Young children love to explore. But as they toddle around the house or the child care center, they don’t understand that the stuff they get on their hands can make them sick. Here are five hands-on ways to teach your toddler about germs.
Keep It Simple
Toddlers aren’t ready for a science lesson about the differences between viruses, bacteria, fungi, or protozoans. Keep your explanations about germs as simple as possible.
Explain that there are tiny living things called germs that we can’t see. Germs live inside our bodies and on things like doorknobs, chairs, or tables that people touch. Tell children that when we touch things that others touch, these tiny living things can find their way into our bodies, possibly making us sick. Then teach your kids how to wash their hands, using a song like “Happy Birthday” or the alphabet song to make sure they’re lathering and rubbing their hands for long enough before they rinse.
Make a Model
Get creative with play clay, pipe cleaners, cotton swabs, pom-poms, or other crafting materials, and make a model of “Jerry/Jenny the Germ.” Add googly eyes and a grumpy-looking mouth. Put your germ model in a place the kids will regularly see to remind them to wash their hands.
To help your kids understand how germs can stick to their hands and fingers, sprinkle a little glitter on their hands. Use different colors for each child. Then have them shake hands with each other, share toys, and pick up toy plates and utensils.
Show them how the glitter “germs” stick to anything they touch and how one child’s glitter color gets all over another child’s hands. The glitter won’t rub off easily. Ask the children whether they’d want to put their “germy” glittery fingers in their mouths. Ew! This is a good way to help kids understand how important hand-washing is in reducing the spread of germs.
Kids who have a habit of sucking their fingers will begin to understand how unhealthy their behavior can be. If you’re wondering how to break the finger-sucking habit, an explanation of germs and how they can make you sick is a good start.
Showcase a Sneeze
Gather some feathers from a pillow or sprinkle some flour on your hands. Then “sneeze” into your hands, scattering the feathers or flour all over. This will show your kids how far germs can travel just from an uncovered sneeze. Then show your children the proper way to sneeze into their elbows to minimize the spread of germs.
Present the Power of Soap
You can tell your kids that washing their hands with soap is important, but getting them to understand is another matter. Try filling a small bowl with water and sprinkling some pepper in it to represent germs.
Then have your kids soap up their hands and place a soapy finger into the bowl. They’ll see the pepper “germs” run away from the soap, illustrating the effectiveness of soap in cleaning germs off small hands.
These five hands-on ways to teach your toddler about germs use fun activities to help children understand that germs are everywhere and washing their hands is important to their health.
“What Are Germs?” from KidsHealth.org
“8 DIY Activities to Teach Kids About Germs” from We Are Teachers
“Teaching Kids About Germs” from Kids Academy