Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Enjoy a Safe 4th of July

With the Independence Day holiday approaching, don’t forget important safety tips for your kids:

1. Steer clear of do-it-yourself fireworks. In most states, fireworks at home are illegal, primarily because they are dangerous. It is difficult to predict exactly where the hot ash will land. Many cities and municipalities offer firework displays that you can enjoy safely with your kids.
2. Cook-outs – Be sure to warn your little ones to steer clear of b-b-q grills. Whether charcoal or gas, remember they are ovens, and you wouldn’t let your child get too close to the oven.

3. Bike safety – Please be sure you and your children wear helmets every time you ride. Stay in designated bike paths whenever possible. If you must ride along traffic, be sure to follow traffic safety rules. Ride with the flow of traffic and obey signs and signals.

4. Suntan lotion – Remember to put the appropriate numbered sunscreen on your children. Generally 30 is sufficient but you can check with your pediatrician. Be sure to reapply after swimming or physical exertion, or simply every few hours while outside. Don’t let a cloudy sky fool you – the sun’s rays are still strong.

5. Water safety – Be sure to watch your young children in the pool or ocean at all times. Even experience swimmers can get cramps, or find themselves in a difficult current.

Happy Fourth of July!!

Monday, June 28, 2010

You and Your Kids Must Wear Bike Helmets, Even on Vacation

I’ve noticed families enjoying bike rides together at the shore. While I applaud this healthy way to spend time together as a family, I am shocked by how many of them aren’t wearing helmets. For starters, it’s the law for kids to wear helmets (check out for the law in your state.)

It’s as if parents believe that because they are on vacation, their children will somehow be protected. I find that nothing is further from the truth. At the beach, cars park far into intersections which makes it harder for cross traffic to see what’s coming. That means they have to jut out further just to see if the road is clear. At the same time, pedestrians are crossing and there is often chaos on the road. In some towns, bike paths are placed between parked cars and the roadway. I have witnessed a person opening his car door just as a biker was riding by.

Here are a few statistics from the Bicycle Helmet Safety Institute:
The "typical" bicyclist killed on our roads is a sober male over 16 not wearing a helmet riding on a major road between intersections in an urban area on a summer evening when hit by a car.

About 540,000 bicyclists visit emergency rooms with injuries every year. Of those, about 67,000 have head injuries, and 27,000 have injuries serious enough to be hospitalized.

Non-helmeted riders are 14 times more likely to be involved in a fatal crash than helmeted riders.

I believe that it is a parent’s responsibility to wear a helmet to teach her children that this is important. Why should a teenager wear a helmet when he’s grown up seeing his parents not wearing one? Lead by example and keep yourself and your children safe.

Happy biking!

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

How to Choose the Right Summer Reading Book

For many families, those three words, Back to School, bring dread and despair. If your kids are past their preschool years, there's a good chance their summer reading book is still in the Borders bag and the packet of work they need to turn in next September is in a corner somewhere collecting dust. No worries.

Experts say that summer is all about family experiences that enrich children's lives and bring a broader understanding of the world around them. Visits to the library, the park, and even a ballgame provide shared experiences that are invaluable. Tomorrow's blog will talk more about that, but today I want to focus on summer reading, and share advice from Farrah Koonce, Principal of the Clara Barton Elementary School in Cherry Hill, NJ.

She suggests that there are many ways to keep students from regressing over the summer. “They should engage in some academic stimulation, whether it’s reading, writing, or mathematics,” explains Dr. Koonce. “They need to just be doing something to keep their brains active. Doing something to stimulate their brain is critical.”

For example, visit the library and help your child independently choose a book that interests her. Violeta Katsikis, Instructional Support Specialist at Clara Barton Elementary School, provides guidelines to help kids choose appropriate books. Ask yourself these questions. If the answer is YES, this book is probably a JUST – RIGHT book for you. JUST – RIGHT books help you learn the MOST because you can figure out most of the words and you can UNDERSTAND what’s going on in the book.

