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Back-to-School Disinfecting Guide: How to Keep Your Kids Safe and Healthy

Last Updated: August 4, 2022

Back to school is still a little different for all of us. As most children start attending on-site at schools once again, you'll want to explore new routines to make sure your kids are staying germ-free and healthy.

School districts across the country are preparing to reopen this fall for in-person learning and we’re all getting ready. While you can’t block every potential exposure to viruses, like common colds (remember those?) or COVID-19, you can reduce the chances of a virus being carried back into your household.

With back-to-school season coming around the corner, we’ve pulled together some helpful tips from The Centers for Disease and Control’s checklists to get you ready for this school year. Want more info? Women's Voices for the Earth has put together a toolkit for talking to your child's school about safer disinfectants.

Read on for some tips and tricks to keep your child safe and healthy as they return back to school.

Prepping your child for a return to in-person school

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Back to school is primed to be a challenging time for your child (and you!), but you can help make it feel a little more routine with repetition. Depending on your child’s age and potential discomfort around the new school rules, “playing school” a few times can help normalize certain behaviors before they go back.

Here are a few scenarios to run through with your child so they know how to keep themselves safe from unneccessary germs and illnesses.

Mask practice

The CDC is suggesting children continue to wear masks at school for the 2022–2023 school year, so work with your child to practice wearing a mask as well as practicing putting on and taking off a mask without touching the cloth. Plan where to place it during snack or lunch, such as a labeled resealable container or disposable paper bag. Discuss why wearing a cloth face covering protects other people from getting sick.

Meal time

Serve a snack or lunch where they have to wash or sanitize their hands, remove their mask, and place it somewhere safe and clean. Consider asking the following questions: “How can we take off our masks without touching the fabric?” “Where can we put our mask somewhere safe?”

Remind your child not to share food with friends, even if that's been a fun part of lunch or snack time at school in the past. Explain that each child should only eat the food they've brought or received from the school.

Rule following

Explore how your child might see someone without a face covering, so your child is prepared if they witness someone “breaking the rule.” Explain what they might do in the following situations: “Your friend wants to hug you. What can you nicely say to help keep germs away?” “If your mask feels itchy or uncomfortable, what can you do?”

Other role play

Try working through different scenarios: “You’re so excited to see your friend! How can you say hi or show how happy you are without touching?”

Pretend it’s after school and they’re coming into the house with their backpack, art projects, jacket, etc. “Can you show me where we put our things?” “How do we wash our hands?”

Grove Tip

Consider a flu shot

Get your child up to date on all recommended vaccines. Current advice includes all school-aged children getting this year’s influenza (flu) vaccine to keep them safe from all preventable illnesses for their age group.

Back-to-school cleaning routine

mom and child at kitchen island prepping food and putting away silverware

Before school cleaning tips

The best defense, as they say, is a good offense. First, check your child for signs of illness, including cold or flu symptoms, ranging from cough to runny nose to fever to gastrointestinal issues including nausea and/or vomiting. If your child exhibits symptoms, contact your pediatrician for guidance.

If your child is healthy, gear up your kiddo each day for sanitary success by bringing dedicated items to school:

  • A dedicated (not to be shared), labeled, reusable water bottle
  • An extra face covering (or two) with their name written inside
  • A lanyard or container like a disposable paper lunch bag in which they can safely place their mask during snack or other meals
  • Hand wipes, hand spray, or hand sanitizer containing at least 60% alcohol for disinfection, depending on your child’s age. Be sure to check with the FDA recalled products list to ensure your sanitizer does not contain toxic methanol.

Grove Tip

Remind kids about the best ways to wash hands

It might seem like overkill to go over proper hand washing techniques again (at least 20 seconds with hand soap, covering all parts of the hand up to the wrist and in between fingers), but it's important for kids to know how to do this on their own when they are at school.

Emphasize hand washing before and after eating, after touching items in public spaces, and before and after adjusting their face covering. Remind them that using hand sanitizer is okay in these situations if they don't have access to soap and a sink.

Buy a bright hand soap dispenser to make practicing hand washing more fun at home!

Hand soap vs. hand sanitizer: Which is better? Read our breakdown on how effective each one is at killing germs.

blonde mom and child doing watercolor painting at dining table

Tips for staying safe during school

Make sure to talk to your child about how things may be different this year to keep germs at bay, even though it seems like the pandemic is over. Help them understand what to expect as they go back to in-person school and how to keep themselves clean and healthy during the school day.

  • Classrooms might look and feel different, with desks spaced apart and changes to things like free play, circle time, and sharing. This is so germs can't jump from one person to another very easily.
  • Teachers may act differently, like standing further away, not giving high fives, etc. This is so students and teachers don't share any germs they don't know they have.
  • Activities may be different, like where lunch is eaten and what games are allowed at recess. This is because lunch is when masks are off so schools may not want as many students eating at the same time.
  • Friendships might include new rules, like reminders for everyone to keep their hands and bodies to themselves. Remind your kids to sanitize their hands (and their friends' hands — that's one thing they can share) before playing with friends or touching. You can also practice the elbow bump.

Grove Tip

Watch for behavioral changes

School rules and routines may trigger some behavioral changes in your child. Keep an eye out for more crying or irritation than usual, excessive worry or sadness, changes in their eating or sleeping, and difficulty concentrating.

These can be signs of stress and anxiety and may warrant a call to your pediatrician.

mom and daughter washing their hands at kitchen sink while daughter holds roll of paper towels

After school cleaning tips

In addition to arming your kiddo with ways to stay safer, you’ll want to implement additional cleaning and disinfecting plans and supplies for your home, especially for when kids get home from school.

Some after school cleaning suggestions include:

  • Removing shoes at designated area before going too far into the house — shoe soles can have up to 421,000 bacteria and 90 percent of those bacteria can transfer directly to a clean tile floor on first contact. Yuck!
  • Hanging up jackets in designated area or place into the washer if dirty or stained — don't throw them on the floor in case any bacteria or germs transfer to your floor as well.
  • Hanging up backpacks and wiping them down with disinfectant wipes or spraying them with disinfectant spray. Then let them air dry. Most backpacks sit on the floors of school which, once again, can harbor bacteria and germs.
  • Removing water bottles and any lunch items and placing them directly in the sink or dishwasher
  • Hanging up masks — Designate a drop spot for your child’s face covering so it can be washed daily/switched out with fresh coverings. Regularly inspect cloth face coverings to ensure they are not worn or damaged. Wash masks according to the material. When in doubt, hand wash in warm soapy water.
  • Washing hands before sitting down to do homework, watch TV, or have a snack.

Grove Tip

Keep high-traffic items clean

Make sure to regularly wipe down high-traffic areas, including doorknobs, light switches, TV, and game remotes — especially once your child arrives home.

Here's a cleaning and disinfecting your home to be free of viruses and germs.

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