5 Creative Ways to Teach Handwashing to Kids
30 September 2022
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By
UNICEF
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You’ve probably sung the ‘Happy Birthday’ song with your child multiple times by now. But
there are other fun ways to teach proper handwashing!


Handwashing with soap is one of the most basic health skills you can teach your child to
prevent diseases. This simple act can reduce diarrheal diseases by 30% and acute respiratory
diseases by 20%. But beyond disease prevention, it also helps reduce rates of school
absenteeism and have been central in safe school reopening strategies. Learning proper
handwashing at a young age can lead to making it a lifelong habit, which means greater
resilience and optimal participation in school and other learning activities. Sounds good, right?

For kids, having a play-based approach in learning handwashing is important, and there are
several ways to make it fun and interactive. Messages should be simple such as following the
steps “Wet, Lather with soap, Scrub, Rinse and Dry”. It’s also important to remind kids to do
handwashing during key times such as before eating, after toilet use and after playing. We list
down some activities you can do that can also serve as bonding moments between you and
your child.

Behavioral Nudges: Though many children know why and how to wash hands, a
common reason children fail to do so is because they forget. Nudges are visual cues that
can ”move” children to wash hands with soap at the very time that they need to.
Nudges such as colorful footprints from the toilet leading to the handwashing sink, an
arrow pointing to the soap, eye stickers and posters have been tested and found
effective in increasing handwashing rates among Filipino school children These colorful
nudges can easily be drawn together with your kid and placed in your home as
reminders. For more details and templates on nudges email ghdpilipinas@gmail.com.
You can also watch this video from DepEd on how to make handwashing nudges at
home.

2. Storytelling: There are several story books about handwashing in the market, or you can
also make your own. These stories usually evoke emotions in children rather than simply
stating facts. These emotions include disgust for germs, affiliation or social acceptance
and being seen as attractive that can motivate children to wash their hands. 


3. Singing and Dancing: Washing hands to a beat or tune can help children practice
washing for 20 seconds or until the song ends and remember steps. Again, there are
several songs on handwashing for children available or you can switch some lyrics from
their favorite songs to add messages on handwashing with soap. The familiarity with the
song or dance and its lingering effect help the child internalize the handwashing
message.

4. Games: One of the fun ways to introduce handwashing is through games. You can ask
the child to identify different objects that are in a circle shape in a room and connect
those with the idea of bubbles that we get when we wash hands. Creating bubbles
during handwashing is important as it would require rubbing hands together and
lathering soap which kills germs. You can also give them blow bubbles that they can use
to form bubbles in the air and relate it to handwashing.


5. Experiments: Banking on children’s curiosity, simple experiments can be used to show
the importance of using soap when handwashing. One example is having a child apply
soap on a finger and dipping this into a shallow bowl with water and a sprinkling of black
pepper over it. The movement of the pepper from the finger simulates how soap
(through handwashing) expels the germs (from the hands). The wonder of the discovery
makes for a significant experience that helps retain the intended message.
We hope you got inspired by some of the activities listed and let us know if you have other
ideas on how to make handwashing more fun for kids!

 

 

References:

1. Wolf J, Hunter PR, Freeman MC, Cumming O, Clasen T, Bartram J, Higgins JPT, Johnston R, Medlicott K, Boisson S, Prüss-Ustün A. Impact of drinking water, sanitation and handwashing with soap on childhood diarrhoeal disease: updated meta-analysis and meta-regression. Trop Med Int Health. 2018 May;23(5):508-525. doi: 10.1111/tmi.13051. Epub 2018 Apr 23. PMID: 29537671.
2. Aiello AE, Larson EL. What is the evidence for a causal link between hygiene and infections? Lancet Infect Dis. 2002 Feb;2(2):103-10. doi: 10.1016/s1473-3099(02)00184-6. PMID: 11901641.
3. Willmott M, Nicholson A, Busse H, MacArthur GJ, Brookes S, Campbell R. Effectiveness of hand hygiene interventions in reducing illness absence among children in educational settings: a systematic review and meta-analysis. Arch Dis Child. 2016 Jan;101(1):42-50. doi: 10.1136/archdischild-2015-308875. Epub 2015 Oct 15. PMID: 26471110; PMCID: PMC4717429.
4. Lo Moro G, Sinigaglia T, Bert F, Savatteri A, Gualano MR, Siliquini R. Reopening Schools during the COVID-19 Pandemic: Overview and Rapid Systematic Review of Guidelines and Recommendations on Preventive Measures and the Management of Cases. Int J Environ Res Public Health. 2020 Nov 27;17(23):8839. doi: 10.3390/ijerph17238839. PMID: 33261208; PMCID: PMC7731329.
5. Huang HC, Le N, Battle M, Villasenor JM, Maule L. Nudging Handwashing among Primary School Students in the Philippines: Evidence from a Cluster Randomized Trial. Am J Trop Med Hyg. 2021 Oct 25;105(6):1806-1815. doi: 10.4269/ajtmh.20-0673. PMID: 34695804; PMCID: PMC8641314.