Teaching little kids to wash their hands is no easy task. They’ll squirm. They won’t use the correct amounts of soap or water or common sense. They’ll walk away because handwashing is boooorrrrrinnnggggg. So what’s the best way to make scrubbing a regular act? According to a new study, it may be as simple as proving to them that their hands are as disgusting as you say. When it comes to little kids and bacteria, seeing really is believing.
For the study, published by the Infectious Diseases Society of America, teachers and researchers gathered 90 second-grade students and made them measure the amount of bacteria cultures on their clean and dirty hands. The team asked the children to press their dirty paws onto a petri dish full of agar — a jelly-like substance that promotes bacteria growth. They then washed the kids hands and pressed their clean hands onto separate Agar-filled dishes. After allowing the jelly molds to sit for five days and observing the jelly every day students, researchers, and teachers alike discovered that washing their hands regularly led to a 91 percent decrease in microbial growth by using the Agar molds.
Another method the researchers used, and one that is more readily available at home should you want to teach your own kid this lesson, was by sprinkling children’s hands with Glo Germ, a visual tool teaches kids how to properly wash their hands. Glo Germ, which utilizes UV light, was rubbed onto the kids hands like lotion before washing. The kids were then shown the active bacteria living on their hands under the UV light. After washing and drying their hands, kids put their hands back under the UV light. Not only did this teach them how much bacteria went away, it also showed them their weak spots when it came to keeping their hands clean.
Results in the classrooms that conducted the experiment were clear: teachers reported at least a 68 percent improvement in handwashing behavior, as well as a 71 percent decrease in illness-related absences. In the case of kids and germs, knowing is half the battle.