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Sanitation and Hygiene

Sanitation and Hygiene Services and Their Link to School Readiness

Staff, children, and families demonstrate healthy hygiene practices in their everyday routines. These strategies, particularly hand washing, help reduce the spread of germs that lead to illness. Staff follow a routine schedule for cleaning, sanitizing, and disinfecting areas used for toileting and diapering, preparing and eating food, sleeping, and playing.

Some of the ways programs provide healthy environments for children in all program settings include:

  • Ongoing cleaning and sanitizing toys, utensils, bottles, and other objects that children use
  • Wearing shoe covers and gloves in an infant environment
  • Sharing information with families about environmental health
  • Helping families living near fields where pesticides are applied to develop schedules for regularly cleaning floors, window sills, and other surfaces, as well as daily cleaning of clothes and shoes to reduce children's exposure to pesticide residues
  • Helping families offer children a smoke-free environment during program activities and at home

Improve the effectiveness of health services and support school readiness by:

Integrating school readiness into health policies and procedures to keep children healthy and engaged in learning.

  • Ensure that all staff use science-informed hygiene and sanitation practices in Head Start facilities.
  • Adopt Integrated Pest Management (IPM) Principles that use sanitation and other environmentally sound methods to prevent pests. If it is necessary to use pesticides, spray them when children and staff are not present.
  • Maintain smoke-free facilities and vehicles.

Promoting healthy habits to prevent illness and improve child participation in learning experiences and activities.

  • Share information with families about healthy hygiene habits.
  • Encourage family members to wash children's hands, toys, and bottles often.1
  • Assist young children with tooth brushing.
  • Teach older children to wash their hands, especially after playing outdoors.
  • Provide education to families about the importance of smoke-free homes and safe methods to get rid of unwanted pests.

Capitalizing on partnerships to expand school readiness and health activities that support access to and engagement in learning.

  • Collaborate with health care professionals and Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) partners on the Health Services Advisory Committee (HSAC) to make sure that all children receive lead screenings.
  • Use the HSAC to identify and address local environmental concerns such as untested well water, lead paint, and pesticide exposure.

Research connections 

Young children typically get six to eight illnesses a year.2  Appropriate hygiene and sanitation practices can prevent many infectious diseases by reducing the spread of germs that lead to illness. As a result, children are able to engage in learning activities both at home and their program more often.3 They are also less likely to experience serious infections that can impact their cognitive development, including the ability to retain new information and learn new skills. Additionally, because of their smaller size and faster metabolism, children are more sensitive to environmental hazards like pesticide exposure.4 Exposure to second- and third-hand smoke is associated with numerous health problems in infants and children, including severe asthma attacks, respiratory infections, ear infections, and sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS).5

1U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Ten tips to protect children from chemical and lead poisoning. Retrieved from http://www.epa.gov/opp00001/factsheets/child-ten-tips.htm

2Simasek, M., & Blandino, D. (2007). Treatment of the common cold. American Family Physician, 75(4), 515–520. Retrieved from http://www.aafp.org/afp/2007/0215/p515.html

3Nandrup, B. I. (2011). Comparative studies of hand disinfection and handwashing procedures as tested by pupils in intervention programs. American Journal of Infection Control, 39(6), 450–455.

4Carr, K. (2012). American Academy of Pediatrics issues policy statement on pesticide exposure in children. Retrieved from the University of Washington website: http://www.washington.edu/news/2012/12/19/american-academy-of-pediatrics-issues-policy-statement-on-pesticide-exposure-in-children/

5U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. The Health Consequences of Involuntary Exposure to Tobacco Smoke: A Report of the Surgeon General. (2006). Rockville, MD: Author. Retrieved from http://www.surgeongeneral.gov/library/reports/secondhandsmoke/report-index.html

Last Updated: June 3, 2018