Help your little one understand germs.

How to Show Children How Germs Spread

by Erica Loop

Picture a typical preschool classroom during the peak mid-winter sneezing season: A sniffling group of 3 year olds nonchalantly wiping their noses with their hands. Given the not-so-great hygiene habits of most young children, it's no surprise that many kids get up to eight colds each year. Instead of just telling your child how germs are spread -- she probably doesn't have the patience yet to sit through a lengthy lecture on microbiology -- go with a hands-on approach and show her how these unseen organisms can take a toll on her immune system.

Ribbon Germs

Cut at least 30 3- to 5-inch-long pieces of ribbon. Each time your child touches something during a 30-minute period, have her tie or place the ribbon on top of the surface.

Revisit the ribbon-covered surfaces to show your child how she picks up new germs and leaves other ones behind. Take a walk around the house. Have your child count how many ribbons she sees -- she may need help counting over 10.

Pick up the germ ribbons. Discuss how this is similar to how people can pick up germs. As your child picks up the ribbons, have her leave other ones behind on new surfaces to show her how she can leave germs too.

Germ Lotion

Squirt two dime-sized pools of a simulated germ lotion on your child's palms. Have your child rub her hands together, covering them with the lotion. Simulated germ lotion contains a special ingredient that sticks to hands, like germs would, and is only visible under black light.

Ask your child if she sees anything on her hands or if her hands look clean. Shine the black light over her hands to show her how the "germs" are actually covering her skin.

Have your child wash her hands, using soap and running water, for the amount of time that she thinks is necessary. Chances are, she will quickly run her hands under the water, not really getting them clean. Shine the black light on her hands again to see the "germs" that are left over.

Re-wash your little one's hands. Help her, using soap and water and washing for at least 20 seconds. Have her thoroughly dry her hands after washing. Use the black light to show her how few germs are left.

Give your child another squirt of germ lotion to rub over her hands.

Have her touch a few household surfaces such as the kitchen table, a door knob or the phone.

Use the black light to show her how she is leaving behind her "germs" on each surface.

Items you will need

  • Ribbon
  • Scissors
  • Germ simulation lotion
  • Black light
  • Paper towels
  • Soap
  • Water


  • Only use the germ lotion with adult supervision. Never allow your child to play with the lotion.

About the Author

Based in Pittsburgh, Erica Loop has been writing education, child development and parenting articles since 2009. Her articles have appeared in "Pittsburgh Parent Magazine" and the website PBS Parents. She has a Master of Science in applied developmental psychology from the University of Pittsburgh's School of Education.

Photo Credits

  • Thinkstock/Comstock/Getty Images