5 everyday items you can use for first aid

Teaching young people first aid not only equips them with potentially life-saving skills but also gives them confidence

Megan Tatum

Teaching first aid in schools: 5 everyday items students can use in an emergency

Faced with an emergency, just one in 20 of us would know what to do. 

In fact, according to research by the British Red Cross, only 16 per cent would have the confidence to help someone who is unresponsive and not breathing. That’s despite a strong desire to help, particularly among young people. Sixty-nine per cent say they want to have the skills to save a life. 

It’s one of the many reasons why, as of September 2020, it became compulsory for all students in state-funded schools in England to be taught first aidThis will equip young people with the skills they need to handle incidents they might face, from minor cuts and grazes in the playground, to burns, breaks and even assisting someone who is unresponsive and not breathing  

This teaching will inevitably help to save more lives. Currently, up to 59 per cent of deaths from injury could have been prevented if first aid was given before emergency medical services arrived 

https://firstaidchampions.redcross.org.uk/become-a-first-aid-champion?utm_campaign=Community%[…]championsredcrossorguk%2Fbecome-a-first-aid-championAt Benfield School in Newcastle upon Tyne, assistant headteacher Sarah Wardle is already seeing the positive impact of teaching first-aid skillsStudents have been working through the first-aid modules created by the British Red Cross via its First Aid Champions platform. You could see that the students felt more empowered to make decisions and that their confidence had risen over time,” she says.

“It’s so important to make sure that young people are aware and prepared, and by sequentially going through these modules, they were left able to deal with situations they may face either as a teenager or an adult.

Teaching first aid in schools

In some cases, the young people had already witnessed the need for the skills we’d gone through, from a family member or even an incident in the street,” adds Wardle. “It's about providing them with that level of confidence to be able to act correctly, whether it's a head injury, a bleed or a crash.” 

However, first aid is about much more than simply giving young people the tools to manage incidents they may face at school, home or out and about.   

“The practical benefits of being equipped with such skills is only a part of the benefit for students,” says Danny Gower, assistant head of co-curricular at St Dunstan’s College in Catford, south-east London.  

By means of acting out real-life scenarios, pupils are encouraged to work as a team, enforcing patience and an ability to listen to others. Through engaging with some of the medical emergencies that people face as they consider ‘real-life’ scenarios, students develop empathy and an understanding of some of the challenges that other people face in their day-to-day lives. 

Everyday items to use for first aid

First aid can boost a child’s overall health literacy, too, explains Juliette Ryan, youth product manager for the British Red CrossIt helps to provide them with the tools for self-care and keeping themselves safe.  

By learning skills that allow them to directly contribute to their community, young people can also become far more resilient to all sorts of challenges. Many of these skills can be transferred to a range of situations, such as problem-solving, decision-making, asking questions and assessing a situation,” says Ryan 

Students develop a critical sense of resourcefulness – vital both for first aid and so many other aspects of their lives“Emergencies often happen in places where there isn’t any first-aid equipment, so you have to be able to think on your feet and use what is to hand to help,” she adds.  

That’s why the resources developed by the British Red Cross focus on actions rather than specific equipment. Our everyday first-aid approach focuses on learners remembering the one key action they can take to help in a specific first-aid situation. This boosts resourcefulness by showing learners how they can use everyday items to help when someone needs first aid,” says Ryan.

Everyday items you can use for first aid  

And here are five such everyday items that can be used to treat common injuries.  

Clean plastic carrier bag

An important step in treating a burn, once it’s been cooled, is to cover it in order to create a barrier from infection. Clingfilm is ideal but if you don’t have access to that, try a clean plastic carrier bag, which can be carefully wrapped around the burned area instead. This approach works particularly well if it’s a burned hand or foot.  


If you suspect someone has a broken bone, don’t try to move it. Instead, find a way to softly pad it to keep the limb aligned until help arrives. You don’t need any fancy equipment for this, just a regular blanket, towel or any piece of clothing 


If someone is bleeding heavily, the most important thing you can do is to compress the wound to try and reduce the flow of blood. Dressing pads are ideal for this but there are plenty of everyday items that work nearly as well. These include a clean T-shirt, a tea towel or even your hand, if nothing else is available. 

Can of Coca-Cola 

Where a diabetic’s glucose levels fall too low, they can suffer what’s known as hypoglycaemia (or "hypo"). If you don’t have glucose tablets to hand, though, any food or drink containing high levels of sugar can help – including a regular can of Coca-Cola. Sachets of sugar, sugar cubes, sweets or orange juice all work, too.

Frozen peas

To reduce swelling or pain on a head injury, apply something cold to the area as quickly as possible. Grab a pack of frozen peas or a few ice cubes – the important thing is to ensure that they don't directly touch the skin, so wrap them in a tea towel or a piece of clothing. You could even soak a piece of clothing under cold running water and use that.  

All materials and first-aid advice has been created and supplied by the British Red Cross

Find a wealth of free resources to help teach your students to become First aid champions



Megan Tatum

Megan Tatum is a freelance journalist

Find me on Twitter @1988_megan

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