This blog is a place where parents and teachers of children 3-7 years of age can find information about topics specific to children in this age group, share ideas and access free resources for home and the classroom.

Free Play and Life Skills Development

playA growing number of psychologists believe that changes in the way children play and what they play at and with has also changed kids’ cognitive and emotional development.

As it turns out, time spent in make-believe play, in free play, which allows a child use his or her imagination rather than engaging in structured play activities helps children develop a critical cognitive skill called executive function. Executive function has a number of elements, but a critical element is the ability to self-regulate. Kids with have good self-regulation are able to control their emotions and behavior, resist impulses, and exert self-control and self discipline.

A study done a few years ago replicated a study of self-regulation first done in the late 1940s, in which psychological researchers asked kids ages 3, 5 and 7 to do a number of exercises. One of those exercises included standing perfectly still without moving. The 3-year-olds couldn’t stand still at all, the 5-year-olds could do it for about three minutes, and the 7-year-olds could stand pretty much as long as the researchers asked. In 2001, researchers repeated this experiment. But, psychologist Elena Bodrova at Mid-Continent Research for Education and Learning says, the results were very different.

“Today’s 5-year-olds were acting at the level of 3-year-olds 60 years ago, and today’s 7-year-olds were barely approaching the level of a 5-year-old 60 years ago,” Bodrova explains. “So the results were very sad.”

Poor executive function is associated with high dropout rates, drug use and crime. In fact, good executive function is a better predictor of success in school than a child’s IQ. Children who are able to manage their feelings and pay attention are better able to learn. As executive function researcher Laura Berk explains, “Self-regulation predicts effective development in virtually every domain.”

According to Berk, one reason make-believe play is such a powerful tool for building self-discipline is because during make-believe, children engage in what’s called private speech: They talk to themselves about what they are going to do and how they are going to do it.

“In fact, if we compare preschoolers’ activities and the amount of private speech that occurs across them, we find that this self-regulating language is highest during make-believe play,” Berk says. “And this type of self-regulating language has been shown in many studies to be predictive of executive functions.

Unfortunately, the more structured the play, the more children’s private speech declines. Essentially, because children’s play is so focused on lessons and leagues, and because kids’ toys increasingly inhibit imaginative play, kids aren’t getting a chance to practice policing themselves. When they have that opportunity, says Berk, the results are clear: Self-regulation improves.”

According to Yale psychological researcher Dorothy Singer, teachers and school administrators just don’t see the value and benefits of imaginative play and such play is in decline.

“Because of the testing, and the emphasis now that you have to really pass these tests, teachers are starting earlier and earlier to drill the kids in their basic fundamentals, play is viewed as unnecessary, a waste of time,” Singer says. “I have so many articles that have documented the shortening of free play for children, where the teachers in these schools are using the time for cognitive skills.”

As on psychologist summed it up, “With an ever growing focus on giving children every advantage our culture has unwittingly compromised one of the activities that helped children most.”

Thunderstorms & Lightning

 lightning

 FEMA / Ready.gov. shares the following safety information about being safe during thunderstorms and lightning.

All thunderstorms are dangerous. Every thunderstorm produces lightning. While lightning fatalities have decreased over the past 30 years, lightning continues to be one of the top three storm-related killers in the United States. On average in the U.S., lightning kills 51 people and injures hundreds more. Although most lightning victims survive, people struck by lightning often report a variety of long-term, debilitating symptoms.

Other associated dangers of thunderstorms include tornadoes, strong winds, hail and flash flooding. Flash flooding is responsible for more fatalities – more than 140 annually – than any other thunderstorm-associated hazard. Dry thunderstorms that do not produce rain that reaches the ground are most prevalent in the western United States. Falling raindrops evaporate, but lightning can still reach the ground and can start wildfires.

During Thunderstorms and Lightning

  • Use your battery-operated NOAA Weather Radio for updates from local officials.
  • Avoid contact with corded phones and devices including those plugged into electric for recharging.  Cordless and wireless phones not connected to wall outlets are OK to use.
  • Avoid contact with electrical equipment or cords. Unplug appliances and other electrical items such as computers and turn off air conditioners. Power surges from lightning can cause serious damage.
  • Avoid contact with plumbing. Do not wash your hands, do not take a shower, do not wash dishes, and do not do laundry. Plumbing and bathroom fixtures can conduct electricity.
  • Stay away from windows and doors, and stay off porches.
  • Do not lie on concrete floors and do not lean against concrete walls.
  • Avoid natural lightning rods such as a tall, isolated tree in an open area.
  • Avoid hilltops, open fields, the beach or a boat on the water.
  • Take shelter in a sturdy building. Avoid isolated sheds or other small structures in open areas.
  • Avoid contact with anything metal—tractors, farm equipment, motorcycles, golf carts, golf clubs, and bicycles.
  • If you are driving, try to safely exit the roadway and park. Stay in the vehicle and turn on the emergency flashers until the heavy rain ends. Avoid touching metal or other surfaces that conduct electricity in and outside the vehicle.

