Hand washing is an important defense against illness. At home or in a group setting, children need to learn when and how to wash their hands. The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) and Centers for Disease Control (CDC), encourage adults to teach children to wash after bathroom visits, before eating, when they sneeze or cough, and whenever the hands are dirty. Make hand washing a fun activity by singing songs while washing and by frequently playing games that focus on clean hands and dirty germs.
Twenty seconds is the recommended length of time for washing hands. To help children understand how long this is, set a timer for 20 seconds. Have children try to stand on one foot, do jumping jacks or run in place until the timer goes off. Then reset the timer and have the preschoolers pretend to wash their hands until the 20 seconds are up. You can also have the children watch the second hand on a clock and count from one to 20 as the hand on the clock ticks 20 times as a game.
Encourage singing in the bathroom or at a sink where they wash up for snacks or lunch, rather than pressing the "quietness" concept. Let preschoolers belt out some songs while they wash their hands. Suggested songs for washing hands the proper amount of time have come down through the years from parents and childcare professionals. Some of the songs include, "Twinkle, Twinkle," "Happy Birthday," "The Wheels on the Bus," the "ABC Song," and "Row, Row, Row, Your Boat." Set a timer for 20 seconds and practice singing these or other favorite songs with preschoolers. If a song doesn't make it 20 seconds, have the kids sing it twice.
No Germs Allowed Game
Play a group game with preschoolers. Mark a play area and have the kids stand around the edge of the area. Choose one child to wear a glove that represents "germs." Instruct the children to play a game of "tag." Whenever the "germs" touch someone, the game stops and the tagged person puts on a glove and becomes another germ. Stress that germs spread quickly, and soon all the children will have "germs" on their hands. Have enough gloves so the children do not have to wear a glove someone else has worn. Wash the gloves before using another day.
Wash Away Those Germs
Put a small amount of powder in the palm of one child. Have him rub his hands together until the powder covers both hands. Call the powder, "germs." Challenge the child to put his hands under running water for one or two seconds. Let the other children inspect his hands to see if the powder is gone. Give him another chance, with 20 seconds and plenty of soap and running water, to wash away those germs. After the others inspect and approve of his hand washing, repeat with another child until everyone has had a chance to play the game. Keep all the children entertained while they wait their turn by having them sing a 20-second hand washing song.
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