Thursday, August 13, 2009

Things That Do Not Bode Well

Two little boys in their beds at 10:00 p.m. quietly chanting together, "We're noc-tur-nal. We're noc-tur-nal. We're noc-tur-nal."

It might be time to break out the chocolate stash - looks like it's going to be a long night.

Kindergarten Registration

We registered today - The five year old and I drove over to the school. All three kids are sick, so he was a bit dopey from the Benedryl and kept asking where the teacher was. He is really interested in meeting his teacher, especially since we went earlier this week to meet the four year old's pre-K teacher.

He liked the cafeteria-style tables they had set up in the gymnasium and spied some art supplies in a corner which impressed him a lot. He asked me if he couldn't just start school today, please?

I had to take in paperwork galore - proof of residence, social security card, certified birth certificate and a thousand (give or take) forms I had printed from their website. I normally am missing something of vital importance on these occasions, but miraculously, I had everything together. Of this, I am unduly proud.

When we were done, the school lady told us there was a "meet the teacher" night on the 18th next week, so he could meet his teacher before school.

Wait? What? Doesn't school start on Monday, the 17th?



All this time I've been planning for both kids to begin school on the 17th and looking forward to it with glee. Well, maybe not glee. Alright, yes - pure unadulterated glee!

Fine. The 24th it is, then. Mr. PreK will start on the 17th and Mr. Kindy on the 24th. I have a feeling Mr. Kindy isn't going to be very happy with that, but what are you going to do?

I was lucky enough to land two very well behaved kids (in public anyway), so they usually impress their teachers, which makes me proud. I'm so glad both kids are looking forward to school; I know they will do well and love (almost) every minute. We all will.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Back to School Activities

The boys start kindergarten and Pre-K in one week. I'm counting down anxiously, rubbing my hands together in well, maybe not exactly glee. OK, glee - I admit it. Not that I'm not happy to have them at home, I am, but given a summer of 100-degree temps and more recently everyone coming down with summer colds leaves us housebound and somewhat irritable.

The bottom line is that we are ALL ready for school to begin.

In celebration of school starting, here are some cute activities to get them ready for school:

~ Back to School Word Searches from DLTK.

~ Back to School themed coloring pages from Preschool Coloring Book. This is my favorite bus.

~ The Magic School Bus website from Scholastic.

~ Back to school crafts from Family Fun.

~ Lots of back to school ideas from Kaboose.

Ok, this isn't school themed, but these game templates from Microsoft look really cool, especially for the older child.

Feel free to add any links you've found.

In the Backyard Today

"Mommy, we sawed giant ants what look like they eat little children!"

Yes, Carpenter Ants are monstrous as far as ants go, but they are more interested in that rotten fence board than eating little children.

Nonetheless, the Beastlings remain wary. Just in case.

Have You Had Your Dose of Sunshine Today?

A whopping 70 percent of American kids aren't getting enough vitamin D, and such youngsters tend to have higher blood pressure and lower levels of good cholesterol than their peers, according to two new studies published this week in the journal Pediatrics. Low vitamin D levels also may increase a child's risk of developing heart disease later in life, experts say.
Wow - 70 percent? I would not have guessed that. I know that the human body, when exposed to sunlight produces its own vitamin D and of course, we all know that milk is typically fortified with both A & D, but that almost three quarters of kids are deficient in the nutrient is definitely more than I would have expected.

I suppose this is due to several factors. One is that kids today drink less milk than we did as children and overall, they are not drinking enough. Why? I'm not certain - there are more beverage choices out there in general, for starters. And there are other drinks fortified with calcium that some children drink, like orange juice that do not contain Vitamin D. And for many kids, it's just not cool to drink milk after a certain age. The main concern there is of course the need for calcium is also not being met, but that important source of vitamin D is another side effect. While I do think that a perfectly healthy diet can be achieved without milk or even animal products at all, milk is by far the most convenient way for kids to get the needed amounts of calcium and D.

