Period lesson plan: guide to menstruation for teachers
A step-by-step guide to teaching girls in your class an important lesson.
For too many girls in South Asia, their first period is a surprise. Without knowing what is happening to their body and why it is happening, menstruation can become a scary and confusing time.
As a teacher, you have a wonderful opportunity to prepare the girls in your class for their monthly period. Teaching a girl about menstruation before she has her first period is the best way to make sure she knows what will happen, explain why she should not be scared and ensure she can keep coming to class. It’s also a great time to combat social taboos and false information about menstruation that can hurt a girl’s well-being.
While most girls get their first period at about 12 years old, some girls will start menstruating as young as nine - so it’s a good idea to start talking early about how your body changes as you grow up. Here’s the essential information you need to teach your class about menstruation.
10 things girls need to know about menstruation
1. It’s normal. Menstruation is a normal process that should happen to every girl once she reaches puberty – usually somewhere between the ages of 9 and 16.
2. Menstruation is not a sickness. Girls can live their normal life during menses – they can go to school, play with their sisters and friends, eat and drink everything they normally would, and attend social gatherings.
3. Girls can have irregular cycles in their first few years of menstruation. But each girl can learn to understand how her own body works by watching the small changes that happen each month. It may take a few years to settle into a regular monthly pattern. This means girls often feel unprepared or are caught short without pads or cloths.
It’s really helpful if girls learn to start observing their menstrual cycle, so they can start to predict fairly accurately when they will get a period and can be ready with a pad or cloth in their school bag.
4. Girls experience many changes around the time they get their first period. A girl’s breasts grow, she grows hair on her body, and her hips widen. Sometimes hormones make both girls and boys a bit more emotional than usual. There is no reason to be scared or ashamed of any of these changes.
5. Menstruation does not have to be a secret. There is a big difference between being discreet and keeping something secret because you are scared or ashamed. Once a girl is informed, she can be of help to other girls even if they are younger than her. She can also help older women in her family who didn’t have the opportunity to learn what she knows. She can be a girl leader.
6. Sometimes menstruation can be painful! The amount of pain can differ a lot from girl to girl and from month to month. Most pain can be eased by going on a short walk, getting eight hours of sleep every night, drinking lots of water and some gentle pain medicine.
There are some things a girl can look out for that will tell her if something is wrong and she needs to get help. If a girl’s period is so painful she can’t stand or walk; if she bleeds much more than she usually does; or if she stops bleeding for a long time, or bleeds between periods, she needs to get medical help from a community health worker, midwife or doctor.
All girls have the right to receive help if they have menstrual health problems. Help the girls in your class to understand this message: “Don’t be ashamed if something seems wrong. Get help.”
7. Your diet makes a difference to your well-being. The girls in your class might be told by their families and communities to avoid certain food and drinks when they have their period. The truth is, whether a girl is menstruating or not, she can eat and drink anything that’s included in a well-balanced diet. A girl will only feel pain, weakness and sickness if there is something missing from her diet. If girls do not eat lots of different foods, especially foods rich in iron and folic acid, they may face increased difficulty concentrating at school, and may feel tired and depressed.
As a teacher, you can help tell girls the truth. Explain why you, as a teacher, neither follow the taboos about what girls can’t eat and drink during menstruation, and why you don’t want the girls in your class to be influenced by them either.
8. Exercise is really good for girls, no matter which time of the month. There are many benefits to exercise, including the mental boost you get from feeling fit. Exercise is a good way to help prevent cramps, and gentle exercise like a walk can also help relieve pain.
9. A girl’s body will be healthy if she practices good hygiene during her period.
- Girls must continue to wash normally during menses. Not being clean can leave girls at risk of infections.
- A girl should wash outside her genital area at least once a day. If she does not have access to a shower or bath, she use a small amount of plain water, soap and a soft cloth
- She should always wash her hands with soap after she uses the toilet or changes a pad or cloth.
- A used pad should always be placed in the bin, and never down the toilet. And when a girl changes her cloth at school, she should take the soiled one home in a bag to wash. She can make a simple menstrual cloth bag at the same time she learns how to make reusable menstrual hygiene cloths, so she can carry her used cloths home discreetly.
10. It is okay to use either pads or cloths. Some girls prefer pads or cloths, but both can be a safe and clean way to manage a period. Disposable pads can be more expensive so girls may need to be understanding if their family cannot afford them.
Disposable pads need to be changed regularly, at least every six hours. If a girl uses pads, she can bring a few spare in her school bag so she’s ready if her period suddenly starts or a friend needs help.
Reusable cloths also need to be changed at least every six hours, or earlier if they feel full. After a girl is done with her cloth, she needs to wash it with soap and water and hang it outside to dry in the sun. Before she uses it again, she should check it is fully dry! If a girl changes her cloth at school, she should take the soiled one home in a bag to wash.
As a teacher, you can also help the girls in your class by keeping spare pads and cloths in case someone suddenly needs one.
How to handle difficult situations in class
What can you do when girls are too shy to talk?
If the girls in your class find it difficult to talk about their monthly period or ask questions in front of each other, try a story-writing exercise.
Give each girl a piece of paper, and ask them to write either a simple question, or a story that helps them to raise a question they would like their classmates or teachers to help with. No one should write her name on the page, so no one knows whose story is whose.
Share all the stories among the girls in the class and give them time to read. Invite them to think about responses to the questions. They can write their advice on the back of the story page. When they’re finished, you, the teacher, will collect all the stories. You can read some of the stories and responses out loud so that you help the students share fears, information and experiences.
What else can a teacher do?
As a teacher, one of the best ways you can help girls in your class deal with menstruation is to notice when they need help and let them know they can talk to you. Here are some basic questions you can ask to see if there are things you can do to help girls at your school:
- What’s the attendance of girls at your school? How many girls are missing school each month and for how long – do you know why? How many girls are dropping out each year – are they the same girls who have been missing class each month?
- Are there girls in your class who need extra support? Have you noticed some of your students trying to hide their breasts, including by hunching their shoulders? Do students seem embarrassed about growing more hair on their bodies? Have some girls become withdrawn, depressed and scared? Have you seen girls get uncomfortable, or stay in their seats for too long, because they need to go to the bathroom or do something about stained clothes, but feel embarrassed or afraid to ask for help? Are you worried about girls who are pale, lacking in energy and unable to finish their learning tasks? Do these girls go on to miss days at school every month? Do some of them stop attending school altogether, even if they once used to love being in the classroom?
- What are your school facilities like? Does your school have any of these facilities: enough toilets with more space and a door that can be closed and locked; water inside the toilet for cleansing; buckets with lids for disposing of used pads; if necessary, a hook for hijabs so girls can keep their clothes clean and dry while they change their menstrual hygiene cloth; handwashing facilities with soap? Is there someone responsible for cleaning the toilet? How often is it cleaned?
- Are teachers trained to teach menstrual and personal hygiene to the school’s students? Can you hold a meeting with other teachers to discuss the issues that girls at your school face during their period? Can you work together on a lesson plan that is appropriate for your community?
- Are parents or community groups supportive of girls going to school during their period? Can you talk to mothers about menstrual hygiene through parent-teacher association or by organising a meeting? Can you challenge yourself to speak to mothers and grandmothers in private homes, perhaps when an opportunity arises at a social gathering?