Teaching kids about germs is an important life skills lesson, but it can be difficult to explain germs to children. Fun facts about germs and exciting germ activities can help illustrate things like how germs spread and make germs less scary.
What Are Germs?
Germs are tiny living things you can't see with just your eyes. A simple explanation of germs for kids is that they are any little living thing that causes part or all of your body to be sick. Technically, germs are any organism that cause an infection, but that explanation is best for older kids. While germs are tiny living things, you can't feel them in or on your body. You can use a microscope to see what germs look like. Germs are found everywhere in the world including inside your body, on the outside of your body, and on all the things around you like doorknobs, floors, and foods.
Types of Germs
There are four different types of germs, and some are more dangerous or harmful than others. Viruses and bacteria are the most common types of germs that make people sick.
- Bacteria: Bacteria need nutrients, or food, from where they live to survive. So, they are just trying to live by eating what's around them. Bacteria can multiply inside or outside the body. Some bacteria are good.
- Viruses: Unlike bacteria, a virus needs to be inside the cells it's using to grow itself. Viruses can live inside plants, animals, or people and make them sick.
- Fungi: A fungus is more like a plant, but it can't make its own food. Like bacteria, fungi get nutrients from other living things. Fungi on or in people aren't always dangerous, but they can make you uncomfortable.
- Protozoa: Protozoa like wet environments and spread sickness through water. Sometimes, places inside your body that are very moist, like your intestines, can get sick from protozoa.
It's important for kids to understand that not all germs are bad. They're like people where they are sometimes hurtful and sometimes helpful. So, what types of germs are good for you? Some types of bacteria actually help people's bodies stay healthy. There are good bacteria that live inside your intestines and help you use up the nutrients from your food to make the waste, or pee and poop, that comes out of your body. Other good bacteria are used to make medicines that fight sicknesses or vaccines, also known as "shots," that help your body make an army that can fight certain types of germs.
Where Do Germs Come From?
Just like plants and animals, germs are "born" from other germs. As germs eat, they grow. As they grow, they make more germs to join their germ family. People accidentally spread these germs by helping them move from one place to another.
How Do Germs Enter Your Body?
Germs enter your body through openings that lead to the inside of your body like your nose, mouth, ears, or a cut in your skin. Germs ride in the liquids or air that goes into your body or comes out of your body. The most common ways germs get in your body are:
- Saliva (spit)
Infections and Diseases
All germs are just looking for their own food. Some germs "eat" and use their food to make toxins, which can be poisonous to your body and make you sick. Sometimes the germs "eat" up too much and it damages tiny parts of your body. When germs enter your body and start to multiply, or add more germ family members, it's called an infection. When those germs damage tiny parts of your body, and you start to feel sick, it's called a disease.
How Do You Prevent or Kill Bad Germs?
Since bad germs are all around you, it's impossible to avoid or kill them all. But, if you keep yourself and the things around you as clean as you can, it will keep most bad germs away.
Your Immune System Fights Automatically
For people with a healthy immune system, your body tries to get rid of bad germs without you doing anything or even knowing it. When germs enter your body, it's like they hit the "power" button and your immune system turns on. Your body is made up of tons of tiny building blocks called cells. When the immune system turns on, your body starts to make an army of white blood cells and antibodies they try to push the germs out of your body or kill them.
Wash Your Hands
The best way to prevent germs from entering your body is to wash your hands because your hands go inside your body a lot like when you put food in your mouth. You can get printable hygiene materials for kids, like a handwashing poster, to hang in bathrooms and kitchens as a reminder to wash hands. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) suggests the following guidelines for proper handwashing:
- Wet your hands with clean water. Warm water is not proven to get rid of germs any better than cold water, so you can use either.
- Turn off the water. You don't want your hands soaking in a sink full of germy water.
- Add soap to your hands. Any kind of soap works, anti-bacterial soap has not proven to be better than other kinds of soap.
- Rub your hands together to make the soap get bubbly. You should rub the backs of your hands, between your fingers, your palms, and under your fingernails.
- Scrub your hands with the soap for at least 20 seconds. Anywhere from 15 to 30 seconds will work, but 20 is the standard.
- Turn the water back on and rinse all the soap off your hands. Use your hands to rub the soap off all parts of your hands and fingers.
- Dry your hands all the way with a clean towel or by waving them around to air dry.
Use Hand Sanitizer
If you can't wash your hands with soap and water, you can use hand sanitizer to help remove germs. The CDC recommends using a hand sanitizer that is at least 60% alcohol. Make sure you know the dangers of hand sanitizers before using them with kids.
- Put enough sanitizer on one hand to wet both hands completely.
- Rub the sanitizer all over both hands, the way you would rub soap all over if you were washing.
- Keep rubbing until your hands are completely dry.
Avoid Touching Your Body's Openings
Since germs enter your body through its openings, it's best to try not to touch these parts of your body. Keeping your fingers out of your nose, mouth, ears, and eyes can help keep germs from getting inside these body parts. If you have a cut or scab on your skin, don't touch it or put a bandage over it to keep germs out.
