Keeping Preschoolers Healthy & Germ Free

How do you keep a cherubic 3-year-old from wiping his runny nose all over the classroom’s beloved kitchen set? Let’s face it: snot happens, especially at preschool. But there is a way to keep Junior from giving every other student (and teacher) in class that same runny nose.

It boils down to cleaning.

Our experts crafted this essential to-do list, including what to clean, how to clean it and what to stock so you can get back to teaching those adorable preschoolers the importance of sharing the good and not the gross.

Stock the Supplies

To combat germs, you could invest in an arsenal of expensive products, or you could stick with these tried and true essential cleaning supplies:

  • Hand soap and sanitizer
  • Paper towels and tissues
  • Disinfecting wipes and sprays
  • Antibacterial sprays and antiseptic wipes

Now that may not look like a lot, but remember to keep these necessities in bulk and at the ready so there is never a lull that allows germs to thrive. For example, teachers, staff and parents should make sure school restrooms have adequate soap supplies, says Brian Sansoni, vice president of communication at the American Cleaning Institute in Washington, DC. “We can’t blame students for poor hand-washing habits if there is no soap in the dispenser.”

Other items — such as bleach, gloves, ice packs and first aid gear (scissors, tweezers, sterile gauze, etc.) — are staples worth stockpiling. Check the Staples® Safety Research Center or the American Red Cross Web site for its list of recommended first aid kit supplies.

Practice Cleaning 101

Now that you know what to have on hand, what are the best ways to keep classrooms clean and kids healthy?

“It’s important to note that cleaning and sanitizing are different. Cleaning means removing visible dirt, debris or secretions. Sanitizing means removing enough of the germs on the surface, making the spread of germs very unlikely,” says Jennifer A. Gardner, a pediatrician and the founder of Healthy Kids Company in Washington, DC.

At the University of Las Vegas’s UNLV/CSUN Preschool, the staff regularly does both to avoid illnesses. “We keep a spray bottle with soap and water and another with bleach so that when children are done washing their hands or eating snack, we spray the area, wipe it down and then spray it again so it can air dry,” says head teacher Ashley Smith.

Gardner recommends using a mix of bleach and water (1/4 cup bleach to 1 gallon of water) to sanitize, or use a commercial-grade sanitizer that specifically kills Influenza A. (Just keep the bleach away from your students so they don’t accidentally get it on their hands or in their eyes or mouth.)

Pinpoint Problem Areas

Since viruses, like the flu, can live on a surface for several hours (sometimes longer), it’s important to identify the hot spots where germs regularly thrive.

The usual suspects are doorknobs, tables, chairs, play centers, bathrooms and popular toys. Sansoni suggests watching the children to see which objects and areas they touch most during the day, and focus on those high-traffic spots. Gardner adds that any toy or object that cannot be sanitized should be expelled from the classroom.

Use Teachable Moments

And in preschool, it’s always a good idea to make learning about hygiene fun. Have the class sing songs, read books about germs and place step-by-step visuals near hot spots to remind children how to wash their hands and why it’s important. Teachers can also employ rules, like coughing into your elbow instead of your hand, washing hands before eating, blowing noses into tissues, keeping bandages on cuts, etc., to curtail the spread of germs.

Claire Parker has a solid understanding of education from more than a decade of covering the beat for award-winning national and local publications. She lives in Wilmington, NC, and relishes Southern gardens, outdoor parties and anything to do with saltwater and sand. Follow her on Google+.

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