After a Thunderstorm or Lightning Strike

If lightning strikes you or someone you know, call 9-1-1 for medical assistance as soon as possible. The following are things you should check when you attempt to give aid to a victim of lightning:

  • Breathing – if breathing has stopped, begin mouth-to-mouth resuscitation.
  • Heartbeat – if the heart has stopped, administer CPR.
  • Pulse – if the victim has a pulse and is breathing, look for other possible injuries. Check for burns where the lightning entered and left the body. Also be alert for nervous system damage, broken bones and loss of hearing and eyesight.

After the storm passes remember to:

  • Never drive through a flooded roadway. Turn around, don’t drown!
  • Stay away from storm-damaged areas to keep from putting yourself at risk from the effects of severe thunderstorms.
  • Continue to listen to a NOAA Weather Radio or to local radio and television stations for updated information or instructions, as access to roads or some parts of the community may be blocked.
  • Help people who may require special assistance, such as infants, children and the elderly or those with access or functional needs.
  • Stay away from downed power lines and report them immediately.
  • Watch your animals closely. Keep them under your direct control.

 

Pets Can Get Sick From Being Fed Raw Foods

The FDA warns about feeding our pets raw foods. In a recent article, this is what they had to say about what can occur when we do.

raw

Raw pet food consists primarily of meat, bones, and organs that haven’t been cooked, and therefore are more likely than cooked food to contain organisms that can make your dog or cat sick, says William J. Burkholder, DVM, PhD, Veterinary Medical Officer in the Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA’s) Division of Animal Feeds. Moreover, raw food can make you sick as well if you don’t handle it properly. FDA does not believe feeding raw pet foods to animals is consistent with the goal of protecting the public from significant health risks.

The agency therefore recommends cooking of raw meat and poultry to kill harmful bacteria like Salmonella and Listeria monocytogenes before you give the food to your pets. And as always, when working with food, you should follow FDA’s instructions on how to handle it safely.

Salmonella bacteria are commonly found in such foods as raw or undercooked meat, poultry, eggs and egg products. Salmonella can also contaminate raw or unpasteurized milk and other dairy products, as well as raw fruits and vegetables.

Burkholder says people who choose a raw diet for their pets often point out that feral dogs and cats catch prey and eat it raw. “That’s true,” he adds, “but we don’t know how many of these animals get sick or die as a result of doing that. Since sick feral animals are rarely taken to a veterinarian when they’re ill, there’s no way to collect that information.”

Symptoms of salmonellosis in animals include:

  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea (which may be bloody)
  • Fever
  • Loss of appetite
  • Decreased activity level

Listeria bacteria are commonly found in uncooked meats, vegetables and unpasteurized milk and soft cheeses. Unlike most bacteria, Listeria like cold temperatures and can grow and spread in the refrigerator. So if you refrigerate Listeria-contaminated food, the germs not only multiply at the cool temperature, they could contaminate your refrigerator and spread to other foods there, increasing the likelihood that you and your family members would be exposed to Listeria and get sick.

Symptoms of listeriosis in animals include:

  • Nausea
  • Diarrhea
  • Fever
  • Neurological disease can happen in a small percentage of situations

Consumers also run the risk of getting sick if they handle contaminated pet foods and accidentally transfer the bacteria to their mouths.

“If you’re going to handle raw foods, you need to pay particular attention to good hygienic practices,” Burkholder says. “Wash your hands and anything else that comes into contact with the product with hot, soapy water for at least 20 seconds.” Feeding raw food to a pet also increases the risk of contaminating food contact surfaces and other places.

“Even if the dog or cat doesn’t get sick, they can become carriers of Salmonella and transfer the bacteria to their surroundings, and then people can get the disease from contact with the infected environment,” Burkholder says.

Once Salmonella gets established in the pet’s gastrointestinal tract, the animal can shed the bacteria when it has a bowel movement, and the contamination will continue to spread.

Salmonella infection (salmonellosis) symptoms in humans include:

  • Fever
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea (which may be bloody)
  • Stomach pain
  • More rarely: entry of Salmonella into bloodstream from intestines, followed by spread to joints, arteries, heart, soft tissues, and other areas of body

Symptoms associated with salmonellosis most often begin 12 hours to 3 days after ingestion of the bacteria and can last 4 to 7 days without treatment. All consumers are at risk for contracting salmonellosis from contaminated foods, but pregnant women, children under five, the elderly and those with weak immune systems are at risk of developing severe symptoms.

