Learning about germs (animation and activities for kids)

Dr Luke Powles
Associate Clinical Director, Health Clinics Bupa Global and UK
07 September 2023
Next review due September 2026
It can be hard for children to understand what germs are because we can’t see them. But everyone, including children, should practice proper hygiene to prevent the spread of germs. In this article, I give some tips on how to talk to kids about germs. There’s also a fun activity that you can do with your child to help them learn about germs and hand washing.

What are germs?

Germs are tiny, tiny living things (called micro-organisms) that can make us feel poorly. They are so small we can’t see them. The only way we can see them is by looking at them under a microscope. Germs can get into our bodies, but we don’t know about it until we may start to feel ill. That’s why we have to be really careful that we protect ourselves and others, so that we don’t spread germs. Types of germs include bacteria, viruses, and fungi.

How do germs spread?

Germs spread in lots of ways. They can spread through the air (when someone coughs, sneezes, or sings). They can land on surfaces – like your toys or door handles - and then spread to people who touch them.

Germs can also spread through bad food or dirty water. Here are some things to remember.

  • If you cough or sneeze, use a tissue and wash your hands because you might have germs, and you don’t want to spread the germs or other people might become ill.
  • If you don’t wash your hands, that’s the reason why germs spread. And don’t pick your nose or this will spread germs.
  • Always wash your hands when you go to the toilet. And if you touch something that’s dirty, wash your hands.

The ‘How clean are your hands?’ test

This is an activity that’s all about: ‘How clean are your hands?’

You will need:

  • three slices of bread
  • three clear plastic sandwich bags
  • some tongs
  • some sticky labels

First write out the labels: ‘clean’, ‘dirty’, and ‘untouched’ and stick them on the bags.

Use the tongs to place a piece of untouched bread into the bag labelled clean, and seal it up.

With the next slice, get your child to touch the bread with unwashed hands. Place it in the bag labelled ‘dirty’.

Then get your child to wash their hands with water and soap and dry them. Get them to touch the last piece of bread with their freshly washed hands, put it in the ‘clean’ bag and seal it.

Over the next few days have a look at the bags each day and talk to your child about what you can see happening. Ask questions such as: which slice gets mouldy first? Which slice has the most mould?

It will be clear to see that the dirty bag will have the most mould and will develop mould the quickest. You can then explain to your child why the clean and untouched bags have less mould. Washing their hands with soap and water stops the mould, or ‘germs’. Touching things with unwashed hands can cause germs to spread.

How to protect yourself and others from germs

Here are five tips for children on how they can prevent the spread of germs.

1. Wash your hands

Use plenty of soap and water, rub the soap all over your hands – between your fingers, your palms, tops of your hands, and wrists. Rinse your hands with water. Dry your hands really well. Sing ‘happy birthday twice’ – this is about 20 seconds - the amount of time it takes to wash your hands properly!

You should wash your hands often, and especially:

  • after coughing or sneezing
  • before and after eating food
  • after going to the toilet
  • after playing at the park
  • when your hands have got grubby
  • after touching pets or animals
  • after playing with shared toys

But remember not to wash your hands too much. Excessive hand washing can wash off the skin’s natural oils and normal microorganisms (called skin flora) which help maintain healthy skin. Handwashing can also make eczema worse. Use soaps that are kind to the skin and use moisturiser after washing your hands so that they don’t dry out.

2. Try not to touch your face

This includes your eyes, mouth, and nose. So, don’t pick your nose!

This is because germs love to live on our hands. And your hands might pick up germs from surfaces and transfer them to your eyes, nose, or mouth when you touch them. The germs can then get into your body.

3. If you cough or sneeze, cover your mouth

Use a tissue, then throw the tissue away and wash your hands. If you don’t have a tissue, use your armpit or elbow (not your hands).

4. Tell a parent, carer, or teacher if you feel poorly

Tell an adult if something in your body hurts, like your head or your tummy, or if you’re too hot or cold, or if you notice any red marks on your skin (a rash). Lots of illnesses from germs won’t last long, but for some you might need some medicine to help you feel better. Or you might need to stay at home for a few days so that you don’t pass the same illness on to other people. Hospitals and doctors are there to treat people who are (very) sick.

5. Wear a face covering

You might need to wear a face covering when you go to certain places. Wash your hands before putting them on and taking them off.

Here at Bupa we understand how important your family is. So with our family health insurance you can rest assured knowing that eligible treatment and support is available to you and your loved ones when you need it.

Dr Luke Powles
Dr Luke Powles
Associate Clinical Director, Health Clinics Bupa Global and UK



Rasheda Begum, Health Content Editor at Bupa UK

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