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Your Child

Why Kids Should Learn Handwriting

1:45

I think it’s fair to say that handwriting is becoming a lost art. Computers, tablets and phone keyboards have made actual writing with a pen and paper almost obsolete.

What was once an integral part of a child’s daily school lessons, today, gets about one-fourth the instruction time. What is surprising is that in the not too far future, some kids may never learn penmanship at all.

If keyboards become the most popular form of communication, is there really a need for printing and cursive skills? Yes, according to some educators. Not only will children lose the personal touch of handwriting but will they also lose the benefits learning penmanship offers the developing brain.

Putting pen to paper stimulates brain circuits involved with memory, attention, motor skills, and language in a way punching a keyboard doesn't.

"There is this assumption that we live in the computer age, and we don't need handwriting anymore. That's wrong," says Virginia Berninger, PhD, a professor of educational psychology at the University of Washington.

Indiana University psychologist Karin James, PhD, recently published a study looking at brain scans of preschoolers before and after they learned to produce letters, either by printing or typing. Before the lesson, the children couldn't decipher between a random shape and a letter, and their brains responded similarly to each. After they learned to hand-draw a letter, brain regions needed for reading lit up at the sight of the letter like they do in a literate adult. Learning to type a letter yielded no such change.

Other studies have shown that preschoolers that practice handwriting read better in elementary school.

Handwriting also requires concentration and teaches brain circuits responsible for motor coordination, vision, and memory to work together. "If in the future we were to take away teaching handwriting altogether, I worry there could be real negative impacts on children's development," James says.

Timed right, cursive also comes with some unique advantages. Berninger's research suggests kids who link their letters via cursive get a better handle on what those words look like and end up being better spellers, she says. Cursive also allows them to compose their thoughts faster than in block handwriting or via typing (at least until about seventh grade, when their brains become mature enough to manage two-handed typing quickly).

Berninger says parents can offer their children extra guidance with learning handwriting even before their child begins school and through their early years. Some children may learn these skills quicker and some may need a little more practice. But on an average:

Preschoolers can strengthen motor skills by playing with clay, stringing beads, working through mazes, and connecting dots with arrows to form letters.

From kindergarten through second grade, children should master block letters.

Third to fourth grade is when kids can begin and master cursive.

By fifth grade, children should continue to write by hand while being introduced to typing by touch (not just hunt and peck.)

As I’ve become more accustomed to using my computer or phone to communicate with others, I’ve noticed that my own handwriting skills are beginning to suffer. Cursive isn’t as fluid and readable as when I handwrote more often and my eye, hand and pen coordination isn’t near as comfortable as it used to be. 

I hope future generations will not lose the art of handwriting, not only because of the developmental benefits it offers, but because each person’s handwriting is unique to them.

Story source: Lisa Marshall, http://www.webmd.com/parenting/features/handwriting-matters-kids#1

Your Child

Your Kindergartener’s First Day at School

2:00

Whether it’s your little one’s first time, or your child is a seasoned pro, the first day of school brings both excitement and apprehension. It’s not only kids who are slightly hyperventilating… parents are too. Why? Because school is a big deal!

Let’s start with Kindergarten. It doesn’t get much cuter than to see the excitement on a kindergartner’s face on the first day of school.  Between experiencing a certain amount of separation anxiety and their first taste of independence, these little ones are spinning in multiple directions. That’s one reason mom or dad needs to keep their cool - you can cry in the car on the way home.

Some schools offer parents and children a “get to know your school” pre-school visit. If you and your child have the opportunity to visit the school in advance – take it!

The more familiar your child is with the school, the better at calming his or her anxieties on the first day. It’s also good for mom and dad to be acquainted with the teacher and the lay out of the school before your little one starts class.

On the big day, try and arrive a little early. Introduce yourself and your child to the teacher.

Help your little one get the lay of the land. Show him where the bathroom is and explain that they can go anytime they need to- but they will need to ask the teacher first. Also mention that sometimes accidents happen, and that teachers know this. Some schools will ask parents to bring an extra set of underwear and clothing to be kept in the child’s locker for such occasions.

Lunchtime is going to be an unfamiliar experience for these first-timers. You can ease their fears by taking them to the school cafeteria and letting them know that their teacher will tell them when it’s time for lunch. Explain how some children will bring their lunch from home, and some will get their lunch from the cafeteria line. Let them know that they will get to sit with the other children in their class.

Another tip to help your child understand how lunchtime will work is by taking her to a cafeteria-style restaurant before the school year begins. Explain how once they start school, lunchtime will be kind of like eating at a cafeteria. It can also be a good time to talk about healthy food choices.

