Enlightening the World of Five-Year-Olds: Hand Washing Activity Shines Light on Germs

May 2, 2016 at 9:32 am

7Wide-eyed students at Oakland Elementary School got a lesson in hygiene, while also having some fun.

It’s a lesson on microbes and germs that led to giggles and oohs and aahhs, as five-year-olds learned exactly how quickly germs can travel through a hands-on activity with service-learning students in Dr. Ginny Webb’s microbiology class at the University of South Carolina Upstate.

The kindergarteners were divided into groups of five to participate in a hygiene training sessions using Glo-Germ, a special hand gel that mimics germs and glows under ultraviolet light.

“To show them how quickly colds or flu can spread through a classroom and to their friends, one of the kindergarten students was asked to spread the germ gel on their hands and then shake the hands of their classmates,” Webb said.

17Afterwards, the classmates inspected their hands using the UV light and were amazed to see that the fake germs from the first student had been transmitted to all four of the other members of their group.

“It’s much easier to begin a conversation about hand washing after you show them why it’s important,” Webb said. “I enjoy watching my students’ excitement as they work with the elementary students.”

Once the hand inspections are over, Webb said her students send the kindergarteners to nearby sinks to wash their hands and then for a re-inspection of sorts.

“They always think they have done a great job,” Webb said. “But once we turn the lights off, we can show them the places they didn’t wash or didn’t wash well enough.”

USC Upstate students Christine Mulcahy and Jin Young Kim talk to the Oakland Elementary students about washing between their fingers and the back of their hands, using hot water, and telling them that a good way to know they’ve spent enough time scrubbing is to sing the “Happy Birthday” song twice.

While they assist students in cleaning their hands, other microbiology students are setting the stage for one more cool part in their lesson.

Marking doorknobs, desks, light switches and walls with a special powder, Webb’s students show the children that germs can live almost everywhere.

“This service-learning experience has helped my students to learn more about how to teach microbiology topics to others,” Webb noted. “It helps them to understand the importance of public health and education.”

Webb said she began developing the service-learning component of her microbiology course as a challenge to her students.

“I wanted them to master what they’ve learned in class so that they could teach others,” Webb said. “Helping these young students to learn to wash their hands, while it seems like a simple task, is a direct benefit to their teachers and families in preventing germ transmission.”