By Robbie Owens

NORTH TEXAS (CBS 11 NEWS)— The flu bug is biting early this year, and with schools back in session this week, educators are also tasked with helping students stay healthy.

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“We’re all coming back from the Christmas holiday and everybody’s bringing back their germs from their house, and so we want to remind the kids again to get in the habit of washing their hands, so they’re here at school,” says Sandi Martin, a Physical Education teacher at Fort Worth’s Western Hills Primary.

Martin’s class today included a game of “germ tag”– a fun, hands-on way of teaching busy students how easily germs spread– and how hand washing gets rid of them.

“The idea is for the kids to have fun while they’re learning,” says Martin, “and to get a life skill, something that will stick with them, and what better way to do that than a physical activity and fun.”

With the cold, wet weather, keeping kids cooped up indoors and in close quarters, health officials say it’s more important than ever to practice prevention. That means getting a flu shot if you haven’t already, teaching kids to cover their mouth and nose when coughing or sneezing (the crook of the arm is better than using a hand if tissues aren’t handy) and avoid touching your eyes, nose or mouth, and stay away from anyone who is sick.

A number of North Texas school districts are making hand sanitizer available in classrooms.

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In Richardson, school officials say the healthy habits message is one that they have been stressing all year– so much so that a first grade student made her own video, demonstrating the proper hand washing technique.

Richardson ISD School Nurse Stephanie Elam says the simple act of hand washing– when done correctly– is more effective in fighting germs than many parents may realize. “We want to make sure that the kids are wetting their hands first, and getting the soap and actually scrubbing their hands out of the water… oftentimes kids put their hands immediately under the water and the soap goes right down the drain, so it’s not effective at all.”

Still, when prevention efforts fail, school staffers are stressing that parents should keep sick kids at home.

“That’s really important,” says Elam. “No one wants to send their healthy kid to school and have them come home sick.”

(©2013 CBS Local Media, a division of CBS Radio Inc. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.)

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