Teaching Proper Hand Hygiene to Kids in K-12 Classrooms

Between all the math, science, social studies and language arts, it can be hard to find time to teach kids one of life’s most important lessons for staying healthy throughout the school year: hand hygiene. In a study that followed 120 middle and high school students, 58% of female students washed their hands after using the bathroom, compared with 48% of male students. On top of that, female students only used soap 28% of the time, while male students used soap a shocking 8% of the time.1

Education is clearly the key here—without the proper handwashing technique, microorganisms can still linger and proliferate on the skin. By incorporating simple, fun and informative lesson plans into day-to-day school activities, teachers can spread awareness to their students about how important it is to wash and sanitize their hands at key moments throughout the day to help prevent the spread of germs.

Use these quick, guided hand hygiene lessons to fill in the gaps of student knowledge.

Understanding How Germs Spread in the Classroom

At a young age, children might not be aware of how germs spread, or how this can cause sickness in themselves or others. Even if they were taught proper hand hygiene, they might still share utensils with a classmate or sneeze without using a tissue—not realizing the risk.

One lesson plan in this program uses a story that shows the fun-loving character, CLEAN GENE™, going through a day’s activities and students must identify what moments could have led to him getting sick. This demonstrates to students how and where they are likely to contract and spread illness, and what they can do to prevent it.

Turn to a more “hands-on” activity to teach students proper cough and sneeze etiquette: students draw self-portraits, ending with a well-placed tissue over the mouth to catch the cough.

Building Proper Hand Washing Habits

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), washing hands for 20 seconds is what you need to knock germs out.2 However, in the handwashing study mentioned above, observers found that female students washed their hands for more than 5 seconds just 50% of the time, and male students only 23% of the time. That doesn’t even come close to the time recommended to get truly clean.

To instill in their students how long is long enough, teachers can use a lesson that riffs off of the CDC suggestion to “sing Happy Birthday twice” by having students rewrite the song with their own germ-fighting lyrics. The next time they go to wash their hands, that song will be stuck in their head so there will be no need for guesswork.

Making the Most of Your Hand Hygiene Toolbox

Handwashing is the tried-and-true way to avoid the spread of germs. However, schools should go beyond the basics and provide comprehensive hand hygiene in high-traffic environments. PURELL® Advanced Hand Sanitizer offers a convenient way for kids to clean up any extra germs that remain after a possible lackluster handwashing—or when soap and water aren’t immediately available.

Although many parents say they’ve given their child a portable bottle of hand sanitizer to take to school with them, kids might not know how to put them to use. One third of parents have never given their child a sanitizer lesson.3

Teachers can help. For example, a basic activity that demonstrates to students how to apply sanitizer over every surface of the hand by looking at cut-out tracings of their own hands is a fast and simple way to educate students on this matter. After the lesson, teachers can hang up the hands from yarn like a mobile as a year-round reminder to practice good hand hygiene in the classroom.

Lesson Plans for a Comprehensive Hand Hygiene Solution

Common sense dictates that going to school is a germy affair. Sharing close quarters and classroom supplies can make children more likely to contract or spread illness. According to a recent survey, 74% of parents have sent their kids into school sick, putting other students and staff at risk4. It’s easy to understand why this happens—it simply wouldn’t be practical for parents to take off work or leave early every time their child gets the sniffles.

As a result, it’s essential for K-12 schools to make hand hygiene part of the day for students. The PURELL™ HEALTHY HANDS CAMPAIGN helps schools meet this goal with trusted hand hygiene products, classroom activities and educational materials that enable teachers to make hand hygiene an everyday lesson.

Check out the complete list of K-12 lesson plans and classroom activities that can help you promote healthy hand hygiene practices in your school.