Saturday, September 20, 2008

The Germ Experiment

Every year I try to find a way to explain the concept of germs to my students. I feel that a basic understanding of what germs are, and how they spread, would make it easier to encourage the covering of coughs and washing of hands, as well as discourage the licking of toys and each other.

For awhile, I read "Those Mean Nasty Dirty Downright Disgusting but...Invisible Germs"; this book does a pretty good job of talking about germs - how you can't see them, but how they are there. It also emphasizes the importance of washing and drying your hands. This worked all well and good until I had a little girl completely freak out because all these germs were crawling all over her. "I can't see them but I know they are there!" she shrieked, as she washed her hands over and over again, tears streaming down her face.

Yikes! Since one of my main goals is to make preschool a fun and inviting place, this turn of events was a tad disturbing. I often wonder if that little girl ended up in therapy....(sorry, sweetie).

My next go at explaining germs was attempting a discussion. Who has ever been sick? What kind of sick was it? What made you sick? Eventually I would talk about how germs make you sick, and at the end of couple weeks of discussion (keeping in mind a group discussion with a group of three-year-olds lasts about 3 minutes a session) we would make germs. I had the kids squirt some paint into the middle of a piece of construction paper, fold it in half, then open it again. On the resulting interestingly shaped blob, they could draw a face, and then tell me what kind of germ it was. A headache germ? A throw-up germ? A cough germ?

This was moderately successful; I felt a couple of the kids understood, but then I had a little boy freak out that the germ he created was actually living in his body. "Make it get out! I don't want that germ in me!" he yelled as he sobbed in my arms.

Yikes, again. It was at that point I decided to abandon the germ unit all together. I decided just to teach proper hand washing, and how to properly cover a cough (use your "elbow pit!"), and leave germs to their future teachers (good luck with that!).

Then I learned about a great germ experiment at the science camp I keep talking about. You spread a lotion on your hands, and when you shine a black light on your hands the "germs", actually a glow in the dark powder, glow. You then wash your hands, put them under the black light again, and see how thorough a hand-washing you did. You could even wait to wash hands, and handle objects all over the classroom. Then, shine a black light in the classroom, and see where all the germs are. I thought this experiment had potential with the three-year-olds, so I thought I would give it a try.

I introduced the lotion as a special lotion that shows the germs on our hands. I squirted lotion on each child's hand and had them rub it in. Then I turned out the lights, put on the black light, and they all admired their glowing hands. There were oohs and ahhs galore.

Then I said, "Everyone go wash their hands, and we will see if there are any germs left!" Off they went and came back out eager to see their hands under the black light again. Imagine the disappointment when their hands didn't glow nearly as bright. We had tears, "I want the germs back on my hands!", "Please give me more germs!" And we had anger - "Why did you make me wash my germs off??"

So, I happily reapplied the germs, and let them admire their glowing hands to their hearts content. I will start the "How to Cover Your Cough With Your Elbow Pit" unit next week. And chalk this one up to another in my list of Germ Unit Failures.

On an up note, the four-year-old and five-year-old classes did the same experiment, and it was a raving success. So my students will have another chance to grasp the concept next year.

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