Washing hands sounds so simple and easy for us adults, right? It’s an automatic habit that we don’t even think about. Before we prepare food, before we eat food, after we go to the toilet, or after working in the garden, we are always washing our hands on auto-pilot. But little ones? Their minds are busy! They feel that the world is their oyster, and washing hands is a little, well, boring and time-consuming and easily forgotten. There’s too much to do and so little time!
In lieu of the world being touched by illnesses, viruses and one dreaded word; Covid - one of the most important lessons we can teach our children, from the very start – is the importance of wash their hands regularly, and how to do it quickly and efficiently, for everyone’s health and wellbeing, at home and at school.
Keen to teach these handwashing activities to your children to keep those unwanted nasties, coughs, colds, and runny noses at bay? We’ve collected lots of info and fun hand washing activities, and songs: to teach your kids why hygiene is important, when to wash their hands, as well as how to wash their hands properly.
understanding our children’s developing stages
Firstly, it helps to understand that our little ones are curious little beings. They come out of our bellies needing comfort, connection, and safety. As they move into the toddler stage, they start to learn language, and seek to learn about their environment through their senses. Then suddenly, as quickly as you can say ‘I need a latte’, our little bunnies suddenly become…pre-schoolers.
They start exploring the playground. They play sports and games, they draw and paint, they follow rules and occasionally, bend the rules! And while this gives us parents a bit of a breather (to feel slightly human again … hence the ‘latte’ reference), sometimes – another challenge hits us: that our precious little ones are really socialising! And may be carrying home a host of germs that they are not aware of. And so perhaps it’s time – to teach our children why handwashing and taking care of their bodies is so important to their health.
the thing about germs
We can’t live with them, or without them. And on top of that – they are a hard concept for kids to understand – since they are microscopic organisms that cannot be seen by our own eyes. Considering this fact, here’s a quick list of how easily germs can be spread in general, (so we can learn how to take responsibility to halt these tiny little buggers!)
Germs can be spread by:
- touching other kid’s dirty hands after touching their runny nose.
- touching and sharing snacks and toys.
- touching dirty surfaces.
- touching their nose, mouth, and eyes after another child sneezes next to them
- droplets in the air after another child at preschool coughs or sneezes.
so, beware of the danger triangle
When children are in contact with germs at day care or school or at home, they can likely become infected just by touching their eyes, nose, or mouth: otherwise known as the’ danger triangle’. And once they bring it home? Chances are, that the whole family will come down with the same sickness too! So, hand washing in a nutshell: is a handy saviour!
when to wash hands
There are definite times when kids need to wash their hands to stop the spread of germs. Once they’ve touched something unhygienic and the germ of that area starts to spread to your child’s eyes, nose, and mouth, is when an illness can appear. So, to stop germs from mutating and spreading, here are the times when your children should be washing their hands:
- before eating
- before touching food that they’ll help you cook or bake
- after using the bathroom
- after playing outside
- before and after visiting a sick friend or relative
- after blowing or wiping their nose after coughing or sneezing
- when cleaning up or touching pets or other animals
- after handling pet food or treats
- when their hands look or feel grubby and dirty.
how to wash hands properly
Children learn through repetition. So, in preschool, they are first taught to wash their hands through play in order to engage them. This is often done through songs, hand movements and through art – otherwise they’ll either ignore the rows of sinks entirely thinking ‘it’s too hard’, or they’ll feel rushed for time and think they can fool the adults by quickly dipping their fingers in the water for half a second!
So, to help your kids with the essential habit of washing their hands … we thought we’d break this essential task down: into some very small + simple age-appropriate steps!
7 fun handwashing tips for kids … and parents!
1. wet your hands
At preschool or at home, its best to provide a small step stool so your child can reach their hands over the sink at waist-height. Then show them the difference between the hot and cold water, marking the two somehow so they won't get confused. Show them how to open the taps slowly and carefully, at the right pressure. Then how to run their hands under the water’s flow, followed by turning off the tap so they learn the value of conserving water too!
2. use liquid soap
To start, make sure that the liquid soap can be reached within an arm’s length. For less mess at home or at preschool, its easiest for children to squirt liquid soap the size of a 20-cent coin onto their hands, rather than bar soap that may have lingered in the sink water for a length of time and be contaminated with bacteria or can slip off the shoulder of the sink and drop on the floor. By using liquid soap, kids can use the pump and press it down in one easy step, without the risk of getting the floor wet and slipping and falling over.
3. lather hands
The next tip to washing hands thoroughly - is to show your youngster how to rub and scrub the sudsy soap all over the surfaces of their hands entirely – over their palms, wrists, the back of their hands, between their fingers and under their nails: where the germs love to make themselves at home! Singing to the tune of ‘Happy birthday’ or the ‘Alphabet song’ twice will get your child’s attention while doing it and will show them how long to wash, making it fun too!
4. teach scrubbing techniques
Want to get even more detailed? Here’s 3 great scrubbing techniques to make handwashing fun!
