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Early years hygiene that's child's play

30 July 2018

The human ability to function in society, learn, maintain positive relationships and be healthy is all developed in the early years of life.  As such schools are placing increasing importance on these years. Oliver Johnson, managing director, Zenith Washroom Solutions, looks at how the hygiene industry can support education to provide effective hygiene, infection prevention and increased learning opportunities

At first it is vital to learn about how little people are best educated. Long have we lost the “sit down and scribble” version of early years education and the world is starting to benefit as the complete spectrum of human development is supported through the environment and teaching practice. However there is a much overlooked and vital aspect of early years education that provide our children with confidence, ownership of the care of their bodies and increase the awareness of infection prevention in both the child and the teacher.

Take time out

Transitions are a constant aspect of our lives. As an adult we take these for granted. We understand timescales and have our agenda in front of us. Children, however, live in the moment and are constantly put into uncomfortable situations, for example, when they are asked to stop an activity that they are deeply engrossed in to go to another activity. These 'transitions' can be upsetting for younger children when presented without adequate time and explanation.

It is these moments, however, where infection prevention and control can be educated. Nicole Melenfont’s “Routines and Transitions: A Guide for Early Childhood Professionals” covers this in detail with ideas on how to create play-based hygiene learning. By simply building in allocated times for transitions, say 10 minutes, rather than simply having a timetable that moves instantly from one activity to another we are allowing the children time to understand what is happening.

This is the perfect time to have the children wash their hands, learn about the process of hand washing and the effects of poor hygiene. Little children are really keen to share their germs with each other (and the teaching staff) and then bring them home for us all to enjoy! Most of this comes down to their constant need to handle things and each other to learn.

There are easy-to-implement solutions to help children reduce infection through learning hygiene practices. Even better than that we have a perfect window in these new, timetabled, transitions. Key is to establish easy to use and clearly labelled hand washing stations in transition areas. At the playground and canteen are good examples. These should have clear signs for both the children, and the staff supporting the children, as to the best practice for hand hygiene along with reminders of the effects of poor hygiene. For the children it is a great opportunity to learn as these signs can be picture based with word support. Naturally children are curious about symbols as they will quickly learn to read the word “sink” or “soap” as they use these items. For the adults it is useful to have tips that they can pass to the children and songs that the children can sing to help them get to 20 seconds of hand washing.

Child-friendly products

It is vital to ensure that children have been understood in this environment too. Soap dispensers should either have a very small shot or be watered down as children will want to explore the mechanics of the dispenser and will enjoy the ownership that this gives them. Rather than wasting soap and increasing the strain on the environment (another learning opportunity) they can explore freely with the same end result. Paper towels can be an issue as children will want to keep pulling them out so roller towels or, better still, child-friendly hand driers are a good solution.

Children are naturally keen to understand their world. Providing them with tools to achieve on their own is the key to creating curious and confident humans that are keen to learn. Providing teachers with anti-bacterial dispensers, disposable latex gloves and plenty of bins is a good move too. After all not every child gets it right every time and then they need to be able to provide cleanliness and comfort so that child can get right back into learning how to get it right next time.