Teaching Hand Washing
Information and Resources For Parents & Caregivers



Teaching kids about hand washing is not just important to keep them healthier in childhood... but all through life.  The sad fact is that many, many adults don't seem to believe that hand washing is important, including the adults who prepare our food!  Middle school teacher John Lundgren found this out for himself when he discovered that the same guy he'd seen earlier in the restroom -- a guy who left without washing his hands -- was about to serve him food in the mall food court!  The experience prompted him to create his own website devoted to this important topic.

But many teachers, and parents, have had their own experience with lapses in hand washing hygiene, including the huge absentee problem that is generated by the unchecked spread of germs.  Oftentimes the illness that is spread is a mild to moderate form of the common cold or the flu.  But from time to time we do hear about outbreaks of much scarier illnesses, like meningitis.  And with scientists warning about the potential for new, more serious, flu strains and strange hybrid diseases, we owe it to the children in our care to promote the effective and deceptively simple skill of hand washing.




Tips for Getting Young Children
 To Wash 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 modeling what to do through your own behavior. 


Make It Kid Friendly and Fun
Try some of these...

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


Have fun soaps and scrubbers. (Be aware that fingernail scrubbers can spread germs if not properly maintained and are better suited to the home environment than classrooms.)


Put "no touch" items out of reach and out of sight.


Create an appealing environment through kid-friendly decor like Sponge Bob or Little Mermaid.



Make It Into A Game

Have child sing a fun song while washing to help mark the time, so he/she knows just how long to wash (15-20 seconds).


Keep a hand washing chart and encourage the child to see how many squares he/she can fill in.  (The emphasis should be positive, never shaming -- "Look what you did, wow!")


Refer to a printable poster, or homemade poster, that shows 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?"  Or just be silly, "Okay, first we ....dry our hands-- right?  No?"




Teaching Tips for Good
Hygiene Instruction


Learning Principles To Keep In Mind


Keep in mind that young children are visual and kinetic learners.  This means they learn best by also seeing and doing -- rather than just hearing. 


Have your young child watch you or another child wash hands, while you talk about what to do.


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


Don't forget to keep it fun and simple -- dDon't try to cram in all the facts at once.  Just start with the bare basics, and then add different pieces of information in later installments. 

(Note that 1st-3rd and 4th-6th graders will each have higher levels of attention span and greater tolerance for getting a lot at once.)


Small children learn best through repetition and reinforcement.  You can follow up your first lesson with:
  •  story books about germs and hand washing;

  • looking at pictures of germs;

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

  • by acting out silly little skits about getting germs on your hands, hand washing, getting sick, and etc.




Modeling What to Do-- And When to Do It

Always remember that small children are impressed by what we do (enjoy it while it lasts!), and that 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 junctures!

Parents & caregivers should wash their hands:

before preparing, serving, or eating food
after caring for a sick child (blowing their noses or wiping eyes
after diapering a child
after cleaning up a mess
after helping a child with toileting
after cleaning up spills
after other cleaning activities
after smoking

Kids can't always see what we do, so be sure to talk about it.  Tell a little story about when you wash your hands-- about something icky you touched and how you washed afterwards.  Or mention loudly how you are going to need to go wash hands before helping prepare snack.  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!

Point out other hand washing role model, such as doctor, nurses, and dentists,  as well as people who work in restaurants, etc.

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

Have a Routine

Make hand washing a regular part of toileting, meal time, diaper changing, and etc.  Both for yourself and for the children.   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.




Safety Considerations


Child Proofing

Don't forget to put locks on bathroom cabinets that contain medicines, cleaners, or anything else that could harm a child.  Talk to your child about why these areas are off limits and what to do if they find anything dangerous laying about (meds, razor, etc.).


Check Your Water Temperature

Please 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 120F.  Note that some sources say that 130F is safe enough, but as you can see below, the difference between 120F and temps nearer to 130F is huge, in terms of how much harm can be done to a child.  Furthermore, 120F should be more than sufficient to run your dishwasher and laundry.


