Teaching kids about germs

by Brittany Gilbert

With a new baby in the house, we are very aware of germs. We also have two other kids under the age of 5 who don’t have germs on their radar.

Handwashing may be second nature to adults, but it’s simply a nuisance to kids.

We’re also entering the season for common colds, the flu and other illnesses. Kids going back to school are more likely to catch these seasonal viruses just from the nature of how kids play and interact with each other.

Daycares will start warning parents of the various yucky illnesses going around in a child’s class, which will have you scrambling to keep your child healthy because a day away from school or daycare is a day away from work. In our case, we definitely want to keep our new baby well because she can’t handle viruses as well as our bigger kids can; therefore, we are working diligently on teaching our kids about germs.

Teach proper handwashing

I wouldn’t be surprised if most adults don’t use proper handwashing techniques, so it’s also important to demonstrate for your children. It’s really easy to do; teach your kids to use soap and warm water when washing their hands for 30 seconds. They can sing their favorite song, or you can work together to come up with your own.

Teach how germs are spread

There are many ways to accomplish this goal. One way is to explain how they need to keep things away from their mouths because germs travel from mouth to surface.

You can do this by having them wear lipstick and have them kiss a piece of paper, their hand or another object. Another is to put some hand sanitizer on their hands and then pour some glitter on top of the sanitizer before rubbing their hands together.

Before it dries, have them go around touching different surfaces and people. Then have them look for the glitter, explaining that this is how germs are spread, except that they are invisible.

Look at pictures of germs

It helps to visualize what a germ actually looks like. There are pictures of germs magnified that are available online.

Get hands-on with a science experiment

When I was in elementary school, I remember the bread experiment to learn about germs. This is fun, easy and will work with kids of any age. You take a piece of bread and with unclean hands, you and your kids rub your hands all over the bread and then put it in a Ziploc bag. Then everyone washes their hands properly and then repeat the exercise with another piece of bread. Lastly, put an untouched piece of bread in a third bag as the “control.” Hang the bags up to monitor over the next few days and watch the dirty piece of bread become really moldy.

Teach what to do with germs

Not only is proper handwashing important, but so is cleaning up after yourself and covering your cough and sneeze. Show your child what happens when you sneeze or cough in to your hands and how it can easily spread everywhere very quickly. Teach them to use their elbow instead. It may take quite a bit of repetition, especially depending on their age, but my boys were able to master this when they were 2.

It’s also helpful and important to teach your children to clean up. Children as young as 2 can clean up messes. Make sure to get a safe cleaner and spray the cleaner yourself and then have them wipe up the table after eating or any other mess.

With these tips, you can cut down on the misery of cold and flu season. Not only will you be thankful you taught your children these skills, but also their teachers and fellow classmates will be grateful as well.


Brittany Gilbert is a former FACS teacher at Maumelle High School. She and her husband, Levi, have two sons and live in Conway. Brittany can be reached at [email protected].