Little ones are notorious for having sticky, germy fingers. At school, elementary students seem to be less prone to washing their hands before lunch, after using the restroom and after recess because their parents aren’t around to nag. According to the School Network for Absenteeism Prevention, one study showed that only 58 percent of female and 48 percent of male students washed their hands after using the restroom. And of those students, only 33 of the female and 8 percent of the male students used soap.
No wonder there are nearly 22 million school days lost each year due to colds. Because students are in such close proximity and half of them don’t even wash their hands after using the restroom, illnesses spread like wildfire at elementary schools.
Promoting healthy hand washing habits can help bring down the number of sick days students have. Hand washing, especially in the eyes of young students, is a mundane, tedious task that takes time away from lunch or recess. Check out the following fun facts about hand washing activities that teachers and school staff can use to get students excited about washing their hands:
Take a field trip.
Take a scheduled daily field trip to sinks across campus. Schedule a 15 minute break and take your class on a field trip to wash their hands. Students will look forward to taking a break from studying and will begin getting into the habit of washing their hands daily. In a study at an elementary school in Michigan, there was a mandatory, scheduled hand-washing program to see if absenteeism was directly related to hand washing. As it turns out, the group of 37 students in the hand-washing group were absent fewer days than the control group.
Create a reward system.
Reward clean hands after recess with stickers. This will work better with younger students in grades K-3 who are less intrinsically motivated to wash their hands for health purposes.
Educators.brainpop.com.com suggests using glitter to show students how much effort it takes to scrub off germs. Use different glitter to represent different types of germs. Sprinkle the glitter onto students’ hands and start the hand washing process. Show students how warm water with soap works much better than cold water with no soap.
Download free coloring pages.
Use hand washing in science classes. The Scrub Club, a website that promotes hand washing, is a great resource for explaining the types of bacteria and viruses that can be spread if students don’t use the proper procedure for washing hands. Here are some free, printable coloring pages of the types of illnesses and bacteria that could spread if students neglect washing their hands on a daily basis.
Organize a cooking class.
For older students, incorporate a cooking class into your lesson plan and stress the importance of washing hands before cooking and eating. Giving students a memorable, fun, hands-on lesson may cause hand washing habits to stick with them.
The best way to get students to keep themselves healthy is by showing how healthy practices can be fun. The more enthusiastic teachers and staff are about the practice of washing hands, the more likely students will be to keep their hands germ-free.