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Parents are understandably nervous about sending their children back to school this September, but doctors say they can make their kids – and themselves – feel better by doing two simple things: Filling their kids’ backpacks with items that minimize the risk of COVID infection and making the process of choosing these products as fun (and stress-free) as possible.

“Uncertain times can lead to a lot of anxiety, but in our household, we are approaching the new school year like a game of Survivor – we call it School COVID-style,” says Natasha Salt, direction of infection prevention and control at Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre in Toronto.

Salt has two young children heading back to the classroom in Grades 1 and 4. She made sure her kids were involved every step of the way in picking out the usual school supplies as well as protective gear such as masks, which they customized to each of her kids’ tastes. “Think ahead to what school supplies they need so they don’t have to share anything. Make sure they have a reusable water bottle to get them through the day. Buy waterproof labels suitable for the dishwasher and washing machine (for clothing and food containers). And let them choose their own masks so they’re proud to wear them,” Salt says. “My five-year-old son has one with sharks because that’s his hockey team. It’s all about making the transition [back to school] as smooth – and unintimidating – as possible.”

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Dr. Laura Sauvé, a pediatric infectious diseases specialist with BC Children’s Hospital in Vancouver, agrees that preparedness – in a kid-friendly way – is key. “I have two children, one in Grade 4 and the other in Grade 12. They’re a bit nervous, but also excited to see their friends and teachers. I support them going back to the classroom because it’s the right thing for their social well-being and mental health,” she says. “That said, we know getting in a car is not risk-free. We use a seat belt. We use a car seat. We don’t drive impaired. We have to apply that same mindset [to pandemic-era schooling].”

She shares these tips. Buy foul-weather gear and sun hats, because kids are going to be outside more than normal during the school day. Make sure they have shoes and pants that can be done up without assistance. And send a reusable bag or container for them to store their masks in when they’re not being used, such asduring lunch hour, to keep them clean.

“Our job as parents is to help our kids realize it’s a scary situation for a lot of people, including them,” Sauvé says. “And it’s disruptive for absolutely everybody. Each family will approach these challenges in a different way. However, approaching this very different school year with kindness and respect for everyone should go a long way.”

The countdown is on for a return to classrooms. Here’s how to get your kids back into routines

Kids from kindergarten to high school share how they feel about their return to school

Backpack essentials

For younger children


Split name label pack, $21 (48 labels a name) through


Toddler jersey-lined raincoat, $42 at Gap.

For older children


MEC Process book bag, $24.93 at Mountain Equipment Co-op.


Herschel Supply Co. Anchor 13-inch laptop sleeve, $44.99 at Best Buy.

For all ages


Ecological hand sanitizer with conditioning aloe, 30 ml, 99 cents at Staples.


Ellie Mae cotton face mask, $25 through


Stasher reusable snack bag, $11.95 at Mountain Equipment Co-op.


Starbucks reusable cold cups with straw and lid, $23.50 (five a package) at Starbucks.


HoMedics UV-Clean portable sanitizer bag, $119.99 at Best Buy.

Globe health columnist André Picard and senior editor Nicole MacIntyre discuss the many issues surrounding sending kids back to school. André says moving forward isn't about there being no COVID-19 cases, but limiting their number and severity through distancing, smaller classes, masks and good hygiene.

The Globe and Mail

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