Lice Background Information for Teachers and Parents

Grade Levels: K-3

This page contains information to support educators and families in teaching K-3 students the myths and realities about lice.  The information is designed to complement the BrainPOP Jr. movie Lice. It explains the type of content covered in the movie, provides ideas for how teachers and parents can develop related understandings, and suggests how other BrainPOP Jr. resources can be used to scaffold and extend student learning.

Though the exact number is unknown, lice infestations affect thousands of homes and schools each year. Your children should understand that everyone can get lice, and being “dirty” has no real relationship to whether or not someone catches lice. A louse (singular for lice) is a tiny insect the size of a sesame seed and has six legs and claws. Lice are parasites, which are plants or animals that live off of other plants or animals in order to survive. Like mosquitoes, lice feed on small amounts of blood from their host, or the body the parasites live on. Your children should understand that lice do not hurt, but they may make their heads tickle or itch. People should avoid scratching as much as possible. Scratching can lead to infections and worsen the problem.

Lice live close to the scalp, where they feed on blood. Remind your children that the scalp is the skin that covers the head. Female lice lay nits, or eggs, on the hair follicles close to the scalp. Nits are yellow or tan when they are not hatched and white after they are hatched. The main way lice spread is through head-to-head contact, especially during sports or group activities. Lice are crawling insects, and cannot fly, jump, or hop. Thus, lice cannot move from one head to another without direct contact. However, lice can spread through sharing items that have touched heads and hair, such as hats, helmets, scarves, barrettes, combs, towels, headphones, and pillows. Your children should avoid sharing these items with other people. Many children may not know they have lice and will spread it unknowingly, which is why family and classroom outbreaks are common. Your children should always bring their own sleeping bag, towel, and pillow to sleepovers, and have their own helmet to protect themselves.

Many schools have routine check-ups for lice. We recommend watching the School movie together as a review. School nurses may use their gloved hands or sticks to check the hair behind the ears, at the back of the neck, and along the hairline or part. They examine closely for insects and nits. If they find signs of an infestation, they will send the child home immediately in order to prevent spreading lice to other children and adults. If a child has lice, you should check yourself and other family members and students immediately.

There are many lice-killing hair shampoos and sprays available on the market today. It is crucial that you and your child read and follow directions before starting any treatment. You may wish to consult your family doctor to make sure you or your child will not react negatively to the treatment. Never blow dry hair after applying a treatment, as the chemical ingredient can be flammable. You may also need to reapply the treatment after a few days. There are also alternative treatments to controlling lice, and you should consult a physician before beginning or combining treatments. Contrary to popular belief, pets cannot get lice and you should never use a lice treatment on a pet.

A louse can live up to thirty days on the head, and live for about two days off the host. Thus, cleaning your classroom or home is an important part of treating lice. You should vacuum rugs, furniture, and car seats and wash bedding, towels, and recently worn clothes in hot water and put them in a hot dryer. Scarves and hats should also be cleaned. Combs, brushes, barrettes, and other hair accessories should be soaked in hot water or cleaned using lice-killing solutions. Dolls and stuffed animals can be vacuumed or sealed in an airtight bag and stored for ten days or more to kill off any remaining lice.

Fortunately, lice is treatable and preventable. Arm your children with facts about lice in order to clear up any misconceptions and empower them to protect themselves. Encourage them to think about how their actions can affect not only themselves, but also everyone around them.