Sing while you scrub and hopscotch outdoors: How to prevent the spread of COVID-19 in childcare settings

By Emma McVeigh, Alanna Beebe, and Ellen Flamiatos

With the closure of schools, child care is even more important to parents and to our communities than ever. Child care plays an essential role for parents who don’t have work flexibility, including those who work in healthcare, critical infrastructure, grocery stores, pharmacies, and other services we all need. 

Girl plays hopscotch.

Since school closures were announced on  March 12, Public Health – Seattle & King County released guidance on reducing the spread of COVID-19 for childcare centers and gatherings of children while schools are closed. This guidance includes social distancing, described as keeping at least 6 feet away from others, and excellent personal hygiene habits, such as washing hands repeatedly, and avoiding touching one’s face, eyes, and mouth.

We also know that these practices may not be realistic when working with young children. As adults, we have to get creative. Here are some ways that childcare centers and people caring for children at home can stay safe and healthy during this outbreak.

First things first: If you are a caretaker or childcare worker, stay home if you are sick. If you own an in-home family childcare and you or staff are sick, you may need to close your business.  If you are a childcare worker and are in a high-risk category, avoid large gatherings and groups of children. Higher risk individuals include people:

  • Over 60 years of age
  • With underlying health conditions including include heart disease, lung disease, or diabetes
  • With weakened immune systems (conditions like cancer can weaken the immune system)
  • Who are pregnant

Also, do not allow sick children to attend. They should stay home.

Below are some changes childcare centers can make to their daily operations to reduce the spread of COVID-19. You can also refer to our Implications for Childcare Centers page for more information and resources.


Spreading kids out will help reduce the risk of spreading COVID-19. Utilize the space youBoy washes paint off of hands. have, including lunch space, and indoor and outdoor play space. Think about ways you can:

  • Incorporate more individual work into the classroom such as art, math, and puzzles.
  • Spread kids out in your different areas (even outdoors!) while still keeping to the required ratio of childcare provider to children. 
  • Stagger, or alternate, lunchtime and outdoor playtime to help limit the number of children in each classroom.

Types of Play

Outdoor play is less risky than indoor play since COVID-19 spreads more easily when people are in small, closed-in spaces. Plus, it’s important for kids to get active outside time every day. Research shows that daily time for kids outdoors also boosts the health and wellbeing of the adults in their lives.

  • Try increasing the amount of time spent outside.
  • Get creative on adapting projects kids normally do in the classroom to an outdoor setting. For example, try doing circle time outside in order to increase distance between each child.
  • With kids over two, invite them to play games that do NOT include touching. This is also a great opportunity to teach executive function skills!
  • Think about slightly modifying popular games you already know, such as Red Light, Green Light (change to have kids running past each other instead of touching), hide and seek, finger’s out, stretch, hopscotch, freeze games with music, or Simon Says. These games also help children learn self-control skills, which can be done indoors or out.


  • Handwashing is the best method to reduce the spread of germs. Hand sanitizer is only used when handwashing is not available, and not for use on children under 2 years of age.
  • Make sure to repeatedly clean and disinfect any shared toys, sporting equipment, and high-touch areas and objects like door handles, tables, and light switches. Use this guide for cleaning, sanitizing, and disinfecting.
  • Add extra handwashing for teachers and kids to the daily schedule.
  • If currently practicing family-style meals, stop doing so. Children should not be allowed to serve their own food or snacks during this outbreak.
  • Consider limiting or discontinuing tooth brushing activities.
  • Consider having staff change into different clothes between work and home to reduce the opportunity of germs to move between places. 

Handwashing – make it fun!

We all need to practice better handwashing (at least 20 seconds) to help prevent the spread of COVID-19. So, how can we get kids to jump on board too? Make it fun!Two children wash their hands at a sink while smiling.

  • Make up a silly song or use songs to practice the ABC’s, or counting (count by 10’s, 100’s, etc). Here’s a fun song that reminds kids of all the places they need to scrub.
  • Turn it into a science experiment! Have kids wash their hands and look under a black light to see if they washed all the germs away. Use products like GloGerm that show up under UV light.
  • Put a drop of washable paint or a stamp on the back of each child’s hand before they wash their hands. This increases the time they are scrubbing and makes it fun too!
  • Make handwashing art! Use SoaPens to draw on kids’ hands and then wash off. SoaPens are safe for kids, won’t stain clothes, and are mess-free!


Normal standards require nap mats to be at least 18 inches apart. If there is space, try to increase the distance between nap mats to six feet, if possible. If spacing is tight, remember to place children head-to-toe, or toe-to-toe.


Babies need to be held, and adults love to hold them! Some tips to keep in mind when holding infants:  

  • Use a blanket or cloth over your clothing, changing it out between holding infants and toddlers. 
  • All staff are encouraged to change out of their workday clothes before leaving for the day.
  • Try to avoid getting close to babies’ faces when possible.  
  • Place non-mobile infants on individual blankets rather than on one large blanket.

If you are providing informal childcare at home 

Helpful links

Originally posted 3/16/20