Assessing the Child Who Is Ill: [A Learning Activity]

Head Start programs strive to keep children and staff free from communicable diseases. Health managers can use this learning activity with staff to improve their understanding of how to assess and respond to a child’s illness.

The following is an excerpt from Preventing & Managing Communicable Diseases.

For This Activity You Will Need
Key to Activity – Crystal’s Story
Points to Consider
Handout: Symptom Record
Handout: When a Child is Too Sick to Attend

Purpose: This activity helps participants develop skill in assessing an ill child and communicating with parents about the child's illness.

For this activity, you will need:

Step 1: Explain that this exercise helps assess how sick a child is.

Step 2: Instruct participants to imagine they are a classroom teacher. Read aloud Crystal's Story - Part 1.

Step 3: Tell participants that they need to determine how sick Crystal is and how to care for her. They will play a game of Twenty Questions to find out the information. Their questions should search for:

  • Information about the child's symptoms and behavior. You must specify who would you ask and what you would ask them, for example, "I want to ask Crystal, 'What's bothering you - your stomach, your head, your throat...?"'
  • Observations of the child, for example, "I want to observe Crystal's skin."

Step 4: Distribute Handout: Symptom Record. Instruct participants to fill in the information and observations they make.

Step 5: As the participants ask for information and observations, the trainer will reveal pieces of information based on Crystal's Story - Part 2. Participants should fill in Crystal's Symptom Record.

Step 6: After participants have asked 20 questions, explain that this is all the information that they could obtain in the midst of their busy day caring for Crystal and all of her classmates.

Step 7: Distribute Handout: When a Child Is Too Sick to Attend.

Explain that this is the current health policy that your program has adopted to determine when a child is too sick to attend.

Step 8: Ask participants:

  1. Do you think Crystal is too sick to stay in the program for the rest of the day? What questions were most helpful in determining that?
  2. When do you want to call her parents? What would you say?
  3. Under what circumstances might you want to call a health professional? What would you say?
  4. How would you care for Crystal until she is picked up?
  5. What would you do to minimize the spread of Crystal's illness to other children and staff?
  6. Why is it helpful to document the child's symptoms and your actions in a Symptom Record?

Points to Consider:

  • When a child complains, "I feel sick," you need to ask questions and observe the child (e.g., degree of comfort, activity level, appetite, breathing, skin) to determine how sick she is.
  • A child is too sick to attend the program if he is too sick to participate in activities, staff cannot care for his needs, or he might have a specified communicable disease.
  • Call Crystal's parents and discuss:
    • Your concern about Crystal.
    • The signs and symptoms you observed and what you did.
    • That she needs to be picked up; who will come and when? Be understanding of the parents' situation.
    • How you'll take care of her until they arrive.
    • Your suggestion that she see the doctor and your request that they tell you the diagnosis and recommended treatment.
    • When Crystal can return to school.
  • Consult a health professional about signs of severe illness, questions about diagnoses and treatment, and to report communicable diseases.
  • As you care for Crystal until she's picked up: comfort her, make a place for her to rest, and offer her small amounts of clear liquids to drink.
  • To minimize the spread of Crystal's illness:
    • Make sure that Crystal washes her hands well, especially after using the toilet.
    • Make sure that staff members wash their hands well after caring for Crystal and before preparing and serving food.
    • Don't share food or drinks.
  • A Symptom Record documents observations and actions to inform parents and health care providers and may be reviewed by management, consultants, licensing, courts, or insurers.

See also:
     Key to Activity: Crystal's Story [PDF, 74KB]
     Handout: Symptom Record [PDF, 105KB]
     Handout: When a Child is Too Sick to Attend [PDF, 136KB]

"Assessing the Child Who Is Ill: [A Learning Activity]." Recognizing & Managing Communicable Diseases: Preventing & Managing Communicable Diseases. Training Guides for Head Start Learning Community. HHS/ACF/ACYF/HSB. 1996. English.

Last Reviewed: May 2009

Last Updated: February 23, 2015