The largest factor perhaps is that parents are more wary of sun overexposure. My kids stay out of midday sun entirely, unless they are coated in sunscreen. I can recall many a trip to Galveston, Texas as a child where we would be forced to put on some SPF 8 sunscreen in the morning and come back terribly burnt and blistered. Not only was decent sunscreen unavailable, but parents were unschooled in its proper use and why it is so important. While our parents may not have known the dangers back in the 1970's, experts have long known that childhood burns are particularly menacing:

Severe childhood and teen-age sunburns are more than twice as likely to lead to skin cancer as severe sunburns later in life, researchers say.

Intense, blistering sunburns have long been linked to malignant melanoma, a potentially fatal form of skin cancer. Previous studies had found that children who had been seriously sunburned were at greater risk for melanoma than children who were not. But the new study is the first to show that the dangers are much greater when intense sunburns occur in adolescence than when they occur later in life.

It's no wonder parents now keep their children from the sun as much as possible, but new studies are questioning the benefit of sheltering kids from the sun too much. Many experts now suggest limited daily sun exposure for children:
Also, parents should help their children get at least 10 to 15 minutes of sun exposure daily without sunscreen. "Set your watch and then apply sunscreen after 15 minutes," Melamed says.
Another reason for less sun exposure these days is the influence of video games, television and DVRs, and general lack of activity. This ties in to the childhood obesity problem as well, but one effect is a decreased production of the body's vitamin D and resulting from that, the effects of that deficiency:

Children with the lowest vitamin D levels were more likely to have higher blood pressure, high blood sugar levels and low blood levels of HDL ("good") cholesterol, the study found....

There was a clear association with cardiovascular risk factors. The 25 percent of youngsters with the lowest levels of vitamin D were 2.36 times more likely to have high blood pressure, 54 percent more likely to have low HDL cholesterol levels, 2.54 times more likely to have elevated blood sugar levels and 3.88 times more likely to have metabolic syndrome, a constellation of risk factors including obesity, high blood fats and high blood pressure.

Pretty scary stuff right there. So what does this tell us?

1) Drink your milk.

2) If you don't or can't drink milk, then consider a supplement with calcium, which will help the body metabolize the D.

3) Spend a little more time in the sun as a family - mom and dad need that D just as much as Bobby and Sally.

4) If you are at risk, consider getting tested for a deficiency.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Shatner does Palin

No, not like that.

Like this:

Zinc and Other Miracles

Any parent who has seen Rotovirus in action knows just how serious the ailment has the potential to be, even here, where emergency medical treatment is certain. I just finished reading an article from that explained how poor children of Africa die in huge numbers, from fluid loss due to severe diarrhea.

When my eldest became ill with Rotovirus at age two, he became very dehydrated within 24 hours and extremely lethargic, refusing to eat or drink at all, yet vomiting repeatedly and suffering from almost constant diarrhea at one point. I imagine where medical treatment is all but nonexistent and living conditions are unsanitary, a small, malnourished, child wouldn't stand much of a chance against that virus or similar viruses.

But this article is actually very positive and full of hope - scientists have discovered that simple zinc stops the effects of the virus rapidly. Not some expensive modern drug, but plain old zinc. I urge you to read the article - it's quite uplifting, despite the subject.
So far, the small programs have drawn little attention. But their impact has been dramatic. Zinc pills appear to halt diarrhea in its tracks. "Before, we were terrified when children's stomachs began running, because we knew some of them would die," says Sata Djialla in the Malian village of Morola. "Now our children are not dying of diarrhea."
The story reminded me of PlumpyNut, an amazing success story. And so heartening (yet ironic) that a little legume, one that could possibly kill my highly allergic four year old, is doing so much good for so many children.

I know it's quite important for us all to know that Britney Spears is back in bikini-bod shape this week, but really, when there's so much worthless or negative "news" in the media, it's refreshing to see something positive like this - something that makes a real difference.

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Simple Ways to Greener School Lunches

I like to buy juice boxes now and then for convenience, but on a regular basis, I try to avoid them. One juice box isn't much in the grand scheme of things, but one juice box per day multiplied by ten months of school (180 days, on average) is quite a pile of non-recyclable trash. Multiplied by the 24 kids in your child's class is over 4300 empty juice boxes in our landfills per class. Add in the wrappers from individually wrapped snacks, yogurt cups, plastic Lunchable containers, plastic baggies, and so on and you've got a massive pile to contend with. If we could reduce that number by even half, that's a huge improvement.

