Experts rewrite nursery rhyme 'Frere Jacques' to help teach children to wash their hands properly

Getting children to wash their hands properly can be a struggle [Photo: Getty]
Getting children to wash their hands properly can be a struggle [Photo: Getty]

Teaching children to wash their hands properly after they’ve been to the loo is a parental must-do, but let’s be honest it’s not always easy.

While we try to encourage little ones to give their hands a good scrub, more often than not they get distracted and wander off after barely a quick rinse (if they’re not sidestepping the sink altogether that is!).

To help, experts have suggested that little ones should be washing their hands for at least the length of time it takes to sing ‘Frere Jacques’.

Researchers believe the tune of the popular French nursery rhyme, known in English as ‘Brother John’, can be used to help stop the spread of bugs in a fun way.

They’ve even switched the lyrics to offer some further hand-washing encouragement.

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The team, from the Children's Hospital of Eastern Ontario in Ottawa, Canada, and the Montessori School in Ottawa, created the new song after realising nothing similar was available.

For the song, children follow six steps to the tune of ‘Frere Jacques’.

In step one, children replace “Are you sleeping?” with “Scrub your palms.”

In step two, “Are you sleeping?” is replaced with “Between the fingers.”

In step three, children switch “Brother John, Brother John”, with “Wash the back (one hand), wash the back (other hand).”

And in step four, the words “Morning bells are ringing” are changed to "Twirl the tips (one hand) around (other hand).”

For step five, the lyrics “Morning bells are ringing” are replaced with “Scrub them upside down.”

In step six, “Ding, ding, dong; ding, ding, dong” is changed to “Thumb attack (one thumb), thumb attack (other thumb).”

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Experts have created a new song to help children wash their hands for long enough [Photo: Getty]
Experts have created a new song to help children wash their hands for long enough [Photo: Getty]

Writing in the British Medical Journal (BMJ), the researchers said: “Using songs, in particular musical mnemonics based on popular nursery rhymes, may help children learn the process of hand hygiene techniques by making it more fun, thereby increasing attention and the development of memory and motor co-ordination.

“We showed that a musical mnemonic developed for pre-school and school-aged children can teach the World Health Organisation hand hygiene technique effectively, potentially reducing infection transmission, with a duration of approximately 20 seconds.”

It isn’t just children who need to up their hand washing game either. Studies have previously revealed the majority of us grown ups aren’t spending long enough or washing their hands in the right way, which is putting us at risk of common infections.

“Washing hands properly is incredibly important and one of the best ways to stop the spread of viruses and bacteria that could cause bugs and illnesses,” explains Dr Diana Gall, from Doctor4U.

“It’s important to wash your hands thoroughly before and after preparing food, as well as after you’ve been to the toilet or stroked any animals.”

Dr Gall says practicing good hand washing from an early age creates healthy habits which can help children to stop the spread of any harmful bacteria, which is especially important in schools where bugs are rife.

And it’s the quality of your hand washing technique that counts rather than spending lots on expensive branded products.

“According to official NHS guidelines, hand washing should take 15-30 seconds, and should include cleansing the wrists, fingers, and both sides of each hand,” Dr Gall continues.

“If hand washing isn’t done properly, illnesses such as chicken pox, influenza, colds, norovirus, and stomach bugs could be passed from person to person.”

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