If you’re not careful, your child care center can easily become a place where contagious illnesses thrive. As important as policies for exclusion may be, the most significant factor in preventing the spread of common childhood illnesses is actually proper hygiene.
Unfortunately, many illnesses become contagious while they’re still asymptomatic (lacking visible symptoms). So no matter how compliant parents are about keeping obviously sick kids home from your center, they’ll still be bringing in germs. And if you’re not careful, those infected children will share their germs with everyone!
From the arrangement of your facilities to your cleaning practices and the habits you encourage and require of both children and staff members, good hygiene goes a long way toward keeping everyone in your child care center as healthy as possible.
Managing Your Facilities
You can promote proper hygiene by making sure each room includes a sink and that toilets and sinks are readily available — along with soap and single-use paper towels for everyone to use. You can also ensure that food is prepared in separate sinks than those used for hand washing and removed from toilets and diaper-changing areas.
Daily sanitizing is also an important facet of disease prevention in your child care center. Make sure toilets, sinks, door and cabinet handles, and other surfaces in the rest room area are cleaned and disinfected each day. In addition to that daily cleaning regimen, diaper-changing surfaces, potty seats, and any toys that a child has put into his or her mouth should be sanitized after each use, before being used by another child. (Always be cautious about which products you use for cleaning and where you store those items, in order to keep them out of the reach of children.)
Teaching Healthy Habits
For starters, you can make rules against unhealthy practices such as sharing towels, drinking cups, eating utensils, and pacifiers. Make sure staff members and parents are aware of such policies and that they both encourage and model them.
You can also rotate various healthy habits for instruction and practicing, even before flu season rolls around. For instance, encourage kids to cough into their elbows instead of their hands, to reduce the spread of germs from hand to hand. You can also make sure tissues and wastebaskets are readily available and encourage kids to both sneeze or blow their noses into tissues and then throw the tissues away after use. (In a pinch, teach them to sneeze into their sleeves.)
The most significant hygiene habit is hand washing. While alcohol-based sanitizers can be used when soap and water are unavailable, they pose added risks and fail to clean hands as thoroughly as do soap and warm water. You can make hand-washing an interactive lesson, including black lights or glitter and can encourage a 20-second handwashing timeframe by singing the alphabet song once or the “Happy Birthday” song twice.