Tips for parents considering learning pods for children amid COVID-19 pandemic

Learning pods, the hot new trend in home schooling during the pandemic, has small clusters of kids distance learning together.
LOS ANGELES (KABC) -- It's the hottest new thing in home schooling: the pod. Small clusters of kids distance learning together.

Efrat Brayer's 4-year-old daughter, Malka, is home-schooled. The curriculum allows for quite a bit of socialization with other homeschoolers. All that ended with COVID-19, until Brayer says another mom invited her daughter to join a pod.

"It is important for her to have this, and you know, to also be engaging with other kids," said Brayer.

But some health experts like pediatrician Dr. Nicole Herzog warn learning pods aren't as risk free as you might think.

"One of the main misconceptions about pods is that if you're seeing the same children every day, you're in a bubble, and you're safe," said Herzog. "But that's really not true. Your pod is only as safe as every single household contact with every single child in that pod."

Herzog says that doesn't mean you should avoid learning pods altogether.

"What's really important is to have very specific rules that are set out ahead of time to have all the families talk about them, and discuss them in detail and agree upon them and make sure that the teacher or the tutor is enforcing the rules," said Herzog.

Here are some of the rules she suggests:

- even inside a home, 6-foot-social distancing and mask wearing by everyone: kids, tutors, teachers and parents.
- eating, both snack and lunch, should be done outside, weather permitting
- a plan for routine cleaning of high touch areas - that includes bathrooms - should be in place
- most important, the pod needs to set guidelines for illness.

"I would suggest if there's any sickness, there's quarantining for 14 days, you don't want to take any chances," said Herzog.

However, if anyone in the pod has immunocompromised or chronically ill family members, Dr. Herzog says a pod is not for them.

"It's really important to create a no blame environment where people are comfortable reporting any illness, any COVID so that everybody can deal with it in an appropriate and practical manner," said Herzog.

What about leaving your child home alone? Some working families have no choice. According to Dr. Herzog, this is OK if your child is 11 or 12, but not any younger.

Her suggestions:

- make sure your child knows what to do in case of emergencies, and if someone comes to the door.
- snack and lunch should be prepared in advance to avoid cooking alone
- reach out to a neighbor you trust, an adult your child can contact if necessary.

With LAUSD announcing it will be at least November before kids can return to class, thousands of parents are faced with some tough choices. Planning ahead is key.
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