If you’re going to pack a lunch for your child, begin a couple of weeks before school starts and practice the routine. You can get their input on what kinds of foods they might like and experiment with some healthy choices to see which ones they like the best.

You can also explain that there may be a naptime during the day. They don’t have to actually go to sleep, but they may get a chance to lie down on a cot and rest.

Let your child know that either you or another caregiver will pick them up from school at a certain time. If your child rides the bus, explain the process and how the adults will make sure they are kept safe.

Also, have a backup plan in case someone is going to be late or cannot pick your child up. Give the school a list of people you will allow to pick up your child when you can’t make it.

When it’s time to say goodbye, smile, wave and encourage your child to have a great day. The more relaxed you are, the less threatened your child will feel. Some children get very clingy and start crying – it’s a natural first-day-at-school- reaction to unfamiliar surroundings and circumstances. This may go on for a week or so. Teachers are pros at helping parents say good-bye. Enlist their help. Also know that some kids head off to class without even looking back. It's not a reflection on you- it's just that some personalities are always excited about a new adventure. 

As the school year progresses there will be lots of conversations about school and all the changes it brings. Remember to stay positive and give easy to understand information that correlates to your child’s age.

Stay informed on how your child is doing at school. You may want to set up a meeting with his or her teacher on a regular basis.

Once you’ve said good-bye and you’re out of the school building -go ahead and fall apart. It’s natural for parents to have some of the same emotions that their child is having. Your little one is growing up and has just passed an important milestone in life. You have too.

Source: Ruth A. Peters, Ph.D.

http://today.msnbc.msn.com/id/14244318/ns/today-back_to_school/t/tips-calm-your-childs-first-day-jitters/#.TlPNHHO1lvE

Your Child

School Kids Benefit From Mindfulness Programs

2:00

Mindfulness is purposely paying attention to the present moment in a nonjudgmental way. A new study says that adding a mindfulness based stress reduction program to middle schools may help reduce kid’s stress and trauma.  

"High-quality structured mindfulness programs have the potential to really improve students' lives in ways that I think can be really meaningful over the life course," said lead author Dr. Erica Sibinga of the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine in Baltimore.

Children in many U.S. cities are at an increased risk of stresses and traumas due to the effects of community drug use, violence, multigenerational poverty, limited education and economic opportunities, Sibinga and her colleagues write in the journal Pediatrics.

 The study involved 300 students, in grades five through eight, at two Baltimore public schools. Children were randomly selected for either a twelve - week mindfulness based stress reduction program or health classes to take during the school day.

Nearly all the students were from low-income families and African-American.

The mindfulness program contained material about meditation, yoga and the mind, body connection; practice of those techniques; and group discussion.

The program helped the children be aware of their response to what was happening to them at the time.

"It allows them to not only know what is happening, but to stop and take three breaths and figure out how they want to respond to what is happening the present moment," Sibinga told Reuters Health.

By the end of the program, children in the mindfulness program had lower levels of general health problems, depression, recurrent thoughts about negative experiences and other symptoms of stress and trauma compared to the children enrolled in the health classes only.

Sibinga said the differences would be enough for the students to notice in their day-to-day lives.

The researchers acknowledge some limitations to the research, like children missing some classes and possibly being exposed to mindfulness practices outside the sessions.

While Sibinga acknowledged that she couldn’t say if the program would have the same results in other student populations, she suspected there would be benefits.

The next step is to look at how to spread the program to other schools, and look at how the program may work, she said.

"It doesn’t get us off the hook of trying to reduce the sources of trauma in our urban life," she said. But the study suggests adding structured mindfulness programs in urban settings would be beneficial, she added.

Some private schools in the U.S. have already implemented mindfulness classes in their school programs and have reported positive effects such as fewer behavioral problems and an increased ability to focus during class on school work.

Sources: Andrew M. Seaman, http://www.reuters.com/article/us-health-mindfulness-stress-school-idUSKBN0U12MY20151218

 

Daily Dose

Assessing Learning Difficulties

It is that time of year where parents are going to teacher conferences and learning about their children's progress in school. For some parents there will be discussions about difficulties their children are having in school. With 2/3 of the school year behind us and planning in place for school placement next fall, it is an important time to assess any learning differences a child may be exhibiting.

