Apps for Teaching Kids to Wash Hands


Picture this: A kindergartener sneezes. She wipes her nose with her hand, then goes back to playing with the classroom stash of MagnaTiles. A second later your son grabs one of the tiles she has just put down. But wait! His loose tooth calls to him. He finds it with an exploratory finger and wiggles it. Ah, relief arrives — along with the germs the girl just sneezed out. In fact they’ve just entered your child’s body through the front door, his mouth, and he brought them in himself.

A recent, informal survey of parents on Facebook revealed, not surprisingly, that the vignette above is on the tame end of kid antics that defy adult hygiene norms. We cringed at stories about tots who have dipped toothbrushes into toilet water, gleefully rubbed a sneeze into the kitchen table, and chewed on gum they found stuck to the bottom of an airport lounge chair. The little people among us have lots of curiosity and few inhibitions about bodily fluids!

If you think this lack of attention to cleanliness wanes as they get older, consider the research: according to the site GetReadyforFlu.orgonly 58 percent of teen girls and 48 percent of teen boys wash up after using the restroom.

So how is a parent to wage battle against all this accidental germ swapping? The answer is teaching kids to wash hands well and frequently. As Dr. Julie Gerberding of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention explained to ABC News, "If we were really compulsive about washing our hands  we could have a lot less colds.” Kids should wash their hands and fingers for as long as it takes to sing “Happy Birthday” twice using warm water and soap. They should do this before and after eating or touching food, after going to the bathroom, after playing, after touching an animal, and after coughing or sneezing.

But here’s the key: kids don’t do this on their own. The adults in their lives have to lay it out clearly and then reinforce the lessons. We do this by modeling good hygiene and by making hand washing a part of our routines at home. And even then, we will find ourselves reminding them — over and over again.

Healthy hand washing habits begin at home and carry over into school.

Tall order you say? To make it all a bit easier, we went searching for fun ways to impart the hows, whens, and whys of hand washing to toddlers, preschoolers, and school-age kids. If you have time for a slightly messy activity, Jill Riley’s blog, Mom with a Lesson Plan, details a clever cinnamon and oil hand-washing exploration that shows kids how germs and dirt can hide in the crevices of their hands. If you prefer to go digital, our app recommendations follow.

Healthy Me
  Healthy Me Hand Washing App
What: Healthy Me is a simple, interactive app that teaches preschoolers, and kindergarteners how to wash their hands and brush their teeth.
Best for: Ages 2-5
Why: Although this app offers little repeat play value, kids will enjoy it long enough to absorb its main lesson, which is that proper hand washing and teeth bushing are not quick enterprises. A timer counts up to 30 seconds, music plays, and a child narrator interjects pointers and encouragement while kids “scrub” the dirt off a pair of filthy hands. (For teeth brushing it’s a full two minutes.) The illustration and animation are basic, but so is the lesson, and it’s nothing if not clear here.

Cost: $.99

Oh, The Things You Can Do That Are Good For You!
Oh The Things That You Can Do That Are Good For You!
What:   This app is a rhyming, interactive storybook that features familiar characters from the world of Dr. Seuss, vocabulary support for developing readers, and fun sound effects.
Best for: Ages 5 and up
Why: The Cat in the Hat takes kids to the Feeling Good Clinic in the land of far-off Fadoo to learn healthy body lessons. These include the importance of getting enough sleep, good nutrition, and yes, washing your hands correctly. With the help of the “Zing-Singing Zanz” they are informed that it "takes half a minute to get your hands clean. Sing along with the Zanz and you’ll see what I mean.” With “read to myself” and “read to me” modes, as well as the option to record your own narration, the app is accessible to kids as young as 3 and can be enjoyed by parents and kids together. For  a sneak peek at the content watch First Lady Michelle Obama read the original book version at the White House.

Where: iPhone, iPad, iTouch
Cost: $5.99

“Hand Washing” on BrainPop Jr.
Hand Washing on BrainPOP Jr.
What: BrainPop Jr’s animated hand washing video explains, in detail, how, why, and when to wash your hands.
Best for: Ages 5-9
Why: The series’ friendly characters (a girl named Annie and Moby the Robot) walk kids though the ins and outs of hand washing, delivering the information as peers (Annie finds peanut butter under her fingernails) rather than as lecturing grown-ups. The information is imparted with clarity and warmth, and Moby’s reactions add levity.
Where:  Desktop and all mobile platforms
Cost: BrainPop Jr is a subscription service with a large library of animated videos for kids. It's available for home use at $9.45 a month or $99 a year, and is free for the families of schools with subscriptions, so ask your child’s teacher if your school is subscribed.

Do you have a favorite hand washing app? Let us know in the comments, or on Facebook and Twitter!
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