1. Is this an interesting book that you want to read?
2. Do you know the author or anything about the topic?
3. Can you tell another person what is happening in the story or
something you have learned?
4. Do you sometimes need to reread a part to understand it?
5. Are there just a few (2 or 3) words per page that you do not know?
6. When you read are most places smooth and some choppy?

Hopefully, you parents are reading, too. When kids see that their parents have a love for reading, it will make them that much more interested in trying it for themselves. And, they don't need to read novels. Experts agree that reading anything is good, be it comic books, magazines, or even the cereal box. It's amazing how much vocabulary kids can pick up by reading just about anything.

When my kids were younger, I often read their summer reading books. Many of them were wonderful, and it gave us a chance to discuss the book together.

Friday, June 18, 2010

Family Vacations are for the Parents as well as the Kids

When planning your family vacation, you have probably devoted most of your energy toward scheduling things for your kids. You’ve diligently arranged mealtime, swim time, nap time, and sightseeing, with care and precision. What you probably haven’t done is scheduled time for you and your spouse, which is equally as important.

In our hectic lives, finding quality time with our spouse can be difficult. Vacations are a great time to rekindle the flame, even if you are with your kids. Most hotels offer babysitting services with certified sitters who come right to your hotel room. Or, if you can afford it, consider bringing a teenager from home to accompany your family on vacation. She can watch your kids when you and your spouse enjoy a date night.

I have been married almost 30 years and throughout our lives, my husband and I have always found a way to keep one night of our vacation for ourselves. Vacation is a time for carefree romance, and it’s important to take advantage of that. The kids are usually thrilled to have a night to watch a tv movie with a babysitter and they won’t even miss you!

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Summer Family Fun - Field trips

The kids are out of school and for most families, that means lots of free time. While that might seem overwhelming, I urge parents to use that time wisely and appreciate the opportunities that this free time offers.

There are so many places right in your own backyard that provide learning experiences that are fun for every age. Whether you visit the library, a local museum, park, or playground, take the time to enjoy your kids in different settings. Encourage conversation about the excursion. For starters, you will be teaching your children important life skills, such as observation, decision making, and how to carry on a conversation. But, you will also have the chance to learn about their areas of interest and what makes them tick, while giving them a stress-free chance to let loose and have fun.

The more kids are used to talking to their parents naturally about many topics of conversation, the more comfortable they will be talking about more difficult subjects as they arise. If you and your child have had many chances to share your thoughts and opinions, it will be much easier for her to come to you when she has a problem.

Also take advantage of good weather to enjoy physical activity with your children. If they see you are active and enjoy it, they will learn that from you. Ride bikes together (please don’t forget the helmets – if you don’t wear one, why should they?) Take walks, play badminton, enjoy a hike. Find something active to do with your kids.

Friday, June 11, 2010

Developing Preschoolers’ Language Skills

The rate at which every child’s language skills develop differs, with some two year olds barely speaking while others are using full sentences. From the time they walk in the preschool classroom door at two, until they move on to elementary school at five or six, children learn not only how to articulate their needs, but they can also express their feelings to others, and feel comfortable speaking in front of a group.

There are many opportunities in preschool to practice these skills. In our three year old class, the children have several chances each week to practice public speaking. Every Monday during circle time, we pass our class mascot, Mr. Bear, from child to child. While a student is holding Mr. Bear, it is his turn to speak. He can tell us what he did over the weekend, or something else he’d like to share. Most children love this time, as holding Mr. Bear is a treat. Any child who is not holding the mascot understands that he needs to be quiet while another student is speaking. That helps the other children develop good listening skills. For children who are especially shy and not comfortable speaking to the group, they can give Mr. Bear a hug and pass him on to the next student without feeling the pressure to speak in front of the class.

The children have another opportunity to speak in front of the class when we have Show and Tell. Here again, we tailor the questions to the child. Some kids love to talk and are happy to go on and on. For those students, we try to ask more thought provoking questions. For example, if the Show and Tell theme was ‘something I used as a baby,’ and a child brought in a rattle, we might ask why he thinks babies enjoy rattles. Of course, there is no right or wrong answer. The point is to help them become comfortable speaking in front of other people. The children who are unable to speak in front of the group when the school year begins, almost always become comfortable by the year’s end.

