Duce's Wild: Fighting germs one kindergartner at a time

Published: Thursday, Jan. 31 2013 5:00 a.m. MST

One of the benefits of all-day kindergarten is extra time for classes like health. I think my first health class wasn’t until middle school, so wasn’t I surprised when my kindergartner came home during her first week jabbering on and on about healthy eating.

She immediately sat down and spent an hour recreating a food pyramid with crayons and told me it was how they taught us to eat when I was a little girl in the “olden days.” She then meticulously drew another picture of her new-age philosophy that promotes balanced food groups as well as healthy portion sizes.

Since then, I haven’t been the only mom to curse our school’s health teacher.

“You are going to bankrupt me,” one mom told the teacher. “My kids think they need to eat all these fresh fruits and vegetables every day and it’s killing my grocery budget.”

I accused him of triggering obsessive compulsive tendencies in a new generation with his “Scrub Club” hand-washing training.

With characters like “Squeaks” the soap and “PT” the paper towel, our health teacher has taught students to join in fighting villains like “Bac” the Bacteria. Once a week, he attends each classroom, reminding them of their crusade and introduces another healthy-living idea.

Recently, I was in class when he showed a colorful cross-section picture of a tooth, reminding the kids to brush twice a day and announced that two generous dentists would be coming to give each child a free dental exam in the near future.

Then the kids colored a slimy picture of “Bac” with the caption: “The kingpin of all bacteria, he can pop up anywhere and everywhere without being seen by the naked eye.” (The word “naked” sent most of the class into giggles). “He has millions of bacteria, parasites and infections at his disposal to help him carry out his grimy deeds.”

I admit the cute, yet dramatic, curriculum works because kids are coming home and practicing better hygiene.

One downside for parents is the need for patience if you happen to be in a rush when your 5-year-old insists on singing the ABCs twice while lathering, going the extra mile to pick out anything that might be under her fingernails. If my daughter catches me swishing my hands under the faucet for a few seconds, she is quick to correct.

The other day, as we were walking down the steps of our public library, she refused to hold my hand because she had just washed hers in the bathroom. When she sensed my offense, she kindly offered to hold my wrist because, “Well, you know about germs, Mom.”

In reality, elementary school health teachers are changing the whole social order of nagging. Kindergartners have taken over the important role of demanding adherence to cleanliness habits and promoting a healthy hate of germs.

The downside is I’m getting a little tired of my kids’ reprimands if I accidentally touch the spout of the juice pitcher, drink from someone else’s straw or forget to sneeze in my elbow. They notice if dinner doesn’t include a green vegetable. I have caught my two youngest on more than one occasion reading the nutritional values on the side of the cereal box rather than playing the puzzles on the back while they eat breakfast. It’s just plain twisted.

The mature perspective, of course, is to appreciate the fact that healthy habits are being encouraged at a younger age. Heaven knows, an introductory health class in middle school is futile because it simultaneously corresponds with kids having access to vending machines during lunch.

So, starting earlier is better. But beware: those kindergartners have become a little militant. Don’t even think about brushing your teeth for less time than it takes for sand to fall through the dentist-provided, two-minute hourglass. And you’d better start singing the ABCs when you wash your hands, unless you’d rather try “Happy Birthday” twice. It’s up to you, according to my daughter.

Stacie Lloyd Duce is a columnist and magazine editor featured regularly in several Montana and Utah publications. Her columns appear Thursdays on desnews.com. Email: duceswild7@gmail.com

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