Washington State University Extension partnered with Fred Meyer Stores and Columbia Crest Lions Club to teach children about staying healthy and good hand washing in a fun, creative way. And the creative way, said Sandy Brown, a Clark County WSU Extension educator, leads straight through Germ City.
Germ City is a 10-foot tunnel that shows off pretend germs on children’s hands. The tunnel is equipped with black lights. Visitors apply a black-light sensitive lotion and enter the tunnel, where they see pretend germs on their hands. The children then wash their hands to see if they can get them off. Germ City, said Brown, is literally a “hands-on experience.”
Brown is taking Germ City to different schools in Clark and Cowlitz counties. She said the increased interest in Germ City has been spurred on by the H1N1 flu epidemic. Germ City normally only travels to one or two schools a year, but Brown has already visited five elementary schools and has at least three more coming up.
Fred Meyer Stores sent volunteers to help Brown run Germ City. Brown helps set up Germ City and trains the volunteers. The volunteers then spend the day at the school, reading stories about germs and taking the students through the tunnel.
“My favorite part is the students’ enthusiasm about learning how to wash hands and how to keep from getting sick,” said Brown.
Brown said the children are really surprised and at first believe the germs on their hands are real. Brown said the kids are confident they will be able to wash the germs off, but when they come back they still have germs. This exercise makes them realize the importance of proper hand washing and of using soap.
“If the students follow the instructions, they get about 75 percent of the germs off,” said Brown. “They’re doing a really good job.”
Brown said the teachers are learning as much as the students. There are often times when there is not time for the students to use soap and the teachers give them hand sanitizer instead. Brown said teachers are now finding time to make sure the kids use soap, especially at important times such as after recess and before lunch.
There are also Germ Cities located at several Fred Meyer Stores. Brown said Fred Meyer Stores had as many adults go through Germ City as kids. The volunteers were surprised to see the adults having as much fun as the children.
“Although Germ City was designed as a creative way to educate children, parents have been getting a big wow too,” said Brown
“Clean hands are the number one way to stay healthy, followed by keeping your hands off your face. Proper hand washing is the key to clean hands,” Brown said.
Proper hand washing includes getting your hands wet, putting on soap and scrubbing them for 15 seconds outside the running water. The most common mistake in washing hands is that people scrub under the running water. This washes the soap off the hands before it has had a chance to collect the germs to be washed down the drain. After scrubbing for 15 seconds outside the running water, rinse well and dry with a paper towel or single use method of drying hands.
By Whitney Parsons, CAHNRS Marketing and News Intern