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Activities for Promoting Hygiene and Sanitation in Schools: Resources and Tips for Faculty and Teachers

School-aged children spend most of their time in close contact with other kids, which makes finding activities for promoting hygiene and sanitation in schools imperative. Teaching health education not only protects the health of students, but school faculty and the greater community as well.

From handwashing to menstrual hygiene, teachers and administrators can get creative while engaging with students and encouraging good hygiene habits. Whether you’re looking to upgrade your cleaning equipment or implement a health education curriculum, there are many ways to ensure your school stays safe and clean for all.

Who teaches children about hygiene and sanitation?

Although parents are responsible for a child’s upbringing, schools play a critical role in teaching children personal hygiene. There are many steps school leaders, parents, and policy makers can take to create a clean, equitable learning environment.

However, promoting hygiene and sanitation requires more than solely providing teachers and students with bathrooms and cleaning equipment. Schools that recognize their roles as knowledge centers and children’s roles as change agents can make a greater impact in cultivating lifelong good hygiene habits.

Administration: Training, facilities, and curriculum

One way districts can promote hygiene education is by training teachers and faculty on safe sanitation practices. Doing so empowers staff to share their knowledge with kids and identify barriers in maintaining a hygiene routine. Moreover, all staff members can play a part in daily upkeep, from disinfecting high-touch surfaces to restocking toiletry supplies.

Districts may want to consider devising a formal cleaning plan for their facilities and janitorial staff. Investing in equipment, such as commercial sprayers, can make it easier to sanitize large spaces while saving on costs associated with labor. Many schools consult with a professional cleaning service to streamline their sanitation practices and find ways to save on cleaning costs.

However, none of these strategies will pay off if districts don’t have formal curricula for health education. Many kids do not know how they can prevent infections through simple actions such as handwashing, not sharing food, and covering their mouths when they sneeze or cough. Implementing hand-hygiene programs can reduce absent days, respiratory infections (RIs), and antibiotic prescriptions, according to a study from Pediatrics.

Teachers: Encouraging hygiene habits in the classroom

School-aged children spend the majority of their time in classrooms where teachers can easily reinforce good hygiene habits. Teachers play a vital part in leading and encouraging healthy habits and hygiene behavior. For example, teachers can remind students to wash their hands before dismissing them for lunch.

Consider stocking personal hygiene products such as disinfecting wipes, alcohol-based hand rub, deodorant, and menstrual products in key spaces, such as classrooms, bathrooms, and cafeterias. Moreover, kids need to be aware of where to find these products, which can be widely communicated through school announcements or student orientation programs.

Teachers and faculty can encourage good hygiene in kids through positive reinforcement too. Praise and even small rewards, such as a homework pass or a free lunch item, can incentivize kids to adapt a hygiene routine. Not only does this reward students for participation, it also gives other students practical examples of good hygiene behavior.

Illustrating the importance of hygiene and sanitation for school kids

To illustrate the importance of hygiene and sanitation for school-aged kids, districts should implement intervention programs at all grade levels. Not only does basic hygiene prevent infection, but children with poor personal hygiene may be more likely to be targets for bullying.

For kids to see hygiene as a necessary routine, the activities and material must be age-appropriate with considerations for the specific needs of the community. Equally important, hygiene education should be fun and engaging.

Select topics that are age-appropriate

Reinforcing good hygiene habits at an early age helps children sustain these habits into adulthood. But teaching children about the importance of hygiene requires modifications for different age groups. To benchmark children’s progress, schools can consult the National Health Education Standards (NHES), which outline different objectives for students enrolled in grades two, five, eight, and twelve.

Because they aren’t visible to the naked eye, germs can be a difficult concept for primary school children to grasp. Teaching health education to young schoolchildren should appeal to their imaginations. Generally, as children grow older, they are able to tackle more complex health topics. For example, children in grades nine through twelve should be able to employ critical thinking to analyze how environment and health are interrelated, according the NHES guidelines.

Menstrual hygiene is also important to teach to children as they begin to enter the first stages of puberty. Effective menstrual hygiene management promotes access to menstrual products, knowledge, and well-equipped facilities, and reinforces positive social norms. Schools can accomplish this by including period lesson plans in their curricula, along with giving students ample time for bathroom breaks and resources for pain management. It may be necessary to review blood and bodily fluid precautions and how to dispose of menstrual products with students and staff as well.

Know the needs of the community

Every school-system serves a unique community and consists of families from different socioeconomic, racial, cultural, and religious backgrounds. These factors may affect attitudes towards handwashing and sanitation. Moreover, they may put certain groups of people at greater risk for disease and infection. For instance, a report by the CDC found that individuals with a low economic status are at greater risk of dying from unsafe water and a lack of sanitation and hygiene. Schools should account for the infrastructural challenges students face that influence hygiene behavior, such as access to clean water.

