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Tools for Teaching a Sensitive Subject – Health and Grooming

eaching 7thgrade is definitely one of the most difficult grades to teach.  This is typically the time when students are going through many changes in their lives.  These students aren’t the babies in the middle school anymore, but they aren’t getting ready to head off to high school either.  They are ‘stuck’ in the middle and they are going through many changes; hormonal changes, body changes, emotional changes, and behavioral changes.  One day they love their friends, the next day they hate their friends.  One day the girls love boys, the next day boys have cooties again.  One day they want to be the class clown, the next day they want to be the teachers’ pet.  Through all of these changes, there is one major necessary and sensitive subject to talk to students about – hygiene habits.

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Health Class Essentials

Typically the 7th grade science teacher at my school holds a week long lesson around this time of year discussing these exact changes.  This is centered around a unit on Health and Nutrition.  She discusses not only the changes that take place during puberty, nutrition, and exercise, but also the sensitive subject of items as brushing teeth twice a day, brushing hair, taking showers every day, washing hands, and most importantly, the use of deodorant.  Most typically, the students then go home and continue the discussion with the parents to make any needed changes and updates to their morning health and beauty routines.

These subjects that not only need to be covered with tweens, but it is also an important subject to cover with special needs students of all ages.  If kids learn the habits when they are younger, and learn the different changes and necessities as they age, it will make socialization and ‘growing up’ a little bit easier.  Students who do not learn these skills typically get picked on with hurtful comments and during the day at school teachers and other students hear those famous phrases “I don’t want to sit next to him, he smells” or “her breath stinks, I don’t want to work on the project with her.”

Life Skills Lessons & Activities

For special education students, this topic is usually covered in a unit or lesson on life skills.  A great way to start off the discussion for students to learn these health and grooming skills is through the use of communication cards.  Students who are non-verbal will have these cards (either physical cards or digital) to help them communicate.  You can pull out the specific skills you want to cover to spring board the conversation.  Another way to approach this subject is by having guest speakers like doctors and dentists to come in and show them various products to use, or when possible, to model how to do some of the various grooming skills.  They may even be able to provide samples of items like toothpaste or deodorant.  A good guide that I read on how to teach life skills to special needs students on a site called How To Do Things.

Another great resource for kids to learn about this topic is through the Teens Health Site.  This site is written specifically for teens and tells them what they want to know, in their ‘lingo’, about the changes they go through from being kids to teenagers.  Two adaptations on this page that were really great for special needs and ESOL students is that the page has links so that all of the pages on the site can be read aloud to the student and they also have Spanish translations!  One idea to incorporate using this site in the classroom is to have the students work in small groups to research one main concept and then create a presentation on the topic to share with the other students.  They could make something like a PowerPoint or a video to cover the topic.  They projects could even have a ‘fun’ twist by having them make infomercial-style presentations where they first cover the topic and then they can ‘sell’ a product that can help solve the problem.  For example, if one group is covering the topic of why we sweat, they could discuss the topic in science terms, and then ‘sell’ the solution, which would be deodorant or perfume sprays.

There are many different ways to teach about health and hygiene topics.   It is a sensitive, but important topic to cover for all ages of students.

Other Online Resources to Teach about Health & Hygiene

Article By Laura Ketcham

Picture By sylvar

Free Teacher Resources | Special Education by MangoMon by MangoMon

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