The following chart shows just how dangerous hot water can be.

              Temperature      Time to Cause 
               of Water         a Bad Burn 
               150F (66C)       2 seconds 
               140F (60C)       6 seconds 
               125F (52C)       2 minutes 
               120F (49C)      10 minutes 

for more info





A Review for Adults: 
How to wash your hands properly


  1. Use soap and running water. Warm to hot water is best.

  2. Wet hands thoroughly and lather with soap.

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

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

  5. Rinse hands well under running water.

  6. 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.

  7. Turn off the tap with the used towel.

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

  9. If you use skin lotion, it should be rinsed off before preparing or handling food.



The Role of Hand Sanitizer Gels


Handwashing No Longer Necessary?
Alan Greene MD FAAP

The days of "wash your hands before dinner" are (at least partially) coming to an end! True, many infections are spread by the hands. True, we have been urging people to increase handwashing to prevent these infections. True, even in hospitals people have not been following guidelines adequately. (I was seen by a doc in an ER recently who did not wash between examining the contagious person next to me and examining me.)

But on November 9, 2001 the CDC released draft guidelines for hand hygiene in hospitals and other healthcare settings, calling for a switch AWAY from handwashing, toward using alcohol-based, waterless antiseptic gels on the hands (unless the hands are visibly dirty or contaminated).

When compared to soap and water, or antibacterial soap and water, the hand gels are MORE effective and LESS irritating or drying. They are even an improvement over the time-honored 'surgical scrub'. They are also more convenient and easier to get kids (and doctors) to use.

 The CDC recommends that waterless antiseptic gels be kept at all patient bedsides, and that individual pocket-size containers be carried by all healthcare personnel. I admit that we have already made this switch in my family -- even before the studies came out






Additional Resources

Get Adobe ReaderPlease note that some of the resources in this section require the Adobe Reader for pdf files. If you don't already have this program, you can download it here.


handwashing posterHand Washing Poster.  Perfect to print, laminate, and hang in your restroom. 

Visit the site to find spanish language versions as well as a coloring page version.

Healthy Schools Healthy People    It's a SNAP program to improve student handwashing, reduce absenteeism, and help the school community stay healthy.  Visit this site for activities to help elementary and middle school students better understand the spread of germs and the role of good handwashing and related health practices.  Create your own printables and handouts.  Learn how your school can earn an award to reward and acknowledge student and staff efforts. 


Scrub Club resources for teachers.  Fun printables and other materials in English, Spanish, and French.   Surf the site for games, webisodees and more to accompany your lessons and discussions. 

Teaching Hand Hygiene is a resource from the Minnesota Department of Health that includes curriculum ideas and print outs for various age groups from preschool to high school.  http://www.health.state.mn.us/handhygiene/curricula/


Listen to Doin' the Handwash Song

 Henry the Hand  this site is packed with everything you need to launch a handwashing campaign at your elementary school.  

 Free printable coloring book and activity booklet for children   and even more free stuff for those who fill out the simple registration form.  The Henry Hand Videos below are suitable to share with children learning about the importance of handwashing.



More Helpful Handwashing Videos 


An overview of basic principles with a really catchy song.

This video may be a little too germaphobic but it makes up for it by being hilarious.
 May be especially helpful for those children who tend to pick up "floor food" and
 put it in their mouths.  However, be sure to discuss the fact that in real life, we
would never just leave the water running like the woman in the hand washing
 sequence.  Please, don't waste water!   

For parents and educators. Learn more about Dr. Will Sawyer's campaign to educate
 the public about the "T Zone" and how following his guidelines can reduce sickness
 in your home, school, and work place.


The Hidden World of Deadly Germs

Hand Washing 101:


Bubble Fun

History of Soap


Hand Washing Songs


Soap Making Crafts

For Parents & Teachers





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The Hidden World of Deadly Germs



Bubble Fun

History of Soap

Soap Making Crafts

Hand Washing Songs



For Parents & Teachers

Hand Washing 101:








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