So, what's a busy mom to do?

In lieu of plastic baggies and individually packed snacks such as crackers, cookies, fruit, applesauce, yogurt, and so on, I'd suggest going and buying some reusable containers that are also marked as recyclable, should they break. I like these twisty-lidded ones from Zip-Loc (Target makes a generic version) - you can put liquids in them and they don't leak. Plus, they are easier for a small child to open than the standard pop-top lids. More importantly, they are easier for the small child to put the lid back on, should he or she not finish whatever is in it, so you are less likely to end up with a lunch box full of wet stickiness.

Instead of juice boxes or disposable juice or water bottles, invest in a couple of BPA-free reusable ones.
You can freeze them 1/3 full of water at night and then fill with juice or water so they will be cool for lunch. I've even frozen them with milk inside - by lunch, the milk has thawed, but is still nice and chilly.

And what about those granola bars, and other wrapped snacks? You know, it's not important to me to produce absolutely no garbage. I do buy much less of that type of thing than I used to, but if my child has a wrapped fruit leather bar in with his reusable containers occasionally, I'm not going to lose sleep over it.

That said, if you can buy the product out of the wrapper, then I'd suggest you do so, but sometimes, there is no wrapper-free alternative. One solution, however, is to remove the item from the item, recycle the wrapper at home, and just slip it in one of the reusable lunch containers, next to Junior's sandwich.
One added bonus to going green is that it saves money. Woohoo! After the initial purchases of reusable items, it's vastly cheaper to fill your drink bottles with filtered tap water, milk from a gallon jug, or juice from a 64oz container than it is to buy little individual drinks. Similarly, you get so many more snacks for your money - the giant bottle of applesauce, the 32oz container of yogurt, and the huge bag of pretzels contain many more servings than the individual sized versions. If you have more than one child, then multiply those savings and it really adds up.

Another plus is that it's a fantastic lesson to teach your children - the earth is ours to take care of and this is how we do our part. We talk about being kind to our planet, but this is a good way to show them how we accomplish that goal - something tangible. It's a simple lesson, but an important one, regardless of your politics.

If you have any product recommendations or other ideas, please feel free to comment below.

P.S. Here's some great school lunch ideas from Family Fun.

Sunday, August 2, 2009

Trying Not to Raise Material Girls (and Boys)

We may be living in a material world, but that doesn't mean we can't instill values that counteract the constant advertising bombarding our children, the lure of "stuff" that they see in the store or covet over a friend's house, and even the natural tendency of most small children to be at least a little selfish by nature. When you add in the young child's lack of understanding of the real value of money and the current state of the economy, their budding materialism can be plenty frustrating to deal with, especially around birthdays, holidays, and back-to-school.

So here's some ideas aimed at the preschool and younger elementary set to help you avoid raising a Material Child.

Limit Exposure to Marketing Aimed at Kids. Whether that is via television or websites aimed at children, or attractive packaging at the store, children are big business. Huge business, actually. I rarely allow The Disney Channel or Nickelodeon due to their ad-heavy programs, but PBS or Sprout or Noggin are relatively safe in this regard. And for older kids, if you have a DVR, there's no reason not to teach them how to use it to zip through the commercials. As for the grocery store, even a 4 year old child can understand that they put junky sugary cereal low so kids will want it and the healthy stuff up high. The same goes, of course, for the candy and toys in the check-out lane. Children can actually understand marketing once it's shown to them and I think we have a duty to point out the advertiser's sneaky tricks to them.

Praise Their Efforts to Share. And praise other kids who share and assist others, even if your kid isn't feeling so generous. Seemingly small things, like letting a sibling borrow her special lovey when he hurt himself are actually huge steps. And even sharing a toy they didn't want to play with to begin with is a good first step for the younger toddler.

