By Carol Capito
Many busy parents and early childhood programs, especially part-day programs, find they have too little time to teach children everything we know is important. In the rush to get out the door in the morning, we often don’t take time to practice proper tooth brushing techniques with our children. Some early childhood programs have eliminated tooth-brushing due to the supervision it requires, sanitation challenges, and the amount of time it takes to cycle 20 preschoolers, 2 at a time, through the bathroom to brush their teeth.
The Community Action Commission’s Oakley Head Start Center in Santa Maria has developed a wonderful tooth brushing routine with the children that not only addresses the supervision, health and time issues, but also reinforces proper tooth brushing techniques through repetition and modeling – teachers brush too! For young children, practically anything done together becomes fun.
The children in the Oakley Center eat lunch in small groups at 2 separate tables. While the children are bussing their lunch dishes and cleaning their spaces, the teachers retrieve trays they have already prepared with all of the tooth-brushing essentials: toothbrushes labeled with each child’s name, small cups, toothpaste, a bottle of water, latex gloves, and wipes. Teachers place a small squirt of toothpaste inside the rim of each cup, along with a small amount of water, and then pass the cups, toothbrushes and a wet wipe to each child, using this as teaching moment for letter recognition with “Whose first name begins with…?”
Together they wet their toothbrush in the water in the cup, swipe the toothpaste onto their brush and launch into a sing song routine that walks the children through brushing back, front, top, bottom and even their tongue while slowly counting to 5 at each area to ensure all teeth get the proper attention. The children can spit into the cup and clean up while the teacher collects the toothbrushes for sanitizing and proper storage.
By creating a fun routine, the teachers at the Oakley Center ensure the children know proper tooth brushing techniques, instilling healthy habits that will follow these children throughout their lives. Parents can follow this example at home by taking the time to brush with their child. Create your own song or simply use the count-to-five technique from Oakley. And don’t forget to stick your tongue way out for brushing – we guarantee that will be your child’s favorite part – and a good giggle with your child is always a great start in the morning!