Compared to salmonellosis and other foodborne illnesses, infection with Listeria monocytogenes (listeriosis) is rare, but has serious and potentially fatal risks.

Listeria can infect multiple locations in the body:

  • The brain
  • Membranes surrounding the brain and spinal cord
  • Gastrointestinal tract
  • Bloodstream

Symptoms associated with listeriosis begin 11 to 70 days after coming in contact with the bacteria, with a mean (or average) of 31 days, and they can last up to a few weeks. Listeriosis occurs almost exclusively in pregnant women and their fetuses, newborns, the elderly and those with weak immune systems. Listeriosis can cause life-threatening infection in a fetus and newborns, as well as in persons with weakened immune systems, although the infection can often be treated with antibiotics.

“Feeding raw foods to pets increases the risk that both the pet and the people around the pet will encounter bacteria that cause foodborne illness, particularly if the products are not carefully handled and fed,” Burkholder says. “This is certainly one factor that should be considered when selecting diets for your pet.”

This article appears on FDA’s Consumer Updates page, which features the latest on all FDA-regulated products.

June 30, 2014

 

Make it a Happy and Healthy 4th of July!

4th

Here comes the 4th with its promise of fun. But we all need to take precautions to insure that it is a fun day.

Outdoor activities and fireworks are the biggest pastimes for 4th of July celebrations. Here are some tips on making it a safe, happy 4th.

  •  Never swim alone on the 4th or any other day, and make sure that any time kids are in the water someone is watching them closely.
  • Cover food and beverages outdoors to discourage uninvited guests such as bees and wasps. Wearing shoes, long sleeves, and long pants outdoors and avoiding perfumes and scented lotions, and sugary drinks can also help prevent bee stings.
  • Apply sunscreen both before and during your party on the 4th. The American Academy of Dermatology recommends using sunscreen with a minimum sun protection factor (SPF) of 15.

  • Check prescription medications you are taking to assure you will not have a reaction from being out in the sun or heat for an extended period of time
  • If you’ll be hiking or camping over the 4th,wear long-sleeved, light-colored shirts and long pants tucked into socks or boots to protect yourself from diseases caused by ticks.
  • Keep children away from campfires and grills. Gas leaks, blocked tubes, and overfilled propane tanks can be a cause of grill fires and explosions.
  • Don’t leave the picnic foods out all day. Allowing food to sit in outdoor temperatures can invite illness. The U.S. FDA suggests never leaving food out for more than one hour when the temperature is above 90 F and not more than two hours at other times.
  • If you live where fireworks are legal and they will be part of your 4th of July celebration be sure to store them where the kids can’t get into them. Keep the kids away from the fireworks at all times, and keep spectators at a safe distance. Professional fireworks displays are always a safer choice than putting on your own show.

A special note on using sparklers on the 4th;

  • Children under five are too young to safely hold a sparkler and don’t really understand why they might be dangerous. Avoid giving them one to hold.

  • Babies or children can wriggle in your arms and reach out unexpectedly. Avoid holding a baby or child when you have a sparkler in your hand.

  • Children over five will still need you to supervise them when they use sparklers. It’s safest if they wear gloves when they’re holding them. They might seem like ‘fireworks lite’ but sparklers can reach a temperature of 2000ºC. Have a bucket of water handy to put them in so that no-one can pick up a hot one off the ground. Teach them not to wave sparklers near anyone else or run with them.

4th

REFERENCES:

CPSC.gov. Fireworks Safety.

USDA

Keep Your Children Reading Over the Summer

reading

What can you do to keep your children reading during summer vacation?

There are so many things to do during the summer other than reading. Yet, every child needs to keep up their reading skills. Family members can motivate children to read by using strategies that integrate reading into summer activities and events.  Here are a few:

  • Before going to the beach, a park, visiting a historical site, a sporting event, or other activity make reading about the upcoming activity part of the planning, and then talk about the book and the activity over a snack, afterwards.
  • Check you library’s summer reading programs. Make attending these programs a summer activity, as well as stocking up on books to borrow.
  • Let your children see you reading regularly. Grab a magazine when you are in a waiting room. Bring a book to the beach.  Have a book on your night stand.
  • Talk to them about what you have learned and continue to learn from books.
  • Build reading time into your child’s  day, not as something to do when day is done and kids are too tired to do anything but zone out in front of the TV.
  • Much reading during the school year is required reading; make summer a time for fun reading on subjects of interest to your children

  • Give your children the opportunity to read a variety of materials, not just storybooks,  such as magazines, newsletters, and papers geared to their age and interests.
  • Road trips area great time for children to get in some reading
  • Encourage your children to join or start a  friends book club that can meet every two weeks to discuss a book they all read.

Reading during the summer will give your children a jump start when returning to school, not only with reading but with vocabulary and grammar!