Flexibility is key to taking an effective approach to health education, according to the World Health Organization (WHO). More importantly, the entire community should be included in hygiene promotion projects. Strategies for assessing the needs of each community may include surveying families, forming specialized committees, and establishing outreach programs.

Considerations should be given to widespread poor personal hygiene practices and which groups are most affected by these unhealthy practices. Schools should also assess which channels of communication are most trusted for raising hygiene and health awareness. If schools are knowledgeable about what issues their community faces, they are more likely to make a long-lasting impact.

Make health education engaging and fun

Although health education explores serious topics, it doesn’t have to be boring. Regardless of age or demographic, activities for promoting hygiene and sanitation in schools should be engaging and fun. Otherwise, students may have difficulty paying attention and applying the information in their daily lives.

A 2017 study found greater improvements in children’s oral hygiene when they were taught about oral health through game-based learning compared to traditional approaches. Similarly, children may feel more compelled to adapt good hygiene habits, such as handwashing and using hand sanitizer, if these topics are presented in an exciting and interesting format.

Other nontraditional methods of learning may include hands-on activities, such as in-class experiments and puzzles. Film is also a great method for teaching students about various topics and is linked to higher levels of enjoyment in learning, according to multiple surveys by the British Film Institute.

Games and activities for teaching kids about hygiene and sanitation

The quality of health education that is offered to students is largely dependent on the amount of resources available at their school districts. For many districts, budgetary limits can exclude certain educational tools, such as expensive software or laboratory equipment.

Regardless, there are many free online resources available to teachers, administrators, and school faculty for promoting hygiene and sanitation in schools. Government agencies, such as the CDC and UNICEF, specialize in these topics and offer downloadable lesson plans, activities, and learning games for kids.

Activities for proper handwashing

Promoting handwashing is one of the most effective ways to prevent diarrhea and RIs among schoolchildren. For this reason, the CDC provides full lesson plans for the subject of handwashing that include promotional materials and educational worksheets.

An article by Cahoots covers five different ways to teach kids to wash their hands through play-based learning. One activity is the “bread experiment,” which has children touch a piece of bread before handwashing, and then another piece of bread after handwashing. The pieces of bread are placed in separate plastic baggies, which children can observe for mold over a period of a few days.

Song is another effective method for teaching proper handwashing techniques. Handwashing songs reinforce scrubbing for a minimum of twenty seconds and can be adapted to popular tunes, such as Beyonce’s “Love on Top” and Queen’s “We Will Rock You.”

Activities for learning about germs

TV programming can be highly effective in teaching the basic concepts of germs to young children, especially with its combination of visuals and sound. The Journey of the Germ is a video by PBS that illustrates how germs can spread for children in primary school. PBS also offers resources for grades Pre-K through twelve specifically covering topics related to virus information and prevention.

Students can also learn about the nature of germs through different laboratory experiments. For instance, growing bacterial yeast in petri dishes is a relatively inexpensive and easy experiment that children of all ages can do. Schools with specialized laboratory equipment may want to consider incorporating it into their health education for hands-on activities.

We Are Teachers is another website that offers free germ education activities, which can be incorporated into health education lesson plans. Its complimentary germ activity kit includes a colorful “Bye-Bye Germs” poster, a germ-themed word game, and a hidden-object puzzle.

Activities for school sanitation and cleaning

Teachers and parents alike often struggle when it comes to encouraging cleaning and sanitation practices in children. For many children, cleaning is a task they would prefer to avoid. However, cleaning habits are important to teach to children, especially with the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

Education Worlds offers inspiration for motivating students to clean their classrooms, including a competition for cleaning positions. Students can volunteer to fulfill various cleaning roles throughout the school year and are awarded for their participation. Teachers can create roles based on necessary cleaning and sanitation tasks of school facilities, such as disinfecting desks or refilling hand sanitizer dispensers.

However, teachers and school faculty may find that they need to motivate their older students differently. A study by the University of Texas found that teaching skills to adolescents is more effective when they maintain a sense of autonomy in decision-making. For example, letting a class of teenagers create a cleaning music playlist may encourage their participation in cleaning and sanitation activities.

Additional resources for promoting hygiene and sanitation of school facilities

When used in conjunction with other knowledge-transfer approaches, deliberately placed signs and displays can also encourage hygiene habits, sanitation practices, and food safety, according to a 2013 study from the Health Information and Libraries Journal. Handwashing posters may be an effective reminder when they are placed inside bathrooms and cafeterias, for instance. The CDC offers hygiene-related posters at no cost, which can be used in any public space.

Finding activities for promoting hygiene and sanitation in schools requires faculty and teachers to commit to a multifaceted approach, from improving the maintenance of their facilities to raising awareness about good hygiene habits.

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