Suggest Borrowing. Do you really need 2 of everything if you have two children? My boys (4 and 5) ask to borrow items from the other. The borrower then states the length of time the item may be borrowed, which is usually a ridiculous amount, like "thirnteen days." And so a contract is formed. They learned this on their own, possibly from going to the library so often, but it works for them. Perhaps in your house there is a limit of items that may be borrowed - say 3 at any given time? And a standard time, such as 24 hours. Whatever works for your family. I would suggest you let the kids decide on the details, though - it does wonders for compliance.

Be a Role Model. If you spend too much time shopping for wants rather than needs, or trolling the internet for your next designer shoe purchase, try to curb that behavior, especially in front of Junior. I think we are all guilty of that at times, but the key is to minimize glorifying it around the children. How many jokes/cliches are there about "Shopping" or "retail therapy" which, when examined, paint a pretty shallow picture of our culture? I don't want that in my home - it's not good for ANY of us.

Just Say No. Does your kid need it or just want it? Does he already have something just like it? Is he pitching a fit for it? Has he gotten other treats recently? Would he accept buying it as a gift for the next birthday party he attends? Or better yet, would he like to buy it for a child who has no toys or a sick friend? Would he prefer a trip to the playground or picking what's for dinner instead of that toy? Kids don't need a new trinket each time they go to the store. They may not believe us, but it's true - and importantly, they should not expect a treat each time they go to a store, even if they are well-behaved. A compromise is to buy a treat only on some trips out and only if they do not ask for one.

Reuse, Repurpose, Reinvent, Re-do. Extol the virtues of being green and wearing those perfectly nice hand-me-downs or last year's backpack for the sake of the environment. Explain that it doesn't have to be brand new to be nice - and sometimes old things (antiques) are even more valuable than the new ones. Most children are aware of recycling and the good it does for our planet; build on that idea. Take it further and explain that it's not just plastic bottles that we need to worry about, but all consumer items. Buying from a thrift store can not only be fun, but you get more loot for your money. If she compromises and agrees to re-using last year's lunch kit (or big sister's old one), then maybe you can refurbish it and put a special ribbon on it to make it special.

Teach About Budgets and Spending. Every child past the age of eating coins should have a piggy bank. Kids now see mom whip out a plastic card and take home bags of loot - they don't understand that mom is paying with actual money. Have them earn money at home by helping out and then take them to spend it to get a better idea of how much work it takes to buy one Hotwheels Car or a pack of M&Ms.

Talk to them about Saving. Teach about saving their money money longterm. For every dollar they earn, encourage them to save a portion for something big. And take them to open a bank account or other savings device that you can make deposits in a few times a year - consider letting them add to their own college fund or investing in a mutual fund once they are old enoug to understand the concept.

Make Things. OK, no one wants to show up at a birthday with a purple PlayDoh "snake" as their offering, but there's no reason your child can't make the card. That saves between $1 and $4. Multiplied by 12 or so parties a year...well, a child can understand that's quite a sum. A sum better spent on groceries and bills or saved for an important purchase. The same goes for teacher's gifts, babysitter's gifts, Father's and Mother's Day, grandparent's gifts - your child can make the card as well as (help make) the gift - perhaps a beautiful loaf of homemade banana bread or any of a number of lovely items - a quick google search for "homemade gifts" turns up dozens of fantastic links.

Talk to them About Charitable Giving. Along with saving their money, encourage them to share with people who need it. Even toddlers can put money in the Salvation Army holiday buckets and know they are buying things for people who don't have enough money for food and other necessities. I'd encourage you to pick a charity that they can see the good being done firsthand. Giving to church, for example, may be important to your family (even if it does good works), but it's quite abstract for a child to really comprehend where the money is going. Consider something more basic, like a food bank, animal shelter, or children's hospital. And instead of giving just money, many groups have wish lists on the internet - a child who takes their own money to buy dog food for abandoned dogs and then takes it to the shelter herself, will see the fruit of her actions. Similarly, delivering a box of box to a children's hospital is really something that a child can fully process. And it's fun too, as well as a good reminder for the rest of the family to be grateful for what you do have.