The sooner a child is suspected of having any difficulty with learning, whether it be reading, auditory processing, writing or listening and attention, the sooner the diagnostic testing may be done to diagnose the problem. As a parent, it is often difficult to "know" if your child is having problems with learning. Sometimes it is just a gut feeling and you should discuss those feelings with the teacher. If your teacher thinks there is a problem, listen to her/him, as they spend 8 hours a day with your child and they are there to teach your child and watch them succeed. Teachers are not trying to "label your child", but they too are trying to teach your child to be academically successful and competitive in within school. If they see problems with learning, applaud them for addressing it. The earlier diagnosed the better the remediation and resources will be for their continued academic success. Ideally, if your child is having learning issues speak with your pediatrician about resources for academic testing. There are options for testing both within the public school system or privately with an educational diagnostician. The information that you glean about your child's learning style, strengths and weaknesses will be invaluable throughout their education. That's your daily dose, we'll chat again tomorrow.

Your Child

Study: Exercise, Once Again, Improves Kid’s Learning Skills

2:00

While the debate on whether to bring back recess to school curriculums continues across the U.S., a small study from the Netherlands once again shows that adding exercise to a child’s school day can improve their learning skills.

Researchers worked with 500 children in second and third grade, giving half of them traditional lessons while the rest received instruction supplemented with physical activity designed to reinforce math and language lessons.

The approach was a creative and unique way to helping children better comprehend math and spelling.  Instead of taking a recess break – exercise was actually incorporated into the lesson.

After two years, children who got the physically active lessons had significantly higher scores in math and spelling than their peers who didn't exercise during class.

"Previous research showed effects of recess and physical activity breaks," said lead study author Marijke Mullender-Wijnsma, of the University of Gronigen in The Netherlands.

"However, we think that the integration of physical activity into academic lessons will result in bigger effects on academic achievement," Mullender-Wijnsma added in an email to Reuters Heath.

Mullender-Wijnsma and colleagues developed a curriculum that matched typical lessons in academic subject matter but added physical activity as part of instruction. They tested it in 12 elementary schools.

Here’s how it worked.

Lessons involved constant practice and repetition reinforced by body movements. For example, children jumped in place eight times to solve the multiplication problem 2 x 4.

Children in the exercise group received 22 weeks of instruction three times a week during two school years. These lessons were up to 30 minutes long, and evenly split between math and spelling instruction.

During the first year of the study, there wasn’t a great deal of difference found between the students receiving exercise during the class and those that didn’t, when speed was the focus in the math tests.

However, after two years, children who received exercise-based instruction had significantly higher scores on the math speed exams than students who didn't. The difference over two years equated to more than four months of additional learning for the students who had physically active lessons.

When the focus was on lesson comprehension, students receiving exercise outperformed students who did not receive the exercise instruction in both the first and second year. Again, the progress amounted to about four more months of learning.

For spelling, there wasn't a significant difference between the student groups after one year. But by the end of the second year they did have significantly better test scores, once again, adding an additional four more months of learning.

For reading, there wasn’t much difference between the two groups. It's possible that physical activities may be more beneficial to learning that involves repetition, memorization and practice of lessons from previous classes, the researchers conclude.

Researchers did point out that there were limitations that could have impacted the results of the study during the first year. The exercise group received specially trained teachers and individual schools administered the tests.

The research team did not examine why exercise might have helped students do better during tests.

 Sara Benjamin Neelon, of Johns Hopkins University and colleagues write in an accompanying editorial that it’s not clear whether these types of classes would work in countries where the population is larger, more diverse and students come from different socioeconomic backgrounds.

"However, the take-home message for parents and teachers is that physically active lessons may be a novel way to increase physical activity and improve academic performance – at the same time," Benjamin Neelon said by email.

More and more studies show that exercise appears to help the brain function better in children and adults. Whether all U.S. school administrations will see adding recess or exercise back into school curriculums is anybody’s guess, but according to science – it sure couldn’t hurt and might even help students develop stronger learning skills.

The study was published in the online journal Pediatrics.

Story source: Lisa Rapaport, http://www.reuters.com/article/us-health-children-fitness-learning-idUSKCN0VX26V

Daily Dose

Start the Back-to-School Sleep Routine Now

2.00 to read

Getting back into the routine of school days also means getting back to good bedtime routines.How can it be that school is just around the corner? Getting back into the routine of school days also means getting back to good bedtime routines. With that being said, you have to start the process now to ensure plenty of time to slowly get bedtimes re-adjusted. By starting early you can avoid the battles that some parent’s talk about when discussing bedtimes.

