Preschool is all about beginning to teach the basics. Yes, that means letters and shapes, but it also means teaching your preschooler appropriate social interaction and proper hygiene. What they learn in preschool acts as a building block for what they will learn in kindergarten and beyond.
Preschool also tends to be a time when children are building their immune systems. It is typically their first time spending significant time outside of the home, which means they are inevitably exposed to more germs and bacteria. At that age, they still tend to explore the world around them primarily through their senses of touch and taste, which inevitably causes the spread of germs. That’s why it is important to start teaching your preschooler the basics of good hygiene now!
Here are a few tips on how to teach your preschool good hygiene habits:
Break it down in a way that makes sense to them.
Preschoolers have a limited understanding of the way the world works, and germs are no exception. It helps to explain that germs are still there even though they can’t see them. It’s also important to explain what parts of their bodies are vulnerable to germs, such as their nose, eyes, ears, and mouth. It’s also important to point out the best time to wash their hands as well, like after they use the restroom, before they eat, after sharing toys, and after they sneeze or cough.
It may seem like a 3 or 4-year-old may not be able to comprehend all of this, but don’t underestimate the importance of introducing them to this information early on.
Make it fun for them to practice good hygiene.
The best motivating factor for anything you want a preschooler to do is FUN! If it is fun, they’ll do it. If it isn’t, they won’t. So get creative and figure out how you can make hygiene fun. Sing a silly song as you go through the steps of proper handwashing. Use a reward system to encourage them when you see them doing it on their own. Bring out the tickle monster when they’re being stubborn.
Preschoolers also get a lot of enjoyment from being in control, so incorporate their ability to choose in your approach to building good hygiene habits as well. For example, it’s important to teach children why they should change clothes daily. Maybe they have a bin of clothes to choose from when they get home from school, where they can pick out their own outfit. Or let them pick out a new pack of underwear and socks when they need with their favorite characters on them. The more a preschooler feels they have a say in what they do, the more they will want to do it!
Repeat and reinforce until it becomes a habit.
It takes a while for anyone to form a new habit, and that is especially true for preschoolers! You have to repeat and reinforce the hygiene habits you’re trying to teach, over and over, before they sink in. You will have to have the same conversations multiple times, and repeatedly remind your kids to do what you feel like they should be able to remember on their own.
It helps to give them verbal expectations and have them repeat them back to you as well. For example, saying “We are almost home, so can you tell me what two things we always do first thing when we get home?” Then praise them when they respond with the answer you’re looking for. And chances are, you’ll have to repeat it when you walk through the door!
At Connection Point Early Learning Center, we reinforce these ideas and principles and strive to teach our students the importance of good hygiene. We also model it as staff and faculty, doing everything we can to keep our students safe and healthy.