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Your Child

Naps Help Preschoolers Learn Better

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There are two things adults envy about youngsters – their bountiful energy and their naps.

A new study says that those afternoon siestas that many preschoolers enjoy are not a waste of time.  In fact, a daily nap may improve their ability to learn by improving their memory skills.

Preschooler’s brains are busy. On a daily basis they are processing new and exciting information. Their brains are storing the input from these experiences in short-term storage areas said Rebecca Spencer, lead study author and a neuroscientist at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst.

"A nap allows information to move from temporary storage to more permanent storage, from the hippocampus to the cortical areas of the brain," she said. "You've heard the phrase, 'You should sleep on it.' Well, that's what we're talking about: Children need to process some of the input from the day."

Many of the nation's preschoolers put in longer days than do their working parents, arriving at school as early as 6:30 a.m. and getting picked up after 5 p.m., Spencer said. "We're all short on sleep, and the kid's sleep is affected by the parents' schedules," she said.

For the study, the researchers taught 40 children from six preschools in western Massachusetts a visual-spatial memory game in the morning. The children were asked to remember where nine to 12 different pictures were located on a grid.

During the afternoon, children were either encouraged to nap or to stay awake. Naps lasted about 80 minutes. Later in the afternoon and the following morning, delayed recall was tested between both groups -- children who were encouraged to sleep and those who were kept awake.

The researchers found that although the children performed similarly in the morning, when their retention was fresh, children forgot significantly more when they had not taken a nap. Those who had slept remembered 10 percent more than those who were kept awake. The next day, the kids who had napped the previous afternoon scored better than those who hadn't napped. The data showed that a child doesn't recover the memory benefit from nighttime sleep, the researchers said.

To better understand whether memories were actively processed during naps, the researchers took 14 preschoolers to a sleep lab for polysomnography, a sleep study that shows changes in the brain. The children took naps for about 70 minutes. The napping children showed signs of signals being sent to long-term memory from the brain's hippocampus.

"Thus, there was evidence of a cause-and effect relationship between signs that the brain is integrating new information and the memory benefit of a nap," Spencer said.

The study was published in the September issue of the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Spencer is concerned about the trend in many public preschools to discontinue naps. She said naps need to be put back into the preschool day, and she wants to see exploration of ways to enhance the napping experience -- with darkened rooms and comfortable cots or pads, for example.

What’s the bottom line? "Naps are not wasted time," Spencer said.

Source: http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/news/fullstory_140919.html

Your Child

Preschoolers Should be Examined for Possible Vision Problems

2:00

For very young children, blurry vision may seem normal to them. There’s also a good chance that their parents won’t know their little ones are having difficulty seeing clearly.

That’s why the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF) is recommending that 3 to 5 year olds receive vision screening at least once to detect abnormal visual development or risk factors for it.

A couple of visions problems that first show symptoms at this age are Strabismuc (crossed eyes) and Amblyopia (lazy eye).)

Crossed eyes do not look in the same direction at the same time. Six muscles attach to each eye to control how it moves. The muscles receive signals from the brain that direct their movements. Normally, the eyes work together so they both point at the same place. When problems develop with eye movement control, an eye may turn in, out, up or down.

Infants and young children often develop this condition by the age of three, but older children and adults can also get crossed eyes. People often believe that a child with strabismus will outgrow the condition. However, this is not true. In fact, strabismus may get worse without treatment. An optometrist should examine any child older than 4 months whose eyes do not appear to be straight all the time.

Lazy eye is the loss or lack of development of central vision in one eye that is unrelated to any eye health problem and is not correctable with lenses.

Lazy eye often occurs in people who have crossed eyes (misalignment) or a large difference in the degree of nearsightedness or farsightedness between the two eyes. It usually develops before age 6 and it does not affect side (peripheral) vision.

Treatment for lazy eye may include a combination of prescription lenses, prisms, vision therapy and eye patching. In vision therapy, patients learn how to use the two eyes together, which helps prevent lazy eye from reoccurring.

According to the American Public Health Association, about 10% of preschoolers have eye or vision problems. However, children this age generally will not voice complaints about their eyes.

Parents should watch for signs that may indicate a vision problem, including:

•       Sitting close to the TV or holding a book too close

•       Squinting

•       Tilting their head

•       Frequently rubbing their eyes

•       Short attention span for the child's age

•       Turning of an eye in or out 

•       Sensitivity to light

•       Difficulty with eye-hand-body coordination when playing ball or bike riding

•       Avoiding coloring activities, puzzles and other detailed activities

If you notice any of these signs in your preschooler, arrange for a visit to your doctor of optometry.

While the two may sound similar, there is a difference between a vision screening and an eye exam.

Vision screenings are a limited process and can't be used to diagnose an eye or vision problem, but rather may indicate a potential need for further evaluation. They may miss as many as 60% of children with vision problems. Even if a vision screening does not identify a possible vision problem, a child may still have one.

Sometimes, parents get a false sense that their child doesn’t have a vision problem if he or she passes a vision screening.

A doctor of optometry performs an eye exam. He or she will look for any developmental problems and evidence of disease. If needed, your doctor of optometry can prescribe treatment, including eyeglasses and/or vision therapy, to correct a vision development problem.

When considering an eye exam, parents should:

•       Make an appointment early in the day. Allow about one hour.

•       Talk about the examination in advance and encourage your child's questions.

•       Explain the examination in terms your child can understand, comparing the E chart to a puzzle and the instruments to tiny flashlights and a kaleidoscope.

The preschool years are a time for developing the visual abilities that a child will need in school and throughout his or her life. Steps taken during these years to help ensure vision is developing normally can provide a child with a good "head start" for school.

Story sources:

http://www.aoa.org/patients-and-public/good-vision-throughout-life/childrens-vision/preschool-vision-2-to-5-years-of-age?sso=y

Molly Walker, http://www.medpagetoday.com/ophthalmology/generalophthalmology/63476

 

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