Fall is finally beginning, and the kids are back to school for another year full of drama, joy, memories, and friends. It’s a time filled with the anticipation of what’s to come, and in the midst of all the excitement it’s easy to forget about the one little thing that can throw a wrench in your plans for the school year: germs. According to CBS News, each year American children miss 22 million days of school because of colds, the flu, and other infections. That’s right, 22 million days. Additionally, working parents miss approximately 126 million workdays each year so that they can care for their sick children.

Germs in school may not be something you think about every day, but experts say this issue is a huge source of concern. It’s easier to avoid exposure to germs if you know where they’re coming from, so we’ve listed eight germ hot zones found in many schools to keep in mind:

1) Drinking fountains

2) Playground equipment

3) Sports equipment

4) Art supplies

5) Desks

6) Unrefrigerated lunches

7) Cafeteria trays

8) Bathroom doors

Don’t be alarmed, though! There are a few things you can do to help minimize your child’s risk of bringing germs home from school with him:

  • Emphasize the importance of hand-washing. Proper hand-washing technique includes washing your hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds. A great tip for kids is to have them sing the “Happy Birthday” song twice while they are washing their hands.
  • Cough into your sleeve, not into your hand. Unless you immediately wash your hands when you cough into them, you inevitably increase the spreading of germs. As you continue to go throughout the motions of your day (touching doorknobs, using your computer keyboard, picking up a pencil, etc.), every object you make contact with then becomes contaminated by the germs on your hands. When you cough into your sleeve instead, the germs are more contained and therefore less likely to spread.

Keep these tips in mind as we get back into the swing of school. Healthy kids are happy kids!