I believe in teaching my toddler the importance of personal hygiene now so that she gleans a lifetime lesson on health and self-care. This is aligned to the Montessori founding principle of empowering children to help themselves and be responsible for themselves. I particularly love this thought piece by baan dek about hygiene and Montessori.
Today we are living through a coronavirus pandemic, the timing of which coincides (catastrophically, may I add) with the cold and flu season. In this climate, it is of even greater importance to help my toddler understand how to protect herself against germs through an action she can have full ownership of -- hands-washing.
With this goal in mind, I created these 5 Montessori-inspired germ and hygiene education activities for my toddler by repurposing existing materials and using recyclables around the house.
Visualisation is key for toddlers to understand germs and the need for personal hygiene, and definitely helps with topic comprehension and better information retention.
1. 'Germ Erasing' Magnetic Board Activity
I love how mess-free this activity is (and how repetitive it can be, especially for toddlers who love repeating things to check if the outcomes are the same each time).
Steps to setting up this 'germ erasing' magnetic board activity:
- Illustrate a hand and label 手 (Shǒu / Hand). Cut it out and tape onto magnetic drawing board.
- Illustrate a soap bar and water bubbles and label 肥皂 (Féi zào / Soap). Cut it out and tape onto the slider tab of the magnetic drawing board.
- Use the magnetic drawing pen to illustrate germs around the hand. Label the germs 细菌病毒 (Xìj ùn bìng dú / Bacteria and virus).
- Demonstrate how sliding the tab 'wipes out' germs by erasing them from the magnetic board and explain to your toddler, "我用肥皂和水清除手上的细菌。" (Wǒ yòng féi zào hé shuǐ qīng chú shǒu shàng de xìjùn / I am using soap and water to erase the germs on the hand.) You might like to move the slider just a little and let your toddler complete the erasing.
My toddler had fun wiping out all those germs!
2. 'Germ Washing' Whiteboard Activity
Compared to the previous activity, this is a slightly messier but more hands-on activity for toddlers to explore the topic of washing away germs.
Steps for setting up this 'germ washing' whiteboard activity:
- Draw the outline of your hand on paper, cut it out and taped it onto a small whiteboard. Label the hand as 手 (Shǒu / Hand).
- Use black washable markers to illustrate germs around the hand. Label the germs as 细菌病毒 (Xì jùn Bìng dú / Bacteria and virus).
- Draw a soap bar surrounded by water bubbles and tape it on a small kitchen sponge.
- Invite your toddler to dip the 'soap bar' sponge into a small cup of water and wash away the germs. I explained to my toddler, "看！你用肥皂和水洗净手上的细菌病毒。"(Kàn! Nǐ yòng féizào hé shuǐ xǐ jìng shǒu shàng de xìjùn bìngdú / Look! You are washing the germs off your hands with soap and water.)
On hindsight, I should have used contact paper over my hand drawing to prevent smudging. That way, my toddler could do more repetitions of the activity. If you're trying this activity, remember to learn from my lesson!
3. 'Germ Disappearing' Activity
The disappearing act is all thanks to the fast-drying and mark-fading properties of this Chinese calligraphy cloth.
The upside of using this Chinese calligraphy cloth for the activity is that it could be reused and repeated as many times as my toddler desired.
Steps to setting up this 'germ disappearing' activity:
- Place your hand over the Chinese calligraphy cloth and traced its outline with a wet brush dipped in water.
- Draw germ illustrations on paper and taped the germs onto recycled bottle caps.
- Invite your toddler to dip the bottle caps in a small cup of water and make marks all over the hand outline on the cloth. I explained this action as "这些图片代表细菌。细菌正在接触这只手。" (Zhè xiē tú piàn dài biǎo xìjùn. Xì jùn zhèng zài jiē chù zhè zhī shǒu / These pictures represent germs. Germs are making contact with this hand.)
The irregular imprints from the bottle caps really do pass off as 'germ-looking' by my standards.
Once the marks dry and vanish, I said this to my toddler, "看！用肥皂和水清洗后，细菌从手上消失。" (Kàn! Yòng féi zào hé shuǐ qīng xǐ hòu, xì jùn yǐ cóng shǒu shàng xiāo shī / Look! The germs have disappeared from the hand after washing with soap and water.)
