“In the midst of frantically trying to prepare my family for what we would have called a plague if this was the early 1900s, I realised I had not given any thought whatsoever to communicate with my 16-year-old son about Covid-19.

“I assumed he was fully aware of the situation from teachers and from what he heard my wife and I speak about.

“Then I remembered that he does not read the mainstream media as I do. He’s 16.

“He is getting his daily news from YouTube, social media and friends, none of which can be considered credible sources.

“It is essential that parents take the time to sit down with their older children to explain the situation, answer their questions, allay their fears and point them in the right direction for finding verified news.”

The Covibook is available to download for free via  https://www.mindheart.co/descargables

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