It's clear kids aren't born knowing how to keep themselves clean, so it is essential for parents, educators or mentors to take on the responsibility of teaching them good hygiene. A daily routine can be established and reinforced when children are young, allowing the healthy habits to become second nature. The importance of personal grooming can be stressed via fun activities such as games, crafts and songs, while at home or in a school setting.
The egg experiment, where an egg is immersed in vinegar and left until it becomes soft and yellow, is one that most dramatically demonstrates how teeth can become decayed. Children can also poke a hole in the skin of an apple and watch its progress over a week; relating the browning puncture to a cavity. Practice using good tooth-brushing techniques by brushing the skin of the apple. Books such as "The Berenstein Bears Visit the Dentist" can also remind children of good brushing habits in an entertaining way.
Hand-washing is an element of hygiene that children often want to skip. Activities like covering kids hands in glitter, asking them to wash it off and then examining the spots where glitter is still present will help kids visualize the problem areas and focus on cleaning every part of their hands. Or for a larger group of kids, give one child a handful of confetti or paper squares as “germs.” Then have all of the children shake each others' hands for 30 seconds; the child with the “germs” should give some paper to each child he shakes hands with, and these children should then hand them to children they shake hands with. Discuss when hand-washing is essential: after using the restroom, coughing or sneezing.
Have children draw their faces on paper plates and give them yarn to add as their hair. While the glue dries, talk about what happens when their hair is not cared for. Let them demonstrate unbrushed hair on the paper plates. Show children how to use a brush gently so it doesn't pull or hurt. Give them brushes with soft bristles to practice on one another. Be sure each child has his or her own brush and explain why hairbrushes are an item they should not share.
Personal Grooming for Older Kids
Even kids who are well past the age when they need to have help combing their hair, personal grooming can be an issue. Older kids will be more amenable to a discussion of personal hygiene than to playing a grooming game or doing a craft. Talk to them about using deodorant, washing their faces, and keeping feet dry. Consider leading a sensitive discussion about cultural differences regarding hygiene practices and about exercising sensitivity toward one's peers to avoid teasing about acne or body odor.