Nursery Rhyme hits the right hand wash notes

Nursery Rhyme hand hygiene

Nursery Rhyme hits the right hand wash notes

Turns out what we all suspected for so long is true. Old nursery rhymes can teach new lessons to each generation. And now it’s been adopted for as a Nursery Rhyme for hand hygiene

The evidence for this bold assertion stems from one of my own playground favourites when I was at nursery… ‘Frere Jacques’.

Of course, when I first learned the words I didn’t understand the French, I just liked the repetitive sounds, but it stuck in my memory all the same.   And it is that timeless melody that has now been adapted by researchers in Canada, to encourage better hand hygiene.


Well, to help us all eliminate bacteria and viruses on our hands, the World Health Organization (WHO) recommends the use of a six-step technique. But learning the proper steps can be difficult for young children, which is where the memorable song comes in.

You remember the Nursery Rhyme?

Frere Jacques, Frere Jacques, Dormez-vous? Dormez-vous?
Sonnez Les Matinas, Sonnez Les Matinas, Ding Dang Dong, Ding, Dang, Dong

The researchers worked with young children to select the best words that taught the hand-washing technique – washing the palms, then between the fingers, then the back of each hand and the tips of the fingers. They developed a memorable fit in time with the melody, and the result is:

Frere Jacques, Frere Jacques
Scrub your palms, scrub your palms
Between the fingers, between the fingers,
Ding Dang Dong, Ding, Dang, Dong

Wash the back, wash the back
Twirl the tips around, twirl the tips around
Scrub them upside down, scrub them upside down
Thumb attack, thumb attack.”

Not as good a rhyme as the original, either in French or English, but technically sound. And the beauty is that once learned, the technique quickly evolves into children’s muscle memory and becomes the habitual way they wash their hands – even if they are not signing the song.

The research has now been published in the British Medical Journal and the research team, from the Children’s Hospital of Eastern Ontario and the city’s Montessori School, say that its duration – about 20 seconds – is an effective tool to help teach pre-school and school-aged children the WHO hand hygiene technique.

Thanks to fluorescent markings, it was possible to test how well the children’s handwashing technique developed, and the trial – classed as an ‘observational trial’, so not as scientifically sound as direct cause and effect – was declared a success. It reduces infection transmission, keeping everyone healthier, and gives us all a lot to sing about.

Word of Caution

We would, however, add just a tiny word of caution.  In our experience, very young children – pre-schoolers – may take some time to learn this new mnemonic and perhaps some of the words in the reworked nursery rhyme don’t just trip off the tongue.  This is where our Hand Wash High Five poster with extremely simple instructions and visual appeal is extremely useful and you can download your free copy here.