If your child is especially shy in these instances, practice with him at home. Role-play what he might say when it is his turn in class. That little bit of practice goes a long way. Take advantage of mealtime to encourage your child to speak to you. Ask him what he did in school, or why he likes to play at his neighbor’s house. The more he practices speaking, the more comfortable he will feel. And don’t forget to listen to his answers. You will learn a great deal about your child through casual conversation.

Monday, June 7, 2010

Healthier Schools to Help Fight Childhood Obesity

Last Thursday’s blog talked about Michelle Obama’s Let’s Move! campaign to combat childhood obesity. Part of that campaign urges schools to provide healthier meals for students. Many schools are making this a priority.

Deborah Zee, Director of Food Services for the Voorhees Township Board of Education, points out many changes that have made school lunches healthier. “We’ve done away with frying foods and we’ve introduced salads, deli, wraps, and a lot of fruits and vegetables,” she explains.

The Voorhees School System follows the state’s Model Nutrition guidelines, which are designed to combat childhood obesity. These schools have never offered sodas either in the cafeteria or in vending machines, and all foods, including french fries, are baked instead of fried. Grilled cheese sandwiches are made with whole grain bread. Dessert items are typically healthier choices such as whole grain cookies or smart choice popcorn. Pizza, the cafeteria’s most popular item, is now topped with turkey pepperoni.

Zee says that students have been receptive to changes in food offerings because changes are made gradually. This year she introduced brown rice to mixed reviews but she is planning to offer more whole grains next year. She also believes that healthier schools are not just about the food choices.

“We’ve joined in a district-wide move to encourage students to get a lot of physical activity with the emphasis on teaching children to make good choices,” she explains. “We also teach them about gardening to let them see how it goes from seed, to plant, to actual food. We have a Greenhouse Gang in the middle school where kids can plant fruit and vegetables and watch them grow.”

The trick to healthy eating must start when kids are very young, says Zee. While schools can offer healthy choices, it’s parents who must help their children create good eating habits even before they go to school.

“People have to realize that the current eating and behavior patterns that exist are dangerous,” concludes Dr. Gidding, MD, Cardiology Division Head of the Nemours Cardiac Center at A.I. Dupont Hospital for Children. “I think it’s easy for families to be overwhelmed by this problem, but they need to remember that it’s one step at a time and setting achievable goals is important.”

Help for Parents
With 70 recommendations, parents may struggle to even know where to begin. The website offers help to children, parents, teachers, doctors, coaches, the non-profit and business communities, and others in understanding the epidemic of childhood obesity and taking steps to combat it. Parents can learn step-by-step strategies and receive regular updates on how the federal government is working with partners to reach the national goal.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Solving the Problem of Childhood Obesity

One out of every three children in the US is either overweight or obese, according to the White House Task Force on Childhood Obesity. First Lady Michelle Obama launched the Let's Move! campaign to solve the childhood obesity epidemic within a generation.

The goal is to return to a childhood obesity rate of just five percent by 2030, which was the norm before childhood obesity first began to rise in the late 1970s. Let’s Move! presents 70 specific recommendations and urges parents, healthcare professionals, and schools to work together.

“This is a social problem with large-scale proportions,” explains Sam Gidding, MD, Cardiology Division Head of the Nemours Cardiac Center at A.I. Dupont Hospital for Children. The campaign will offer parents the tools, support and information they need to make healthier choices for their families. Dr. Gidding encourages families to examine the recommendations and choose a few things that they can realistically work on.

“A very good goal is weight maintenance,” he says. “Don’t shoot for dramatic weight loss or rash solutions, but get into a regular dietary pattern that allows the child to achieve weight maintenance.”

Costs of Obesity

Childhood obesity leads directly to other health issues in children, including hypertension, Type II diabetes, orthopedic problems, cholesterol and lipid problems, and physical inactivity.

“The costs of obesity are already with us in pediatrics,” points out Dr. Gidding. “Kids aren’t able to participate in athletics at a level that you would normally associate with being young. A lot of kids have asthma and with the obesity epidemic their asthma is much worse than it needs to be.”

