my youngest child made it through two days of kindergarten before she got
sick. (Many common cold viruses or gastrointestinal bugs only need 36
to 96 hours to incubate.) And, no, this was not her first time ever
being in school. She had been in preschool for two years before this.
year, the start of school brings the spread of illnesses as children
crowd back into classrooms. It doesn’t help that fall and winter tend to
be the busiest seasons for viral illnesses such as colds, flu, and
A research study about hand-washing
That’s why I was struck by a recent study in the American Journal of Infection Control regarding
hand-washing practices in schoolchildren ages 5 to 15 years. This study
compared kids in two different schools. Those in one of the schools served
as the control group: Their parents were simply provided with
handwritten instructions about washing kids' hands. In the second
school--where the actual experiment was conducted--the children were
taught the proper way to wash their hands and they were supervised as
they did so. In addition, at this second school, the children were
required to use hand sanitizer at three scheduled times during the day.
surprisingly, the children in the second school had significantly fewer
illnesses and absences—in fact, they missed 26 percent fewer days from
school than the kids in the first school did.
What is your school’s policy on hand-washing?
is surprising to me is how few schools today stress hand washing, let
alone have any formal and consistent hand-washing policies or routines.
While hand washing won’t prevent all illnesses (there’s still the child
who coughs or sneezes right into classmates’ faces, which is considered
airborne spread), hand washing can greatly decrease the incidence of
illness, since most germs are spread by physical contact, meaning that kids somehow touch the virus with their hands, and then touch their eyes or mouth.
What can we do?
we all be glad if our children could make it through the year without
getting sick so often? And parents: How many sleepless nights and missed
days of work could we then avoid?
So, with this in mind, how about making some recommendations about hand
washing to your child’s school? Here are a few suggestions that I’d
Have all children wash hands with soap and water when entering the classroom in the morning. This
is just a quick suds and rinse that’s easy for classrooms to do. I’ve
seen it done in preschools, and the children quickly learn the routine:
Put away book bags, coats, etc., and immediately line up at the sink.
Instruct children on the proper use of hand sanitizers.
This is crucial because, to be truly effective in killing germs, these
products need to be rubbed and massaged onto the skin for 60 to 90
seconds. If you time yourself, you’ll quickly realize that most children
(and adults) don’t spend nearly enough time applying these sanitizers.
Have scheduled hand-washing times during the day, especially right before snack times and meals.
Many schools already give kids a quick squirt of hand sanitizer (but
see number 2, above) on their way to the cafeteria before lunch, but not
at any other times. I’d also like to see children wash their hands just
before being dismissed for the day.
Throught the year, monitor hand-washing practices in all grades,
and remind children about basic hand-washing techniques regularly. Even
as adults, we tend to improve our habits for a short time and then let
good habits slip after a while.
Good habits can die fast
the H1N1 flu was at its peak in 2009, hand-washing practices in schools
and communities were great, and I loved the fact that hand sanitizers
were available practically everywhere I went. As the threat and the fear
died down, however, so did the hand washing--even though we all know
that some virus or illness is almost always lurking.
the results of the hand-washing study above seem obvious, what’s
puzzling to me is why so few of us really heed results like these and
put them to work for us in our lives. This study is a great reminder
that this very simple intervention can have a big impact on our lives.