Children need a good night’s sleep to wake up happy, rested and ready to learn. Numerous studies have shown that elementary age kids need about 10 hours of sleep a night while tweens and teens still need a good 8 – 9 hours of sleep. I wonder how many children really get the recommended amount of sleep? I think too few. Unfortunately, I know from my own experience that teens seem to operate on a different sleep schedule and rarely are in bed as early as they should be. Most of us have relaxed bedtime a little during the summer and children are staying up later and sleeping longer in the mornings. This is great during the lazy summer months, when schedules are also different. But within a few weeks the morning alarms will ring forcing everyone to get up earlier to get to school. In order to try and minimize grouchy and tired children (and parents too) during those first days of school, going to bed on time will be a necessity. Working on re-adjusting betimes now will also make the transition from summer schedule to school schedule a little easier. If your children have been staying up later than usual, try pushing the bedtime back by 15 minutes each night and gradually shifting the bedtime to the “normal” hour. At the same time, especially for older children, you will need to awaken them a little earlier each day to re-set their clocks for early morning awakening. Why is it that pre-school children want to get up early, no matter what, while school-aged children are happy to sleep through alarms?  Such is life. Also, make sure that you are not only ensuring that you children get a good night’s sleep during the school year, but they also awaken in time for breakfast! Just like my mother used to say, “breakfast is the most important meal of the day’” and that adage is still true. A good night’s sleep followed by a healthy breakfast has been shown to improve mood, attention, focus and over all school performance, as well as even helping to prevent obesity. Start off the school year on the right foot. It is easier to begin with good habits than to try and break bad ones. That’s your daily dose, we’ll chat again tomorrow.

Daily Dose

Dealing with Tragedy

1.30 to read

I cannot stop thinking about the horrific tragedy in Newtown Connecticut.  As a parent, my heart is broken for the families in Newtown whose children, brothers, sisters and mothers were killed.  There really are no words to express the emotions we all have. 

At the same time, I worry about the many children who have seen or continue to see the images of this massacre.  Unfortunately, there continue to be mass shootings and tragedies that monopolize the news on air, online and in print making it hard to “shield” young children.  The news never stops and these events are all too common. 

But a parent’s job continues to be to try and make sure that children feel safe and secure.  Although it seems to be harder and harder to do these days, parents must continue to protect their children both physically and emotionally. This means telling your child to wear their seat belt, lock the door when you leave the house, wear your bike helmet, and to never play with matches...the list goes on and on.  

It also means having age appropriate discussions with your children about “stranger danger”, weather related disasters and now school lockdowns.  The discussions surrounding this latest national tragedy should be tailored to the age of the child, but regardless of their age, I think the discussion should always end with, “mommies and daddies are here to love and protect you and that will never change.”  

There is no way to process this tragedy nor is there a guide as to how to go forward.  Despite all of the news stories there are no answers, but only questions as to why? 

Hug your children, maybe grab an extra kiss and be thankful for your  family.  Let us also say a prayer for the community of Newtown, both those who were lost and for the living, for their grief is unimaginable.

 

Daily Dose

Back-to-School & ADHD

Back to school and ADHD. How soon can you tell if your child has attention problems?This is the first full week of school for many students across the country and with just a few days of school under their belt, parents have already begun dialing and texting their pediatrician about their child's attention issues and ADHD.  

I have to smile/laugh, as I have already received more than a handful of phone calls directly related to the subject of ADHD.  This happens every year, somehow it has become predictable, and I can only continue to be amazed that any parent would think that a few school days is enough to determine anything about how the school year is going to go!  I mean REALLY (like my teenage patients like to say), I think everyone has ADHD for at least the first 7–10 days of school. That includes most teachers, administrators, school nurses, and yes, the students! Despite the fact that we all talk about “getting ready” for back to school, and establishing the bedtime routines, and early morning awakenings, followed by a healthy breakfast and an afternoon snack and homework done at a reasonable hour, it takes some time to really get it together.  It brings to mind the movie 'Home Alone' when they are all so organized for their early morning trip and then it all falls apart when the alarm clock doesn’t work and the “rush” begins. I saw a lot of tired children yesterday, who admitted that they had not gotten to bed as early as had been planned, but have better intentions for the next night. That seems more like reality for most of us. So, how can a parent call after 1 day of school to say “Johnny went back on his medication today and I don’t think it is working”, or “Sarah seemed to be distracted at school today and did not bring the right book home for homework and I think we might need to have a conference about ADHD”.  Does that sound silly to you? It happens every year. Think about your first day on any “new” job, it is often unorganized, difficult to focus, hard to remember what you need to bring to the meeting, or what form you fill out next.  Yet alone finding out where the bathrooms are, where you park etc. It is the same thing for our children as they start a new year. They may be in a new school, or at least a new classroom, often filled to the brim as new students are added at the last minute. They have never met the teacher before, who is also going to be giving them numerous directions for his or her classroom rules and expectations. They have to find the bathrooms, cafeteria, library and playground. They may have lockers far away from their classes, the text book that they thought was going to be used might have already changed. The list is endless.  Getting back into a “good school routine” is a bit of a journey and not a race, and giving a child a few days to figure it out seems to be more appropriate to me. With that being said, I called each of my patients back and basically discussed waiting for a week or two to get everyone settled in before making medication changes, or having conferences with teachers or pediatricians about attention issues.  Patience seems to be the word that comes to mind and remembering that starting any new “job” takes a bit of time to become adjusted. That's your daily dose for today. We'll chat again tomorrow. Send your question or comment to Dr. Sue!