Many of these problems are reversible with lifestyle changes if attacked at an early age. “Once you get into your twenties, that’s when the problems will start to become irreversible,” suggests Dr. Gidding. “For the kids who have diabetes, some of the damage isn’t reversible but at least some of the consequences can be prevented. For the garden variety kid, a lot of the stuff can be undone if they get control of their weight.”

Healthier Choices
It’s up to parents to lead by example, to model appropriate lifestyle behaviors, says Charlotte Genetta, Outpatient Dietician for Virtua Centers for Nutrition and Diabetes.

The first step parents should take is to set specific times and places for eating. While it may not happen every night, kids should expect to sit down for a meal without other distractions. “Studies prove that the psychological health of the young child and teen is enhanced by family meal times,” explains Genetta. “This also conditions them to take their time eating.”

She encourages parents to empower their kids to make responsible decisions by giving them choices in what they eat. For example, by creating a family vegetable garden, children can take pride and ownership in what the family is eating. Radishes are a particularly good example because they are fully grown in only three weeks. Parents can also have their kids accompany them to the food store to choose healthy meals, such as fruit to be made into a smoothie.

“You really can’t manage weight effectively without addressing both diet and exercise,” says Genetta. She urges kids to get at least an hour of physical activity every day, yet, many families struggle to find time to fit exercise into their daily routine.

During the summer there are lots of ways kids can be physically active, even if it’s just walking or biking through the neighborhood. When planning vacations, be sure to include physical activities such as swimming or hiking. Even the Wii system has gained popularity for its physical games. Also, try to find active ways to introduce your kids to healthy foods. Strawberry picking or visiting a farm teach children where fresh food comes from which encourages good nutrition.

“Kids model parents,” Genetta says. “If the kids see that mom and dad find exercise enjoyable, they will also view it that way. That’s important. You don’t want them feeling that exercise is akin to homework. It should be pleasurable movement through space. At every age there is something that can be done with movement.”

For severely overweight children, Dr. Gidding points out that exercise should be a weight maintenance strategy, not a weight loss strategy. “They want to get to a point where regular physical activity is part of everyday existence and they have to remember that the importance of exercise is a way to be healthier and be able to achieve weight maintenance,” he says. “But weight loss can’t be achieved without a dramatic reduction in how much the kids are eating.”

Genetta believes that parents should not restrict calories for their children unless the child is above the 95th percentile for their body mass index. Lifestyle changes in diet and exercise will help children grow into their weight. Kids will become more physically toned by losing fat and gaining muscle.

“A lot of kids are way over the 95th percentile,” she points out. “In that case, you have to restrict calories. It depends on the child’s age and how overweight they are.”

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Visit Ulster County, New York

Looking for an unusual vacation spot for your family? Check out Ulster County, NY. Situated in the Mid-Hudson Valley region, about 90 miles north of New York City off Highway 87, Ulster County’s most famous town is Woodstock. It is also home to the Catskill Park and Reserve. To limit your drive time, consider staying in one of the region’s southern towns, such as New Paltz, or at the family-friendly Rocking Horse Ranch in Highland.

*Take a ride on the Catskill Mountain Railroad. Trains depart from Empire State Railway Museum in Phoenicia for the most scenic railroad this side of the Rocky Mountain Golden Nugget Pass.

*Visit Forsyth Nature Center, an interpretive nature center located in the heart of uptown Kingston. Enjoy 15 animal exhibits, 5 gardens, and fun environmental and nature based programs.

*Pet a pig at one of two animal sanctuaries that take in abandoned, abused and discarded animals. Visit Catskill Animal Sanctuary in Saugerties or Woodstock Farm Animal Sanctuary in Willow.

*Enjoy activities for the whole family at Rocking Horse Ranch. Horseback riding is geared to riders of all ages and levels. There’s so much more to do, though, at this all-inclusive resort, from nightly entertainment to water sports.

*A Hidden Gem!! Hike to the Ice Caves at Sam's Point Preserve, 5,000-acres in the northern Shawangunk Mountains. Trails lead to Sam’s Point, Verkeerderkill Falls, the Ice Caves, High Point and Indian Rock.