Photo by emospada.
I have to admit, I’m a bit of a germophobe. I know that sounds very strange coming from someone who works with young children, often holding little hands that have just been used as Kleenexes, but rest assured, I go through plenty of soap and hand sanitizer! I try, as best I can, to pass on this hand-washing habit (minus the compulsion and phobia) to the youngsters I teach. Teaching young children to wash their hands has always been important. With current flu fears, it becomes more paramount. Simply being vigilant about washing hands goes a long way in promoting good health! So here’s one way I teach children the importance of washing their hands, while interjecting a bit of enthusiasm for the task via a bit of magic (formally referred to as “science“).
To prepare for this activity, you need a bin or bowl of water large enough to be visible by your group of children, a pepper shaker, a bar of soap, and a towel. You’ll want to start the activity by talking briefly about germs – you don’t want to make them paranoid, just informed. I usually mention that germs are so tiny we can’t even see them. They can get into our bodies and make us sick. Sometimes we have germs that make us sneeze! When we sneeze or cough, those little germs go flying through the air, unless we catch them by sneezing into our elbows (a little trick I have them practice, and remind them of when necessary). I dramatize a sneeze or cough by making the sound and shaking the pepper into the water. I point out again, that germs are much smaller and can’t be seen, but we’re going to pretend the pepper flakes are germs.
I then invite a few of the children to try to scare the “germs” away by sticking their fingers into the water and forcefully saying something like, “Scram, germs! Go away!” The “germs” of course stay put. Then I tell the children I have something that germs really don’t like. Something that will make them go away. I then rub a wet finger on the soap and simply touch that soapy finger to the water. The pepper seems to magically shoot away from the finger in all directions! (The “magic” is actually a change in surface tension caused by the soap.) Let the children try it as well. (Depending on the size of your water bin, you may need to change your water. After doing this a few times, the “trick” no longer works as the surface tension has already been altered.)
After adequate time for exclamations like “whoa”, “cool”, and “I didn’t get a turn yet”, we turn the discussion back to germs and soap. I remind the children that germs might be on something we touch, and then they get on our hands. When we pick up a sandwich to eat for lunch, they get on our sandwich. When we eat those germs on our sandwich, they get into our bodies and then they can make us sick. That’s why it’s important to wash our hands, especially before we eat, even if they look clean! And we can’t just wash them off with water, because germs aren’t so scared of water. We need something germs are scared of. What do we need? Of course, the children will be glad to tell you, we need SOAP!
Try this activity with your little ones, and you’ll have to start rationing the soap, they’ll be so eager to use it!
A few notes:
*After this activity, you may want to set it up in your sensory table, to give the children more opportunities to experiment with the magical science of it all. I usually use a shoebox sized bin of water inside my regular sensory bin. That way, I only have to change a small bin of water as it becomes saturated with either the soap or the pepper. Plus, the larger bin catches any spills from the smaller bin. Double winner!
*Have a wet rag on hand to be sure that the children’s hands are free from pepper and rinsed from soap, or you’re bound to have someone rub one or both into an eye. That never goes well.