Your Child

Your Child’s First Day at School

1:45

While I may have forgotten a lot of things in my life, I remember my first day of school. I was so excited because I actually recognized someone. Her name was Donna. We’d met in a department store a week earlier. We had both picked out the same umbrella, but there was only one – she said I could have it. We’ve been friends for life.

When my daughter began school, she experienced all the same emotions I had those many years ago; scared, excited and uncertain where to go and what to do next. She found a friend also and they wandered the halls together.

Some school districts have already begun their new school year, but for many kids - the bell will ring in the next couple of weeks.

Children aren’t the only ones that are anxious as the first day rolls around – parents can get quite nervous and have that feeling that their little one is growing up so fast- trust me I know. It’s a normal “things are about to change” emotion.

One tip I’d like to suggest before your little one starts school is to share your own first day memories with your child as well as pictures. It’s amazing how comforting it is for a child to know that their parents did the same thing at their age and lived to tell about it!

To help make the first day of school a little less scary for your child, here are some other tips from https://www.healthychildren.org:

•       Point out the positive aspects of starting school: It will be fun. She will see old friends. She will meet new friends. Refresh her memory about previous years, when she may have returned home after the first day with high spirits because she had a good time.

•       Remind your child that he is not the only student who is a bit uneasy about the first day of school. Teachers know that students are anxious and will be making an extra effort to make sure everyone feels as comfortable as possible.

•       Talk about the kinds of interesting things he will learn in the months ahead.

•       Buy him or her something (perhaps a pen or pencil) that will remind her you are thinking of them while they are at school, or put a note in their lunch-box.

•       Reassure your child that if any problems arise at school, you will help re­solve them. (If problems do occur, get involved as soon as possible.)

•       Find another child in the neighborhood with whom your youngster can walk to school or ride with on the bus. If your child is not going to ride a school bus and you feel it is appropriate, drive your child (or walk with her) to school and pick her up the first day.

•       Encourage him to look for new students in his classroom or in the play­ground, invite them to join the group for a game, and ask them about their interests.

•       After school, show your child some special attention and affection. Give him or her a hug and ask what happened at school. Did she have fun? Did he make any new friends? Does she need any additional school supplies (notebooks, rulers, erasers) that you can shop for together?

In addition to the suggestions listed above, your child may need some extra support if he or she is starting school in a new location. Here are some suggestions to make the transition easier.

•       Talk with your child about his or her feelings, both their excitement and their con­cerns, about the new school.

•       Visit the school with your child in advance of the first day. Teachers and staff are usually at school a few days before the children start. Peek into your child's classroom, and if possible, meet the teacher and principal. You might be able to address some of your child's concerns at that time. She may have no questions until she actually sees the building and can vi­sualize what it will be like. (When you formally register your child in the new school, bring her immunization record and birth certificate; usually school records can be sent directly from school to school once you sign a "release of information" form.)

•       Try to have your child meet a classmate before the first day so they can get acquainted and play together, and so your child will have a friendly face to look for when school begins.

•       Do not build up unrealistic expectations about how wonderful the new school will be, but convey a general sense of optimism about how things will go for your child at the new school. Remind him that teachers and other students will be making an extra effort to make him feel welcome.

•       If your child sees another student or a group engaged in an activity she is interested in, encourage her to ask if she can participate.

•       As soon as you can, find out what activities are available for your child in addition to those that occur during school itself. Is there a back-to-school picnic or party planned? Can he or she join a soccer team? (For community sports programs, sign-ups often begin weeks or even months before the start of the season.)

It’s been many years since my first day at school but I remember it well. Your child’s life is about to change forever, but that’s a good thing-another milestone in life’s progression. Give him or her a hug, wipe away the tears and smile a big smile. Let them know you trust them and are proud of them. Then go ahead and shed a few tears of your own when you’re back in the car. Yes, they are growing up fast. 

Story source: https://www.healthychildren.org/English/ages-stages/gradeschool/school/Pages/Making-the-First-Day-of-School-Easier.aspx

 

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