This is done by your child putting one palm of top of their other hand, interlacing their fingers, and rubbing them thoroughly together at the same time, them repeating this motion with the other hand.
Fold fingers over into a fist position and get them to rub the back of their fingers together at the same time with both hands in a fist position!
Here’s a hand washing doosie! Make a fist and place around the other thumb and rub rotationally. Repeat on other hand.
Want to scrub stubborn mud off your little one’s fingers? Get them to clasp their fingers together and scrape in a circular motion in the palm of the other hand. Repeat on other hand as well.
5. count to 20
Other than singing during the lathering stage … why not give your vocal cords a rest by giving your child a counting lesson! Teach them to count to the number 20, the amount of time required to lather their hands, palm-to-palm thoroughly. Germs can get in all sorts of crevices, so 20 seconds of lathering should do the trick!
6. rinse hands
Now its time for your little one to turn the tap on again (see … your child has just saved lots of water already!) and rinse their hands. Make sure they continue to do the lathering motion to make sure their hands are no longer soapy or feeling slippery. Then show them how to turn the water tap off.
7. towel dry hands
Lastly, show them how to dry their hands by using a clean paper towel, a hand towel or taking time to air-dry their hands in a public toilet. Show them how important it is to take the time to dry their little hands. A great way to do this is to count to 10, until their hands are dry. That’s how they will know that their hands are clean.
fun ways to teach kids how to wash their hands
They say that practise makes perfect – and this is oh-so-true when it comes to helping our kids get into the habit of washing their hands! As handwashing is a new concept for their busy minds to adjust to, first, your child will need to be reminded of how and when to do so. So, here are some fun ways you can teach your kids how to wash their hands …
the pepper experiment
Got a budding scientist at home that loves nothing more than playing with lotions and potions? The pepper experiment not only teaches them the power of washing their hands, but how soap helps to clean their bodies too! The best bit? It only requires 4 items to make the magic happen!
items you need:
- liquid hand wash
- a flat white plate
Start by adding water and a sprinkle of pepper (that symbolises germs!) all over the water in the plate and set your liquid hand wash aside. Get your kids to dip their finger on the surface of the peppered water and watch as the pepper sticks to their fingers! Then as soon as your kids cover that same finger in liquid soap and dip their fingers in the pepper germs again - watch closely as – voila – the pepper magically shoots away from their finger! Again, proving that the superpowers of liquid soap and handwashing – rules!
the sticky germs game
Here’s a great way to teach your kids how easily germs can spread, and why they should wash their hands thoroughly to get rid of them!
items you need:
- blank piece of paper
- glitter glue
Get your child to trace their hand on a blank piece of paper. Then get your glitter glue ready. Cover your kid’s hand in glitter glue and then get them to stick their hand to the hand they traced on the blank page. Get them to see how easily the glitter transferred onto another surface. Just like pesky germs can! Washing hands never looked so good!
make up your own germ song
Is your little one getting tired of washing their hands to the tune of happy birthday? There’s an awesome tool you can use to create your own engaging lyrics, and even generate a washing hands poster for you! All you need is the song title and artist, or you can customise your own words for your poster too! Simply visit https://washyourlyrics.com/
the bread experiment
This experiment is a great way to teach kids about why hygiene is important for our health. It may take a bit of time, but it is worth it. Gloves on!
items you need:
- 3 pieces of bread
- 3 zip lock bags
- permanent black marker
- double-sided tape
1. Put on gloves and take out 1 piece of bread. Place in a zip lock bag and label it with the word “control” with your permanent marker. Tape on wall.
2. Next, take another piece of bread out the bag, but this time without gloves. Pass it around so that everyone can touch it with their unwashed, bare hands. Now place it in a bag and label it “dirty hands”. Tape next to first bag on wall.
3. Lastly, makes sure everyone washes their hands, then take the third piece of bread out of the bag and pass it around. Place it in a bag and label it “clean hands” and tape on wall in line with others.
Now comes the fun part – the wait! See which one becomes mouldy first and explore with your child why.
wash your hands sensory bin
Lastly, here’s a fun way to practice washing your hands with toddlers and bigger kids - create a ‘wash your hands’ sensory bin!
items you need:
- large plastic tub
- warm water
- soap dispenser
- dolls that can go in water
- scrubber brush
- vinyl tablecloth (optional)
Place a large ‘sensory bin’ plastic tub with warm water on top of the vinyl tablecloth to help keep things tidy. Next, place dolls and soap dispensers inside your sensory bin. Show your child how to stick out the doll's hands and squeeze soap onto them. Practice rubbing the doll's hands together to create suds and counting to 20 (or singing happy birthday). Next, rinse the doll's hands in the water and dry with a towel. Psst … this is also a fun way to clean the dolls – and showing your kids the value of cleanliness and how enjoyable it can be to scrub in the tub too!
So, there you have it folks, may handwashing be the almighty superpower – to kissing those pesky germs goodbye - out of your house and out of harm’s way. So, you and your family can live a happier and healthier existence: by learning the how’s, why’s and when’s: of handwashing hygiene.