Keep Germs Out of the Air
When you cough, sneeze, or spit, germs can fly through the air on tiny droplets of water or in the air and get on other people or things. There are a few ways you can help keep germs out of the air:
- If you have to cough, cough straight into the inside part of where your elbow bends. Most of the germs that come out of your mouth will land there instead of flying through the air.
- If you feel like you might sneeze, grab a tissue and cover your nose with it. You can sneeze most of the germs into the tissue instead of into the air.
- If you know you are sick, try not to talk really close to someone else's face or wear a medical mask to keep your germs from flying out of your mouth and into the air.
Keep Your Environment and Toys Clean
Learning how to sanitize different types of toys can help you prevent the spread of germs from kid to kid. You can also use germ-killing products on things people tend to touch a lot like doorknobs, handles, and TV remotes.
Take or Use Medicine
There are some medicines that can help prevent certain germs from entering your body. There are also medicines that can help kill germs or get them out of your body. If you go to the doctor, they can do tests to see what kind of germs you have, and they might give you a medicine that gets rid of those germs.
Germ Learning Activities
Kids can start learning about germs and hygiene when they are babies from the time you give them their first bath. When you make germ learning part of your normal daily routine, it will be easier to teach. Explain to kids of all ages why you're doing things like washing hands after you eat to help normalize germ prevention. You can also add fun activities to your lesson to help illustrate how germs spread.
Play Germ Tag
Some kids learn better with visuals, so show them how germs spread with a fun game of germ tag. You'll need a bunch of stickers, the colored round ones you might use to mark yard sale items work great, and a big open space.
- Give each child a page of stickers that is a different color or design than anyone else's. They should stick one sticker on their own shirt.
- On "Go," kids run around trying to stick one of their stickers on every other child.
- At the end of time, collect all unused stickers.
- Talk about how each child now has a bunch of "germs" from other people along with their own germs.
Write a Daily Hand Journal
Older kids can track their own hand use by keeping a log of what they touch. Ask kids to carry a journal around with them for the entire day and write down everything their hands touch from the time they wake up to the time they go to bed. How many things are on the list?
Read Fun Germ Books
You can find great picture books for kids on any subject, even germs. Read one or two together, then do a craft or activity related to that book. A few great options to get started are:
- Do Not Lick This Book! by Idan Ben-Barak is a funny interactive book featuring a microbe named Min who goes on adventures inside your body.
- Usborne Books has a great lift-the-flap book where kids can learn all about germs called What Are Germs? by Katie Daynes.
- Kids can learn a bunch of fun facts about germs in Melvin Berger's Germs Make Me Sick!
Sing Fun Handwashing Songs
Most people know that you can sing Happy Birthday twice to measure the right amount of time for handwashing. But, there are tons of other great songs you can learn and sing to time handwashing. Any song that is about 20 seconds long will do.
- If You're Happy and You Know It - Use "wash your hands" for the verse.
- Baby Shark - Sing the verses for baby shark, mommy shark, and daddy shark.
- Family Finger Song - Choose any two family members and sing a verse for each of them.
- Into the Unknown - Sing the chorus including Elsa's lines and the sound she hears from this Frozen 2 song.
- You're Welcome - You can sing the chorus from Maui's song in Moana twice.
Fun Facts About Germs
Fun facts about germs for kids help kids see the impact germs have on the world.
- Using gel hand sanitizer in a classroom can cut absences by about 20%.
- After you use a toilet, the number of germs on the tips of your fingers doubles.
- When your hands are damp, they spread 1,000 times more germs than when they are dry.
- A single germ can live for up to 3 hours on the outside of your hand.
- A single germ can turn into over 8 million germs in one day.
- The droplets that come out of your nose when you sneeze travel 100 miles per hour and can stay in the air for 10 minutes.
- If you put all the viruses on the planet next to each other, they could stretch for 100 million light years.
Entertaining Germ Videos for Kids
Catchy songs and explanatory cartoons made for kids use language kids will understand to explain germs. Germ videos for kids also help make learning about germs more fun and less scary.
Sid the Science Kid Germs Video
Younger kids can watch a three-minute clip from an episode of Sid the Science Kid to learn all the basics of what germs are and how to prevent their spread.
The Journey of a Germ Song
The episode of Sid the Science Kid about germs also features a fun song, called Journey of a Germ, and animated video showing how germs spread from person to person.
How Germs Spread Video for Older Kids
Older kids who are too mature for silly cartoons can watch this explanatory video from Cincinnati Children's hospital.
Wash Your Hands Rap
Children's artist Jack Hartmann presents the CDC's handwashing guidelines in a fun rap song.
Get a Grip on Germs
Germs can be dangerous, but it's important for kids to understand there's more to germs than hurting people. When you present a balanced view of germs in a calm and understandable manner, kids will see that they have some power over germs. From preschool germ prevention tips to germ games, lessons for kids about germs shouldn't feel scary or overwhelming.