The hand washing lesson in the Young Child’s Community is more than an exercise in care of self, its steps hold foundations in pre-reading, pre-writing, science, process, hand/eye coordination, gross motor work, math, sensorial exercises, and functional independence. That’s a lot of work for a toddler!
Hand washing requires an elaborate sequence of events for a young child. There’s a beginning (putting on your apron), middle (pouring water, rinsing and drying hands), and an end (pouring water from the basin into a bucket and carrying it across the room to pour it into the sink).
The hand-washing stand is arranged from left to right, and top to bottom. The apron is on the left, the water pitcher is on top, basin in the middle, soap is on the right and hand-drying towel on the right. There is also language associated with the hand washing lesson and work: full, empty, wet, and dry as an example.
Through the experience of filling and pouring pitchers into the water basin, children learn that there’s only so much water the basin can hold (volume) and then limited room for their hands to go in (the displacement of water making it rise).
Children are using a circular motion to dry surfaces in preparation for handwriting, as they would in the table-washing lesson.
Placing their hands in water and using bar soap is sensorial and also encourages the lengthening of a child’s concentration span.
The pitcher and bucket used to carry water are fairly large for toddler hands. It requires an effort to fill a pitcher, get water from one place to the other and an even bigger effort to empty the basin into the bucket and back into the sink, requiring intense hand/eye coordination. Many times, it requires a mop as well!
A Sense of Order
The hand-washing stand is color-coded red, providing for the young child’s sense of order.
Why do children select hand washing? Sometimes they wash their hands so they can have a snack. Sometimes they do the pouring because it’s what they need. As with any lesson they feel pride in doing the work and you can tell it’s fulfilling whatever need they have at that moment.
In the end, it should come as no surprise that often the favorite part of hand washing is the filling and pouring of water (and remembering to turn the water off!).