And how to help toddlers learn to wash their hands, well.
Part of the classroom component of my approach to potty training is that everyone learns the practical skills associated with bathroom independence (pushing down and pulling up their own pants, sitting on the toilet, washing their hands…) whether or not they’ve made the leap to underpants yet. This helps make potty training easier, and keeps our school bathroom routine pretty consistent as they’re going through what can feel like a big transition—providing a sense of grounding a predictability while they’re navigating a new dynamic. Teaching good hand washing habits is an important part of this process, especially with all of the gross colds toddlers are always going through.
Just like with most things, modeling is a good place to start. At first, you can wash your child’s hands for them, with them, your hands outside of theirs as you make suds. Most little ones really love the feeling of suds between their fingers, and associating that with hand washing can help build a good habit (just be sure to turn the water off if they’re playing for a while so you don’t waste it.) Eventually, you can just stand behind them and hand them the soap or turn on the water as needed to keep them on track without over talking. Be sure you have a tall, sturdy step stool for them to stand on so they can start to be more independent with it, and also check that the soap and towel somewhere they can reach—often moving things to the front of the sink or a little shelf next to it can help.
I’ve found that, in addition to being incredibly wasteful (plastic bottles, shipping something that’s mostly just water across the planet…) liquid hand soap is hard for toddlers to use well: the pump requires a lot of coordination and strength, and they often rinse it off their hands just as soon as they pump it on! Yet bar soap is so slippery and still hard to get a good lather with, and they tend to just soak it under the water for so long that it wastes half the bar.
Enter… felted soap! The felt keeps it from being slippery, makes it last longer, and makes getting a lather more fun and a lot easier. Making the bars is also a simple and compact project to keep on hand for that day when everyone is being annoying and you just need something to engage them for a bit to shift the dynamic. Its also a great introduction to felting! Read on for some tips…
A bar of soap
Be sure to chose one with safe, simple ingredients, for the children doing this with you as well as yourself/the earth. I like Dr. Bronner’s unscented castille soap, and Kiss my Face’s olive oil bar is also lovely. (Bonus: both of these come plastic free!)
Roving is wool that’s been carded but not spun. You can get it dyed or sheep-colored, and in lots of different varieties from different fiber animals. Webs is my favorite online yarn/fiber shop, and they have a great selection.
The essential elements of felting are moisture, friction, and TIME. This can take a while! If needed, break it up over several days so that it stays fun and engaging for the children involved.
Wrap your bar of soap in the roving
You’ll want to tease your roving apart a bit before you wrap it. Most roving comes in long strands—pull these apart gently until you have a flat fluffy pancake of wool you can wrap around the soap fully.
Get it a little wet.
A quick dunk in a basin or thorough spritz with a mister will do. You don’t want it too sopping—err on the side of less water, then try more if you’re not getting a good lather after a few minutes.
Gently pat the bar in your hands until it starts to foam.
Before wool starts to felt, it actually stretches quite a bit when it gets wet, just like our hair. Your wool will feel loose around the soap when you’re first working, and its important to keep it wrapped around as much as possible so it felts tight. I like to do this part myself, both to get everything started correctly and to model a nice patting/squishing technique for the children, then hand it over once it’s foamy. Once it really starts to felt on, you can switch to more of a “hand washing” motion.
Once the wool felts onto the bar, you can add more layers until its fully covered.
You can turn this into a multi-day project by letting it dry in between layers, or just keep adding them on in one sitting, I don’t think it makes much of a difference.
Wash your hands with it as needed!
The wool will keep felting every time you wash your hands, shrinking as the soap inside does! When the soap is all gone, you’ll be left with a handy scrubber, or you can futz with your felt ball a bit and turn it into a plaything.