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Fun ways and activities to teach young children how to wash hands effectively

The best way to teach anything to young children is by making it fun, making a game out of it, and by teaching and modelling what to do through your own behaviour, so we've put some tips resources together to help

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To make hand washing child friendly and fun try some of these...

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have the hand washing area set up for comfort - provide a child safe stool or low wash basin

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have fun soaps

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create an appealing environment through child-friendly decor like Sponge Bob or Little Mermaid

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make it into a game

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sing a fun song while washing to help mark the time, so they know just how long to wash (15-20 seconds)

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keep a hand washing chart and encourage them to see how many squares they can fill in

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have printable or homemade posters to hand, that show the proper steps for hand washing. Make a game out of following each step. You can approach it quiz style, "What do we do first? ....And what's Step Two?"

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use activities that involve handprints, washing off the paint shows how long and how much washing is needed to remove all the paint, it's fun too!

Hand charts and posters



Tips for good hygiene instruction

Some learning principles to keep in mind:

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young children learn best by seeing and doing, rather than just hearing

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have them watch you or another child wash hands, while you talk about what to do

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then have your child do it, while you again explain the basic steps

Remember to keep it fun and simple - don't try to cram in all the facts at once. Just start with the basics, then add different pieces of information in later instalments. Small children learn best through repetition and reinforcement with things like:

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story books about germs and hand washing

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looking at pictures of germs

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making pictures or posters (collages are great for younger preschool children who can glue stick but not draw well); and

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by acting out little scenes about getting germs on your hands, hand washing, catching colds, etc

Checking your water temperature

Remember to talk to children about the dangers of very hot water and to turn your water heater down. It should never be higher than 120 degrees F. Note that some sources say that 130 degrees F is safe enough, but as you can see below, the difference between 120 degrees F and temps nearer to 130 degrees F is huge, in terms of how much harm can be done to a child. 120 degrees F should be more than sufficient to run your dishwasher and laundry

Acting as a role model

Small children are impressed by what we do, and all children learn as much from what we do than what we say. So if you want to teach the importance of hand washing...wash your hands consistently at all appropriate times, they will learn and remind you too.

Parents & carers should wash their hands:

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before preparing, serving, or eating food

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after caring for a sick child (blowing their noses or wiping eyes)

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after changing nappies

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after helping a child with toileting

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after cleaning up spills or other cleaning activities

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after touching your pet

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after cleaning up after your pet, or cleaning the cat's litter tray

Children can't always see what we do, so be sure to talk about it. Tell a story about when you wash your hands, about something mucky you touched and how you washed afterwards. Or mention how you are going to need to go wash hands before helping prepare snacks. And don't forget to tattle on yourself once in a while, "Oops! I almost forgot to go wash my hands first." Sometimes sharing about mistakes you've made (in a funny and forgiving way) and talking about why you will do it differently is more effective than pretending you do the right thing all the time. After all, who can relate to someone who's perfect.

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Point out other hand washing role models, such as doctors, nurses, and dentists, as well as people who work in restaurants or serve meals.

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Wash hands together. Washing hands when the children wash up sends a stronger message than just telling them that they should do it.

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Have a routine. Make hand washing a regular part of toileting, meal time, preparing food, nappy changing, and so on. This will help everyone remember because it will become second nature. For example, when children arrive at school or get ready for lunch, they know that the first thing they must do is wash hands.

How to wash hands properly with Soapy the Germinator

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Use soap and running water. Warm water is best, but not too hot

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Wet hands thoroughly and lather with soap

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Rub hands vigorously for at least 10-15 seconds as you wash them

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Pay attention to the backs of hands, wrists, between fingers, and under fingernails

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Rinse hands well under running water

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Dry hands with a disposable paper towel or a clean towel. To minimise chapping (reddening, roughening or cracking of skin) of hands, pat dry rather than rub them. Electric hand driers may be used. If cloth towels are used, select a fresh towel each time, or if a roller towel is used, select a fresh portion of towel

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Turn off the tap with the used towel

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Use skin lotion, if necessary, to prevent dry cracked skin

Some useful resources

NHS - Give Soap a Chance - education packs for children


Activities for children from Great Ormond Street Hospital


e-bug – educational resources for children and parents

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What is e-Bug?

e-Bug is a European wide, antibiotic and hygiene teaching resource for junior and senior school children. It is designed to raise awareness of the benefits of antibiotics and the importance of prudent use of antibiotics. The programme demonstrates how inappropriate use of antibiotics can adversely affect an individual's good bugs and cause resistance in the community. It demonstrates the importance of hand and respiratory hygiene in minimising the spread of infections in the community, including teaching how to wash hands most effectively. On the e-Bug website you can play games and learn all about micro organisms, hygiene and antibiotic use. Public Health England's ebug team can be contacted by email at: e-Bug@phe.gov.uk


Mrs A Visits the hospital - education and activity book from Royal Berkshire NHS Foundation Trust

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Hand washing is one of the most important hygiene principles in the prevention of infection. Mrs A Visits the hospital provides education and entertainment for children to encourage hand washing as well as advice for parents to help reduce the chance of spreading infection to your child while in hospital. For more information or to purchase a copy visit the page at Royal Berkshire NHS Foundation Trust by clicking on the picture of the book.


Puff the magic drier has resources for younger children

puffPuff the magic drier encourages good hand hygiene and makes it fun. Puff is a quiet hand drier, so he doesn’t make very loud noises that can sometimes be scary for little people. There are fun resources for parents to do with their children and encourage hand washing on Puff’s website. Take a peek by clicking on Puff...



Content written 23/03/2015
Review due 23/03/2018



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