Mask Up

Fun ways of teaching preschool children to stay healthy during the pandemic, such as washing hands and wearing masks (along with superhero capes), as shown in an Edmonton, Canada preschool, are part of a recent grant received by SIU faculty member Lisabeth DiLalla. Preschools in Southern Illinois and are invited to participate in a test that looks at the effectiveness of a video message to children. (Photo provided)

September 03, 2020

Study, video aim to help preschoolers practice pandemic safety

by Christi Mathis

CARBONDALE, Ill. — Can superheroes and fun activities help in keeping preschoolers safe and healthy during the COVID-19 pandemic?

A project funded by a grant received by Southern Illinois University Carbondale faculty member Lisabeth DiLalla and a Canadian colleague will find out, with local preschoolers playing an important role in the study.

One of 10 projects chosen

A proposal by DiLalla and Clare Gibson, a Canadian video artist, was one of just 10 interdisciplinary team projects selected for funding in the #SciCommMake competition. They received $1,000 to create the “COVID-19 Spread and Healthy Behaviors for Preschoolers” video project. The competition, hosted by Sigma Xi, the Scientific Research Honor Society and Science Talk, was developed to encourage projects that help the public connect with science.

Fun with a purpose

“The purpose of this project is to present important information to preschool children about how to stay safe during this pandemic, but we are doing it in a way that should be fun – and funny – to them,” said DiLalla, a professor with appointments in SIU School of Medicine’s Department of Family and Community Medicine and SIU Carbondale’s Psychology department. “This will help them remember what to do without fear. We hope that they will take this information home to their families and in this way spread the feeling that we can behave in a safe way and still have fun.”

DiLalla has provided the background science information and assisted with editing. Gibson, owner of Allegorical Alchemy, a filmmaking company in Edmonton, Canada, handled the actual filming.

Filming took place at Little Lotus Inc., a preschool in Edmonton, Canada. The little ones don masks, superhero capes, wash their hands, maintain social distancing and exhibit other safe and positive behaviors to help reduce the spread of COVID-19 as they interact happily with staff in the short film.

“It’s about using fun, interactive play to encourage young children to be superheroes about staying safe and healthy,” DiLalla said.

Test drive

There’s a purpose for the video. It’s all about sharing the message with other preschoolers. The goal is to distribute the short film to preschools across North America in hopes the message will resonate with families and their children that they too can be superheroes and take action to be safe and healthy, DiLalla said.

Preschools in Southern Illinois and Edmonton, Canada may participate in testing the video’s effectiveness in presenting the message to children. Any preschool leader interested in participating can complete an online pre-assessment and will receive a link to the video along with a few instructions. After showing the video to their children and engaging in mask-making with them, instructors will be asked to complete an online five-minute post-assessment survey.

Preschool teachers who would like to participate may email DiLalla at

The next step

After evaluating the input from these preschools, adjustments will be made as needed and the film will be presented to Sigma Xi in November. If all goes well, the video will be made available for free on social media platforms, DiLalla said.

“Interactive, pretend play is important for children to learn about their world and to learn new skills and overcome fears,” DiLalla and Gibson wrote in their grant application. “Thus a fun film with children, teachers and superheroes that allows children to imitate what they see is a great way to teach children important pandemic health behaviors.”