Coronavirus: 5 handwashing tips for younger children

Explaining the importance of handwashing and understanding germs in light of coronavirus is tricky in early years, but Helen Pinnington has some tips

coronavirus handwashing

Those of us who have spent any length of time teaching in early years know that bodily fluids can be an occupational hazard that we regularly encounter! We see nose picking, noses wiped on sleeves, explosive sneezes and accidents of all varieties.

This means that for those in EYFS, the new rules around coronavirus prevention will be a particular challenge.



Some facts those who work in EYFS will recognise about very young children:

  1. They don’t know how to blow their noses.
  2. When they do attempt to blow their nose, they like to hand the scrunched up, wet tissue to their beloved teacher.
  3. They don’t use a tissue or their hands when they cough and sneeze.
  4. They really don’t wash their hands when they go to the toilet.
  5. When they are encouraged to wash their hands, they have no idea of how to do it properly.

I could go on but I’ll stop there and sigh, bless them!

Coronavirus lessons

Children need to be taught life skills and we must recognise that the teaching of hygiene practices are not limited to the home environment; it should be a part of daily teaching through our routines. That was always true, but it is particularly important now with the Coronavirus guidelines.

Looking at the proposed new early learning goals, I am really pleased to see that this is one area that remains virtually unchanged. Interestingly, it will move from the aspect of physical development to personal, social and emotional development.

In light of the current concerns regarding coronavirus, our team has discussed how we might increase our efforts in the teaching of this aspect. We know that the concept of "germs" is an abstract one for children, so we have planned some activities to help them to understand.

Top tips

Here's what we are doing:

1. The glitter germ experiment
We begin by talking to the children about the idea of germs spreading.  We then show the children a tray of oil, coated in glitter. 

We tell the children that the glitter represents germs and together, we explore what happens when you put your hands in the tray and then shake hands with a friend or put your hands on a surface, like a door handle. 

The glitter is really visual so the children can see the ‘germs’ spreading. It is a fun way of teaching the concept.

2. Stories
We share the classic story Wash Your Hands by Tony Ross. I really like the story as it helps the children to visualise the germs and to learn the times and occasions when they should wash their hands, as well as busting the myth that they only need to wash them once!  It always promotes a good discussion and questions from the children.

3. Modelling
As children really don’t know how to wash their hands, I find the best thing to do is show them through lots and lots of modelling.  I have done this with the whole class going through the actions together. We also teach a little song to help them to remember the steps which is effective. (Watch some handwashing videos here)

4. Toilet duty
It is really important for adults to police the toilet area to ensure that children are washing their hands and remembering to do it correctly. This is reinforced with the use of visual step-by-step photos in the sink area.

5. Nurse visit
We also invite the school nurse in to reinforce the message strongly, which helps the children to make links with roles in the community. It is especially effective if they are able to resource a UV lamp to show how effectively the children have washed their hands.

Helen Pinnington is early years foundation lead at St Thomas More’s Catholic Primary School in Bedhampton, Hampshire

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