10 personal hygiene teaching activities for kids

By Brendan Mitchell

1. Teaching routine

Getting your kids into a handwashing/germ-busting routine will help make it become second nature with practice and patience. If possible, ask the kids to bring a handwashing kit from home, or supply one, to be kept in a labeled drawstring toiletry bag by a handwashing station. In the morning, after recess, and after lunch, everyone should meet at the handwashing station to wash their hands. You can model correct handwashing techniques as your students wash their hands. Hand sanitizer can also be used throughout the day when a student sneezes or gets dirty. (Note: Provision for the cost of school consumables such as soap should be included in the cash component of the Student Resource Package).

2. Washing germy hands

If you’re not afraid of a little mess (I mean, you work with kids—of course you’re not), you can teach kids how long they should wash their hands for with some glitter. You can have your kids demonstrate how they wash their hands and for how long. Afterwards, sprinkle glitter into their hands and have them rub them together to spread it all over. The glitter represents germs. Let them try to wash it all off and see how long it takes. If anyone finishes early, they’re bound to have missed some so you can point it out and send them back for more washing. The aim is to teach the kids that proper handwashing takes 20 to 30 seconds and requires covering all parts of your hand. Otherwise, germs will still be there. You can follow this by seeing how using soap makes a difference.

3. Using songs

Creating a simple, catchy song to sing while the kids are learning about hygiene is a great way to help them to remember important information (See example, “Handwashing Song,” at the bottom). Kids’ songs always use fun, exaggerated gestures that you can make up to model correct hygienic practices. By repeating these gestures, it will become muscle memory for these young learners. With practice, they will be able to perform the actions independently and effectively, and your need to prompt them will be reduced.

Handwashing song (to the tune of “Old MacDonald”)

After (recess/lunch), we wash our hands,
Wash, wash, wash our hands.
After (going to the toilet/riding the bus/playing with toys), we wash our hands,
Wash, wash, wash our hands.
After (sneezing – mime “achoo”/coughing), we wash our hands,
Wash, wash, wash our hands.
After patting my (cat/dog/goldfish), I wash my hands,
Wash, wash, wash my hands.

  • Add whatever verse necessary.
  • Use plenty of hand gestures to engage the kids and to model correct handwashing.
  • Test Kids on when to wash hands: “After math?” “After show and tell?” “After playing with your friends?” “Before we eat our lunch?”

4. Positive reinforcement

Never underestimate the power of using stamps and stickers in your classroom. First, your kids can trace and cut-out their hands; then write their names on them to make a “Clean Hands” chart that should be displayed prominently in the classroom. At certain times during the day ask, “Who has clean hands?” and have your kids raise their hands for inspection. Allow time for any kids who need to quickly wash their hands and be careful not to discipline them to keep the whole process positively framed—being hygienic is a good thing. Provide plenty of praise and let the kids decorate their pair of hands with stamps and stickers.

5. Making visual displays

Kids love drawing and being creative so instead of buying or making your own hygiene displays, make small groups, hand out poster paper and art supplies, and get your kids to make them. Each group can present their finished posters to the class. While they are explaining their posters, they will be processing important information in their own language. You can ask questions like “Why is covering our coughs and sneezes important?” and have them lead class demonstrations on different hygiene practices to follow. This will help your kids to become more independent and take ownership of their personal hygiene. They will also love looking around the classroom at their artwork. You can of course make your own resources, and we have provided some flashcards as an example.

6. Exciting science experiments

There are some wonderful examples online of simple experiments that you can set up to demonstrate how germs spread and why we need to wash our hands. For example, supply kids with a shallow dish filled with water. Let them grind some pepper (or empty a pepper sachet) into the water and explain that the pepper represents germs. The pepper will spread all around the dish. The kids should dip their fingers into the dish and see how the “germs” can stick to them. Now have each student dip their finger into some dish soap. Explain that this represents washing their hands and then let them dip their finger back into the dish. The “germs” should race to the sides of the dish leaving the water around their fingers clear. It is a fun, easy and tactile way to teach kids the lesson that germs don’t like soap. The moldy bread experiment is another easy example that allows kids to see how clean hands can stop the spread of germs and prevent them from getting into our bodies.

7. Classroom games

Making lessons on personal hygiene fun will help your kids to remember and make it a positive and active experience for them. Do you remember the craziness of Peter Coombe telling you to wash your face with orange juice, clean your teeth with bubblegum or maybe brush your hair with a toothbrush? Make lots of props available and let your kids come up with crazy ways to brush their teeth or wash their hands and make everyone laugh. Then, have them demonstrate the correct equipment and technique to use, or have their classmates explain what they really should be doing. Alternatively, you could have your students sit in a circle and pass around things like a toothbrush, hairbrush, and a face washer along with flashcards of the corresponding body parts they are used on. When the music stops, the students with a prop will need to find a partner with the correct flashcard, and together mime how to use their item correctly.

8. Assigning homework

The responsibility of teaching personal hygiene habits is absolutely not yours alone. It’s also important that efforts to develop good practices at school are reinforced (rather than lost) at home. Parents and caregivers share the responsibility of teaching their children and modelling good hygiene in their homes. You could ask your executive staff to host an information night about teaching children good hygiene or have them send information home in the school newsletter. Your class can develop a simple “yes/no” survey for your students to complete with their parents or caregivers to see what hygiene practices are performed at home (e.g., “Do we brush our teeth?”/ “Do we wash our hands?”). They could also draw pictures to illustrate how mum or dad practices good hygiene. Through thoughtful homework assignments, parents and caregivers can be brought into the conversation of hygiene with their children. Hopefully, their awareness about hygiene at home and willingness to play their part in teaching it will increase.

9. Invite a guest speaker

Maybe a student’s parent is a doctor or a nurse. You could invite a specialist to visit your classroom and give a talk about how they make sure they practice good hygiene to stop people getting sick. Kids will love seeing the uniform health specialists wear and the equipment that they use. Kids also love to role play and can help the speaker do their job with volunteer patients from the room. It’s also great that someone other than a teacher is the expert. The canteen staff can show the kids how they keep the canteen clean or have the kids help them to clean it and make sure the food everyone eats is germ-free. Another person could be the school’s custodian who cleans and keeps everybody safe from germs. Kids understand that adults do different jobs for many reasons so invite hygiene specialists in different capacities to speak to them and reinforce how important personal hygiene is.

10. Germ detectives

This activity can be done with some washable, luminescent paints and blacklight torches (for big budget), or simply with different coloured post-it-notes (for smaller budgets). The idea is to have several students be germ spreaders by painting their hands or giving them a post-it booklet each. Have the rest of the class—germ detectives—shut their eyes and put their heads on the desk (no peeking). The germ spreaders should walk around the room touching different areas that will be marked by the paint or a post-it note. When you think they have had enough time, have the germ spreaders stand up the front and instruct the germ detectives to trace the spread of germs around the classroom. Hopefully, each student can have a turn spreading the germs. Afterwards, ask the kids to explain why washing their hands is so important and where germs can be found, even if they can’t be seen.

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