Hand Washing 101: Preschool Basics

FaucetI’ve always been a big proponent of good personal hygiene habits for preschoolers. (Actually, for everybody!) The problem is, most 3 and 4-year olds simply aren’t good at personal hygiene. They’re forever sticking their fingers in their mouths and up their noses, and they don’t really see the point in hand washing. I had a 3-year old student exit the bathroom recently without washing. When I reminded him to wash his hands, he said it was okay. I told him that no, it wasn’t okay, and that people always wash their hands after using the bathroom. In an effort to reassure me, he said, “I flushed with my foot, so I don’t have to wash.” Telling preschoolers to wash their hands isn’t enough. You have to actively teach them why, when, and how to do it.

Preschoolers unschooled in hand washing typically pump soap into their dry palms and then shove their hands into the water streaming from the faucet. The water pushes the soap off and down the drain before even one measly bubble is achieved. They’ll rub their soapless hands together for a few seconds before grabbing off half the roll of paper towels. Somehow their hands are neither clean nor dry when they’re done.

Young children need EXPLICIT instruction to effectively wash their hands. You must spell out the steps they need to take, then give them a way to remember those steps on their own. Simply telling them to wash with soap and water for as long as it takes to sing Happy Birthday twice isn’t going to cut it.

With a little help from Frère Jacques and Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II, I wrote a wash-up song that just about any 3 or 4-year old can memorize. With enough guided practice, the song teaches an effective method of hand washing preschoolers can understand, remember, and implement on their own. It works!

There are a lot of nasties out there, from the common cold to influenza, which hand washing, if done right, can keep at bay. The health news this fall of 2014 is pretty grim. Enterovirus D68 is poised to make a big splash nationwide. Maybe it will, maybe it won’t. As of mid-October, New Hampshire has had 12 confirmed cases of Enterovirus D68. Of those, 10 children were hospitalized. My goal is to keep my Hogarth kids from becoming part of those statistics. I’ll be happy if The Hogarth Wash-Up Song helps other teachers and parents keep their own kiddos healthy.

In this video, you’ll see me walking Alexa, one of my 4-year olds, through the steps. I started singing with the children as they washed up in mid-September, and at this point, most of my young students are singing and washing on their own. Alexa has the method nailed. Notice how she checks her progress with the poster on the wall from 0:43 to 0:53 while she’s washing.

Preschoolers enjoy singing with their grown-ups, regardless of how great or not great their grown-ups carry a tune. Don’t be afraid to sing loud and proud, people. Your kids will love it!

PLEASE NOTE: Most authorities recommend vigorously washing with soap and running water for 20 seconds to kill all bacteria and viruses. Very young children don’t typically do “vigorous” well, so the actual wash-up portion of the song runs about 40 seconds. I found that when the children sing the song without the accompanying music to pace them it runs about 30 seconds, plenty of time to do the job right. I understand all that water running down the drain looks wasteful. For a number of reasons (including regulating water temperature and recontaminating clean hands), turning the water off to lather up and wash and then turning it back on to rinse is not advised.

Feel free to print out this little poster on legal-sized paper. (All I ask is that you give me credit if using this song and poster professionally. Thank you!) You can laminate it and hang it in your own bathroom for your children to reference. Once the children memorize the song, the rebus reading of the memorized text is an excellent, developmentally appropriate early independent reading experience. Bonus!

Hogarth School Wash-Up Poster-page-001

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *