Best Ways to Teach Kids About Pandemics and How Disease Spreads

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Age Appropriateness: Game: Elementary-Adult, Experiment: Toddler-Adult
Materials Needed: Pandemic, water, pepper, soap, bowl
In a Nutshell: What is a pandemic? How can we help children understand the spread of a disease on a global scale? How can we help children understand how disease spreads? This post offers several ways you can talk to your children about pandemics and the CDC's recommendations to help stop the spread of disease.

Keep reading to learn more!

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When the COVID-19 Pandemic began to take hold and speculation swirled as cases started to spread around the world, I sat down with my oldest son and asked him if he heard anything at school about what was happening because I wanted to have a very real conversation with him and what we needed to start doing differently to protect ourselves.

He said to me, "Yea, there's a pandemic but I know all about that because of the game."

It caught me off guard and took me a few seconds to recall what he was talking about: Pandemic, a strategy board game we often play. This kid never ceases to amaze me.

If you don't know Pandemic and you like board games I highly suggest you get this as soon as you can. Even if you are not that into board games but have kids in your house, get the game. Warning: there are little pieces so don't play it near really little ones! The game says ages 8+, but my oldest son was able to play with help at 6.5.

Pandemic is a tremendous on many levels. You have to be very strategic since there is an element of chance and risk. My favorite part, which is pretty unique, is that all players have to work together and the only winner, or loser, is humanity.

What a lesson for 2020!

I'm not going to lie, the game can be a bit confusing the first time you play, but power through it. You will want to play again and again.

Why is this game perfect for kids right now? Because it helps them visually and experientially conceptualize what a pandemic is and just how difficult it is to stop once a disease takes hold.

Disease Spread:

There is so much we don't know right now about COVID-19. The reports are dizzying and sometimes conflicting.

Disclaimer: I am not a medical expert and I am not giving medical advice.

I am showing you a really neat and simple activity you can use with your kids to teach them about the importance of hand washing and how some diseases spread.

Before we begin, know the facts:

The CDC has an entire campaign titled Handwashing: Clean Hands Save Lives.

The recommended handwashing time is 20 seconds of scrubbing. The entire

handwashing process is:

  • Wet

  • Lather

  • SCRUB for 20 Seconds

  • Rinse

  • Dry

How long is 20 seconds? Roughly "Happy Birthday" two times or the entire ABC song. Set a timer and try it out!

You should ALWAYS wash your hands at these key times (credit: When and How to Wash Your Hands):

  • Before, during, and after preparing food

  • Before eating food

  • Before and after caring for someone at home who is sick with vomiting or diarrhea

  • Before and after treating a cut or wound

  • After using the toilet

  • After changing diapers or cleaning up a child who has used the toilet

  • After blowing your nose, coughing, or sneezing

  • After touching an animal, animal feed, or animal waste

  • After handling pet food or pet treats

  • After touching garbage

The Activity:

If you haven't already seen this on social media, I'm happy to introduce it to you. This is a really simple way to show kids why washing our hands is important, pandemic or not.

Gather black pepper, which will act as your germs, a bowl, water, and liquid soap.

Step 1: Fill the bowl with water. We are going to pretend the water is the surface of your hands.

Step 2: Sprinkle black pepper in the bowl of water. The black pepper represents the germs.

Step 3: Stick your finger into the bowl of pepper water. Pull your finger out and notice all of the "germs" stuck to your finger!

Step 4: Remove the pepper from your finger. Take your cleaned finger and swirl it in soap. The soap represents washing your hands. Now, stick y our soapy finger in the bowl of pepper water.

What happens?

The "germs" run away from the soap! This is why washing your hands is so important!

Step 5: Clean up the experiment and wash your hands using the proper five-step method and sing the "Happy Birthday" song twice through! Or the entire ABC's. Get to the 20 seconds of scrubbing and don't skip out on time because unlike that pepper, you can't see the germs!

See the experiment in action:

What else can I do to help my child understand the Pandemic?


While we are still learning a lot about our current pandemic, pandemics are NOT new! They happen a lot and have swept through societies throughout history.

Take this time to call your local library and ask for some good reading on pandemics. Check out some documentaries. Depending on the age of your kids resources will vary.

This is an unprecedented time for all of us and younger kids especially need help understanding what is happening in really concrete ways. Check out Pandemic, follow the CDC's guidelines for staying safe, try out the pepper experiment, read current events and about past pandemics, and please, above all else, keep yourselves healthy and do whatever you can to prevent the spread of germs!

I hope this makes your child HUNGRY for more books!

Stay safe!

Comment and share your creations on social media! I'd love to know how it went and any modifications you might have made. We're all here to learn from each other, not reinvent the wheel!

Additional Resources:

CDC Handwashing: Clean Hands Saves Lives

CDC Handwashing: A Family Activity

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