Communication: The Best Strategy to Head Back to Daycare with (almost) no Tears

ZPN0013 fwds First Words logo redesign v06Preparing for the new “post-pandemic” return will be a challenge for all of us, kids and grownups included.  Imagine for a second the additional challenge it poses for a preschool child learning English as a second language or presenting with a speech and language delay. Help preschoolers better understand the new routine, respect the physical distancing measures and, facilitate this transition by adopting key communication strategies:


Communicate with families beforehand to involve them. Inform parents of the changes in routine and the measures used in the daycare setting (physical distancing, hygiene, etc.) to better prepare the children at home in anticipation of their return.

  • Ask parents to talk with the children at home about the changes to the routine. The use of masks and physical distancing markings should be part of the discussion and role-playing at home.
  • Encourage parents to use visual tools such as a calendar and photos of the daycare staff (with and without a mask) to better prepare their child for heading back to daycare.
  • Ask families to “practice the daycare routine” (get up earlier, get dressed, wear a backpack, get in the car, etc.) while highlighting the new health guidelines (look for physical distance markers, no hugs among friends).



Whether they have a language delay or not, use a simple and plain language when talking to preschoolers about the new daycare routines or measures. To explain new procedures (e.g., sharing a toy), physical distancing at daycare (e.g., no hugs allowed), and proper hygiene measure (e.g., use of sanitizers, hand-washing), adopt these strategies:

  • Say less. Use simple words in short sentences
  • Emphasize key words in a sentence.
  • Slow down when you talk to children.
  • Repeat the same message often. Repeat and add a gesture or visual. Repeat in simpler sentences to help a child better understand a message.



The adage “a picture is worth a 1000 words” says it all. The use of visual aids helps all children better understand and manage new information (like post-pandemic routines) independently of their age and language skills.  In short: Put it into pictures.

  • Use visual calendars to help children better understand the new daycare routine.
  • Clearly illustrate each of the daily activities to help children better understand, orient themselves, and adopt a new routine.
  • Add a card with a “red X ” into the mix to signal any routine change (e.g., no outside play outside because it is pouring rain).
  • Set up clear physical distancing pods or markings in the daycare: in the yard, in the entrance, in the hallway, in your room, at the bathroom, at circle time. Use bright colored paint or tape on the floor to identify those areas. Use hula-hoops or plastic-covered cushions from time to time to change it up.
  • Want to show proper handwashing to children? Put it into pictures by the sink (photograph of the sequence). Show the steps of any important routine with a series of pictures or photographs.


4 – Role play physical distancing to children

Physical distancing (6 feet apart) can be explained to young children in easy and fun ways. Role-play games help explain and show an abstract concept, such as physical distancing, in a clear yet fun way.  In speech and language therapy, role-playing is often used as a tool to practice expected social behaviors such as “Listen with your whole body”, “Keep your hands to yourself” or “Keep your distance”.

  • Play games targeting physical distancing. Reinvent the “musical chair game”. When the music stops, the child puts himself “out of danger” when standing in the distancing pod. Establish rules of conduct to prevent physical contact.
  • Role-play expected behaviors in funny skits with other adults. Then, include the children in the role-play to encourage interaction, learning, and fun.
  • Coin a few sentences in these role-playing games for later use with or by children. Sentences like “Too close for comfort “or “Step back Mac”, when repeated often, can be quickly adopted.
  • #Made in China: in the first few weeks of daycare, adopt the practice of wearing wings to allow children to play safely. This original idea is currently used by schoolchildren in China. It is hoped that wearing wings will remind children to keep their distance. Make it part of the first week of daycare and programming.

Opt for smaller groups of children at daycare.

In the initial phase of heading back to daycare, aim for smaller groups to promote better connection, attention, and learning by children. Opt for groups with a reduced number of children as this will ensure you are better equipped to adapt your language to the child.

Adopt these additional strategies:

  • Work with reduced ratios.
  • Stagger entry, arrival and pick-up times.
  • Try to have the same group of children and teachers working together everyday.
  • Stagger playground times.


by Roxane Bélanger, MOA(C), reg.CASLPO, Speech Language Pathologist
First Words, Preschool Speech and Language Program of Ottawa and Renfrew County

Recognizing speech and language problems early on is the best approach!
Check out our First Words Communication Checkup tool to know if your child is meeting communication milestones. Refer online if necessary.

For more information, visit or call Ottawa Public Health at (613) PARENTS.