None of the myriad of parenting books says, “Warning: small children make excellent germ transportation vehicles. Be prepared to be sick for the next ten years ...”
I used to dread wintertime. With my pre-schooler in childcare, winter only meant endless colds and flus. My generous daughter brought home all sorts of germs and then proceeded to “share” them with the entire family.
At first, I was resigned to be ill. How could you teach a small child not to spread germs? Young kids touch everything and get every germ on the planet and then when they are sick, cough and sneeze everywhere and infect everything in their path.
One year, after weathering seven colds and sinus infections that were passed through the house from my adorable daughter, I came upon the American Academy of Pediatrics’ (AAP) recommendation to teach kids to cough and sneeze into their elbow.
What? Elbow, not hands? Weren’t we taught to cover our coughs with our hands? Where the heck have I been that I missed this new recommendation to use our elbows? After the shock wore off, I realized, okay, this makes sense. Unlike a tissue, the elbow is always there. Unlike like their hands, the elbow doesn’t touch everything. I tried touching everything with my elbow. It is hard to do! Aha, the light bulb went off.
From that moment on, I was a mom on a mission. I was going to teach my three-year-old to use her elbow. Have you tried it? Asking a child to cough and sneeze into their elbow is like asking them to eat Brussels sprouts—not fun, easy, or fruitful.
So I searched the internet, I talked to people, I looked for a solution—nothing. Finally, I realized I would have to invent it myself.
It had to be fun. It had to make this invisible thing—germs—easy to understand for a preschooler. A character, like her cartoon friends. Germy Wormy was born. Germy Wormy’s favorite food is germs and he is sooo hungry. Germy Wormy asks all kids, “May I please have your germs?”
Germy Wormy started out as a character drawn onto a chopped off top of a sock that I put on my daughter’s elbow over her sleeve. She loves feeding Germy Wormy all her germs. Mission accomplished! She wasn’t giving her germs everywhere! I got sick less often.
She was still getting sick though. Why? She was still touching everything and getting every germ on the planet. Kids touch 300 surfaces in half an hour. Surfaces that are covered in germs 99 percent of the time.
Now, getting germs on hands won’t make kids sick. It is the next step where they then take those germy hands and fingers and proceed to place them in their mouth, nose, eyes, and ears, letting the germs in their bodies that make them sick. To totally reduce the spread of germs, you also have to teach how not to get germs in the first place.
More internet research boiled down to the Germ Stoppers 5—the top five things kids can do to keep from getting germs. I added an activity with glitter glue to show why they should do the five and to make those invisible germs visible. After, if she went to pick her nose, whined about washing her hands, all I had to say was Germ Stoppers 5. She would remember and stop.
She stopped getting sick as much, but her friends were still giving her germs. We had a Germy Wormy play date where I put on a puppet show and did the Germ Stoppers 5 activity. It was a hit. I took it to her pre-school and it was a hit again. They were amazed at how the kids took to it and “jumped on the bandwagon.” That year only one major illness spread around the school. The “one gets sick, the rest drop like flies” rule no longer applied.
Today, Germy Wormy is no longer the top of a sock but a commercially available disposable sleeve. The way I taught her and her friends is a complete program to make teaching your child about germs fun, fast, and easy—kids love it! The Germy Wormy Germ Awareness Program is now available online for you to enjoy the same success. If you make it fun, they will do it. If you make it visual and interactive, they will understand it. Get sick less often—get the Germy Wormy! Spread the word—not the germs.