Prevention is better than cure, and hand washing is perhaps the best vaccine you can give your child. But hand washing only works if you do it correctly. Washing with soap for 20 seconds (or a full "Happy birthday" song) and rubbing in between fingers, the back of the hand, and even the wrists are crucial. It is a must after using the toilet, before eating, after touching an animal, after coughing or blowing the nose, and after playing outside.
Whew! That's a long partial list, and children can be forgetful. But you may finally succeed at making it a habit in your children with this simple experiment that you can do at home. All you need are three resealable clear sandwich bags, three slices of bread, and gloves.
The experiment comes from pre-kindergarten teacher Courtney Lee Simpson who shared it on Facebook in 2014. She describes it as a "cool" activity she has done with her students, and a "great way to teach the importance of hand washing."
"You let all the kids see you put a piece of bread in a baggy with a glove on; hence 'controlled,'" Lee Simpson wrote. "Then you wash your hands and put a piece of bread in a baggy for 'clean.' Last but definitely not least, you pass a piece of bread around and let every kid in class touch it then you put it in a baggy and label it 'dirty.'"
Then, observe the changes that happen to each bread. The results will speak for themselves. The bread labeled as 'dirty' almost always gets moldy first. Ew, though it clearly drives home the point.
As of this writing, Lee Simpson's Facebook post has gotten more than 187,000 reactions and has been shared more than 311,000 times. Most of the users who commented noted how cool and amazing the experiment was, while some recalled doing the same experiment as a kid or doing it with their kids.
The experiment gives kids a visual they can remember. And, frankly, the 'ew' part (the mold!) is probably why it's a useful teaching tool. Granted, kids might not need to be squeaky clean all the time. But with preschoolers touching everything from their toys to their noses, you'd want to teach them about hand washing.
This article has been updated on October 9, 2017 to correct and properly attribute the original Facebook post to Courtney Lee Simpson.