4. 'Clean Hands' Sensory Tray
For this activity, I used expired chia seeds for the sensory tray base because their dark, spotty and coarse physical appearance can relate better to germs.
Steps to setting up this 'clean hands' sensory tray:
- Illustrate 'clean hands' on a white A4 sheet of paper and labelled them 干净 (Gān jìng / Clean), 清洁 (Qīng jié / Clean), 消毒 (Xiāo dú / Sanitised), 'Clean', 'Sanitise' and 'Washed'. Place the paper onto a tray and cover it with expired chia seed.
- Illustrate a soap bar surrounded by water bubbles and tape the drawing on a small kitchen sponge.
- Invite your toddler to push away chia seeds using the sponge, scavenger hunt style, to look for surprises below.
This is how I explained the activity to my toddler:
(Zhè xiē jiā zhǒng zǐ dài biǎo xì jùn / These seeds represent germs.)
(Féi zào hé shuǐ jiē chù xì jùn dì dì fāng jiāng huì yí kāi. Where the soap and water touches, the germs move away.)
(Yīn cǐ shǒu biàn dé gān jìng / As a result, the hand become clean of germs.)
5. 'Keep Germs At Bay' Sensory Bottle
Sensory bottles hold my toddler's attention for a long time and she loves examining the contents of sensory bottles since her baby days. As such, I thought a sensory bottle, showing a visual imagery of the importance of soap, would pique her interest and help to bring across the message that hands-washing isn't thorough without use of soap.
The sensory bottle contents are: oil (the yellow layer, representing soap), short lengths of red straws cut by zig-zag scissors (representing germs), water colored blue by food coloring and a felt hand cut-out glued to a rock.
Here's my thinking behind the sensory bottle design:
- When turned upside down, the 'straw germs' float upwards, together with the 'soap' layer. This gives the impression that soap helps to bring germs away.
- The 'felt hand' sinks to the bottle at the blue water layer, because of the weight of the rock. This gives the impression that hands are now washed clean.
This is what I said to help my toddler interpret what goes on in the sensory bottle:
(Huáng sè féi zào dài zǒu hóng sè xì jùn / The yellow soap brings the red germs away)
(Lán sè céng dài biǎo shuǐ. Píng zi dì shǒu bèi shuǐ chōng xǐ gān jìng le / The blue layer represents water. The hand in the bottle is washed clean, by water)
Practical Life & Caring for Others
Germs spread easily and the health of a family unit is only as strong as its (weakest) individual member. As such, I am especially fastidious in sanitising 'high-touch' places at home these days, paying attention to the door handles and knobs, light switches etc. When my toddler sees me in the cleaning act, I explain to her the importance of keeping our home and play environment clean.
I encourage my toddler to help out with the sanitisation -- it makes a great practical life activity! The activity also provides her with a sense of contributing to the household.
I provide my toddler with her own cleaning caddy -- a spray bottle (containing water infused with vinegar as a gentle cleaning solution) as well as an absorbent cloth. She helps to spray and wipes tables, windows and toys, and is a happier worker than I am.
Great Resources that Teach about Hygiene
- I love book recommendations by Carrots are Orange on germs and hygiene.
I'm currently using Wash Wash Wash: The Wash Your Hands Story by Grace Garrett which has straightforward and rhyming text about the common pitfalls of hand-washing e.g. not washing thoroughly. However, the message is that one has oneself to blame for falling sick and the consequences of not washing hands e.g. missing a class trip to the zoo seem like thinly veiled threats, which does not sync with the Montessori method of no bribe, praise or threat.
I would recommend 'Germs Make Me Sick!' by Melvin Berger which has rich, well-presented information about germs and what they do to the body. It might be information overload for toddlers and more suitable for preschoolers.
- Pepper and soap science experiment by Coffee Cups and Crayons provides great imagery for children to visualise germs and the effectiveness of hand-washing. Living Life and Learning has a similar science experience, but using glitter germs.
- Mrs Plemons' Kindergarten has an interesting soap and germs sensory bin, which children can explore the topic in a fun, hands-on way. Would be lovely to sing hand-washing songs along to this activity.
I hope your toddler enjoys these activities and gets a better understanding of germs and hygiene through them. Stay safe and healthy!
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Hi! I am Yunnie. I am the newly minted mama to a little baby girl and a mum friend to everyone on this special (and many times scary) journey of motherhood. Also a graduated bride with a penchant for weddings.