The Power of Play: Teaching Kids Healthy Habits the Fun Way

by Tia

Can children learn healthy habits through play? Experts say yes. The purpose of play in children’s development have been researched for well over a century by thinkers and scientists from various disciplines. Such research has revealed that play contributes to a child’s optimal development, so much so that it has been recognized by the United Nations Convention on the Rights of a Child, as a right for every child. This is why Lifebuoy, working hand in hand with education experts and leading Indian toymaker, Imagimake, have introduced the H for Handwashing Games.

Lifebuoy and Imagimake embarked on this initiative to infuse beloved games with a handwashing twist. This creative endeavour involves hacking classic board games to both entertain and educate, effectively providing a unique handwashing adventure.  Among their creative transformations are beloved games like snakes and ladders and Ludo, which have been artfully reimagined as strategic battles against germs. In doing so, they’ve established a captivating gateway to learning, all enfolded in the sheer delight of play. The games were carefully designed, drawing insights from experts in different fields like game design, public health, child development, and behaviour change.

The Transformative Nature of Play

Beyond its excitement, play has been proven to be essential to a child’s learning and development. When a child plays, it gives them many ways and opportunities to grow. For instance, while playing games with their friends, siblings, and parents, young children learn a range of social skills related to sharing, taking turns and understanding others’ perspectives.

It has also been proven to promote inclusivity among children, nurturing skill development and awakening their curiosity. A theory based on cognitive development, viewed play as integral to the development of intelligence in children. This theory further argues that as the child matures, their environment and play should encourage further cognitive and language development. This notion has been supported by recent studies which suggest that even play areas can help kids learn and control themselves.

Educational Psychologist Nicola Buhr, drawing from her ten years of teaching and remedial experience, highlights the significance of teaching vital skills such as proper handwashing techniques in a fun, engaging manner. “According to research, educational play must be meaningful, actively engaging, joyful, frequent, and socially interactive. Children do not even realise that they are learning when they are learning through play. This form of play is vital for the development of other important skills such as developing resilience, coping skills, and controlling their emotions.”

A study in Mumbai, India, consisting of 190 children between 5-8 years old has already been

undertaken using the H for Handwashing games. The effectiveness of the Games Kit was

determined by comparing the data from before and after gameplay, specifically looking at

improvements in handwashing awareness and practices among the children.

The results showed the games’ transformative impact in significantly boosting children’s awareness and behaviours. Key findings included a five-fold increase in awareness of when to wash hands, a 17% improvement in understanding the steps for proper handwashing, a 42% increase in seeing handwashing as protection against diseases, and nearly double the familiarity with germ hotspots and how germs spread. Crucially, handwashing behaviors improved by almost 40%, with more children washing their hands with soap before meals, following the correct steps, and even reminding their peers to do the same.

The H for Handwashing games came to life recently at the Mall of Africa in honour of Global Handwashing Day where shoppers brought their excited children to play the games. South African actress and mother Ntando Duma was also there with her daughter Sbahle, dressed in Lifebuoy red and ready to play. She offered her insight about the day and the initiative, saying, “Through play, my child not only discovers the joy in learning but also learns to embrace essential habits. Lifebuoy’s playful approach to teaching handwashing has turned a boring routine into an exciting adventure, making hygiene fun for both Sbahle and myself .” It is clear that this play-based approach to teaching healthy habits is not only fun for kids but is also an effective tool that parents can rely on, bringing about tangible real-life changes.

Soccer stars Andile Dlamini and Siphiwe Tshabalala also joined in the fun at Mabu-a-tlou Primary in Pretoria at the Lifebuoy Global Handwashing Day event, where they played the handwashing games with the pupils and encouraged the children to practice handwashing in key moments and to teach their adults the same. Tshabalala, praised the initiative to strengthen handwashing skills in children and the importance of adults adopting the practice.  “Even in sports there is a lot of contact. We share bottles, we shake hands, we hug others…We will spread this message in our teams.”

It is safe to say that play isn’t just child’s play; it is a fundamental building block for learning and development. Tarryn Payne, Unilever’s Africa skin cleansing lead said, “By integrating handwashing into playtime, the brand aims to create a world where children not only enjoy their games but also practice essential hygiene habits. This not only promotes their health and well-being but also nurtures the hygiene advocates of tomorrow. Sometimes the best lessons are learned when you play.”

You can also teach your children hygiene habits through play with Hygiene Heroes. Sign up at

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