Students at the Yangzheng Primary School in Hangzhou, China, returned to class this past week after more than three months off because of the coronavirus pandemic. Their latest accessory? Big, colorful, DIY hats to help enforce social distancing.
The school requested that students make the hats prior to returning on April 26. Although China is gradually reopening and has reported only 26 confirmed coronavirus cases since last Friday, strict social distancing rules are being enforced, according to the BBC. In addition to the hats, students are also required to wear face masks.
The hats are made of easy-to-find craft materials like construction paper and foam and decorated with colorful paint, feathers, stickers, and even balloons. But the most significant design features are the long wing-like flaps that extend from their sides. While cute, this has a functional purpose: It creates a one-meter barrier on each side of the student to remind them to keep physical space between themselves and their peers.
“As children can see and feel these hats, and when the ‘wings’ hit one another, they may be more able to understand the expectations and remember to keep their physical distance,” Ian Lam Chun-bun, associate head of the department of early childhood education at The Education University of Hong Kong, told The South China Morning Post.
The concept goes back as far as the Song Dynasty, which ruled between 960 and 1270, according to Eileen Chow, a professor at Duke University. Chow pointed out the similarity to the headpieces, which were supposedly worn to keep court officials from conspiring. Chow tweeted, “so social distancing was in fact their original function!”
From birdlike masks worn by doctors during the bubonic plague to Victorian-era crinoline skirts, dress has often served an additional, practical function to encourage social distancing. This modern adaptation is just one ingeniously simple way design can help enforce serious guidelines with a kid-friendly and approachable look.