Cleanliness in a fitness facility’s child care area is a year-round concern, but combating cold and flu germs that can run rampant among children during the winter requires more diligence, time and attention.
“We are definitely on high alert this time of year, and the staff is extra vigilant just because it is more likely that kids will be coming in with more germs,” says Amy Hyatt, director of Kids’ Clubs at Bodyworks, Lubbock, TX. “The staff keeps an eye out for children that may show any signs of illness so they can be sent home.”
Keeping sick kids out of your child care area is a good first step, but chances are that a sick child will slip in. The Marsh, Minnetonka, MN, keeps hand sanitizer by the door of the Kids Club, so anyone can use it as an additional precaution, says Mindy Olson, The Marsh’s Kids Club director.
Cleaning often throughout the day—including wiping down tables, chairs, doorknobs, handles and any surfaces touched by curious little hands, especially the toys—helps to prevent the spread of germs. Kim Smith, Karing for Kids supervisor at the Centre Club in Libertyville, IL, says that her main focus is what the children are playing with or on. As soon as a child is done playing with a toy, staff puts it into a tub in the sink area to be disinfected with an antibacterial solvent, Smith says.
“We stay on top of the toys and surfaces that the kids are touching so we can keep them clean and sanitized,” Smith says.
Hyatt’s staff also does not wait until the end of the day to clean.
“Every employee has a job that is assigned to them,” she says. “All surfaces and every toy are getting cleaned multiple times a day, so that way they don’t miss anything. Things that we know are being touched constantly are being cleaned constantly.”
The staff keeps on hand a cleaning solution for the toys and towels or wipes for doorknobs, handles and sinks and for use in the bathroom and the diaper-changing area, which they clean often. Employees wear gloves when changing diapers and wiping down the bathroom sink, toilet, floors and walls. Hyatt’s staff checks the bathroom every 15 minutes to make sure trash is not full and the sink and toilet are wiped down.
Because children touch everything and have a habit of putting toys in their mouths, cleaning methods and products should be child-safe and non-toxic.
Alcohol-free sanitizers are a good bet for child care areas, as they are non-flammable, have no potential for alcohol poisoning if ingested and do not dry out hands, says Paul LeBlanc, owner of Zogics, Richmond, MA.
In addition to drying out hands, alcohol and bleach damage surfaces, says Michael Gardner, director of sales and marketing at 2XL, Broadview, IL, so using cleaning and disinfecting products that are safe on non-porous surfaces is important.
Clean toys and clean surfaces make the play experience more enjoyable for children, staff and parents, adds Bruce Sherman, CEO of GymValet, Cleveland.
Perhaps the most important thing to do is to educate staff and kids about washing their hands throughout the day, especially after sneezing, eating and using the bathroom, says Peter Sheldon, CEO of Coverall, Boca Raton, FL. Because studies have shown that some organisms can survive on surfaces for up to 72 hours, all pathogens are a cause for concern. An effective hygienic cleaning program will reduce the risk of a broad range of germs. When combined with an aggressive hand-washing protocol, they present the best strategy to reduce risks, he says.
Posting signs with common-sense tips also helps to remind staff and parents about how to minimize the spread of germs, says Martin Parks, director of marketing at Bodyworks.
But Rich Schoeneman, general manager of Centre Club, says that being diligent about cleaning and doing the little things, such as making sure dirty tissues are placed in the trash cans, ensures that the kids in your child care area leave as healthy as when they entered.