Top ten tips for staying healthy in the preschool classroom

by Deborah J. Stewart, M.Ed. on August 30, 2010

in Quick Tips for Preschool Teachers

It’s that time of year again, time for teachers and students to start getting sick that is.  You don’t have to wait for cold and flu season to officially begin, illness can strike at any time in the classroom, and it loves the beginning of the school year.  One of the most difficult aspects of teaching is staying healthy enough to actually teach, especially in an early childhood classroom where germs can spread like wildfire.

I was sick constantly the first five years I taught, I thought the endless cycle of illness would never end.  Eventually, after I was sure I wouldn’t survive my next bout of strep, bronchitis, or stomach flu I wised up and started getting serious about my health as a teacher.  I implemented several safety precautions consistently and as a result I am sick less often and my job is more enjoyable.

Here is my top 10 list of tips for staying healthy in the classroom:

  1. Flu Shot- I get one every year.
  2. Lysol all tables, desks, surfaces, and door knobs daily.
  3. Wipe telephone and computer keyboard with alcohol wipes weekly or after anyone else uses them.
  4. Never use the same tissue box as the students, place a separate box of tissue in a location that is out of the student’s reach.
  5. Teach students to cough in their elbows and not their hands.
  6. Never use student pencils, crayons, or scissors; wear an apron and keep your own writing tools inside.
  7. Never touch your face during the day at school, don’t rub your eyes, nose, scratch etc- it’s a hard habit to break but it is very important to your health.
  8. Drink plenty of water daily; staying hydrated is crucial to your health.  Teachers can become dehydrated easily because we are constantly on the go and looking after lots of little people.
  9. Wash your hands and arms up to your elbows as soon as you get home from school with hot water and plenty of soap. This will prevent you from bringing any germs home from school that might make family members sick.
  10. Change your clothes when you get home so you don’t spread germs from school around your house.

What are your tricks for avoiding illness in the classroom?

About the Author: Vanessa Levin’s journey in the field of early childhood education has spanned two continents, three states, eighteen years and many illnesses. Since 2001 Vanessa has provided the early childhood community with an invaluable resource through her popular and helpful website, Pre-K Pages.

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Comments on this entry are closed.

1 Teacher Tom August 30, 2010 at 11:29 am

We do most of the things suggested here, but I have a somewhat different attitude about classroom illnesses.

We once had to fill out a “matching funds” form from a corporation and their first question was, “What is your organization’s mission?” Now, we don’t have a formal written mission statement and I found it a funny question for a school, but after thinking about it, I answered: “To expose young children to as many childhood illnesses as possible before the start of kindergarten.”

My sister and her husband are both naturopathic doctors and one of the underpinnings of this approach to medicine is that healthy bodies are the ones that acquire “experience” in fighting disease. Speaking for myself, I was pretty much sick for 9 months during my first year teaching. Now, most of the colds and flues going around manifest as little more than a runny nose, if at all. My immune system is much stronger than it was (augmented by a huge intake of vitamins through eating fresh fruit and veggies). I see a similar thing with the children, most of whom I teach for 3 years. It’s very common for our single child 2-year-olds to miss 1/3 of their classroom days due to illness, but by the time they’re 5, taking a sick day is rare. In families with multiple children, it is almost always the oldest child who misses the most days, but each subsequent student from that family seems to arrive with a heartier immune system than the last.

Increasingly, I’m reading studies that find that classrooms with a heavy use of things like hand sanitizer or anti-bacterial cleaning products show an increase in illness, the theory being that the children in these environments are not being given the opportunity to develop their immune systems, so when bugs do hit, they hit everyone and they hit hard. In fact, our preschool system has banned the use of alcohol-based products like sanitizers and wipes, as well as anti-bacterial products, emphasizing instead regular soap and bleach solutions.

Of course, I’m not saying that we should not take common sense precautions, and I certainly would never intentionally expose a child to illness, but I wasn’t joking when I filled out that matching funds form — I do believe that one of the highest functions of preschool is to help children develop strong natural immune responses in their little bodies so that when “real” school starts they don’t get knocked out by every little thing going around.

(Sorry for the essay in your comments! =)

2 Deborah J. Stewart August 30, 2010 at 6:32 pm

You made me smile Tom – “To expose young children to as many childhood illnesses as possible before the start of kindergarten.” I have to say that I too have found that after 20 years in early childhood education I have only been really sick one time and my daughter was only sick one time – we both had strep throat. Other than that, I haven’t caught anything. I am in and out of three large childcare centers every single day. I go in every classroom and hug any child that wants a hug. I clean up, paint, play, sing, and so forth with the kids and still – I never get to stay home sick:) When new teachers come into the program, inevitably they miss several days of their first few weeks of school due to illness. We had to change employee attendance policies to allow for sickness due to being new to the field. We do take measures to keep children healthy – like I wash my hands often and wear an apron (sometimes) in the classroom. I think taking precautions is smart but I see the value in also building strong immune systems. We don’t use sanitizers either as they seem to dry out the children’s skin.

3 Bev August 30, 2010 at 3:51 pm

I agree with Tom…my daughter was 3 when she started in daycare, and she caught everything there was to catch during the next couple years. But once she started school, she hardly missed a day.

I like the apron idea for holding your stuff; however, I have a slightly different twist on that. I wear scrub shirts for work. Come in tons of kid-friendly designs, they have all kinds of pockets, and everything washes out of them. I always take time to change when daycare is done, because I really don’t want to spend the evening in a Dora shirt!

4 Deborah J. Stewart August 30, 2010 at 6:26 pm

LOL Bev! I guess the Dora look just isn’t that great after all! I have a really cool apron my mom made me and plan to write about it soon, possibly even do a give-away for my mom. It is really a different idea but I really like it:)

5 Vanessa @Pre-K Pages August 30, 2010 at 9:20 pm

I didn’t include hand sanitizer on the list because doctors are now saying they do more harm than good. I personally don’t use hand sanitizer because I am allergic to it- bleach too. We used to have hand sanitizer dispensers in some of our classrooms because there was an outbreak of flesh eating bacteria, but other than that we aren’t allowed to use it in our public school system due to all the controversy and safety issues. Not all teachers can build up super immunities, I have severe asthma and any little cold or sniffle can quickly develop into bronchitis or pneumonia.
I think it’s great that your program changed their policy for new teachers Deborah, that was very considerate of them, I wish our public school would do the same- they took some sick days away from us last year due to budget cuts :(

6 Laura August 31, 2010 at 9:25 pm

I have to agree with the others about upping my water intake plus eating more fruits and veggies. But my other addition would be to get my kids to stop sucking their fingers and thumbs. I never have to take a sick day for myself being sick but this is my 20th yeAr in teaching. Laura

7 Juliet September 1, 2010 at 5:00 pm

This is an interesting posting for me because there is a big issue going on here in Scotland with outdoor nurseries and hand hygiene. Are there any guidelines that you have to follow in your State or Board of Education?

8 Deborah J. Stewart September 1, 2010 at 9:16 pm

Hi Juliet,
Yes, all states have requirements for health in childcare centers which are supplied by the Board of Health.

9 Dawn Ginese, RN September 6, 2010 at 9:06 pm

Hi Deborah and Friends, Thought you might like some fun facts about germs and the like from your friendly Singing Nurse with a PreSchool Teachers Heart. Have a great school year.
For Healthy Kids,
Ms. Dawn, The Singing Nurse
See info below….
http://thesingingnurse.com/rhinovirus-how-to-prevent-it-2/

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