Health and wellness tips from Indiana University
Living Well for July has a back-to-school theme and features tips on school readiness, transitioning to high school, gambling as a top priority for youth substance abuse prevention and undiagnosed vision problems leading to difficulties in early education.
School readiness: Tips for parents. Parents can use everyday activities to help their children prepare to start school, said Barbara Horvath, a research associate at the Center on Education and Lifelong Learning at Indiana University Bloomington. "The most important thing is to just converse," Horvath said. "Talk about the things you see and feel. The more personal connections children have with words and concepts, the easier formal learning becomes. If you haven't heard the words, how can you learn to read them with any understanding?" Cathy Beard of IUB's Early Childhood Center agrees that parents can build a focus on school readiness into each day. "We all know that parents are their child's first teacher, and research has affirmed that one of the greatest predictors of a ready child is a ready family," she said. Below, Horvath and Beard offer tips for parents on preparing children for the transition to the school environment.
- A healthy home. "We focus on children entering school safe, healthy and ready to learn," Horvath said. She emphasized nutritious meals and plenty of exercise as foundations of a healthy home environment. Immunizations, health screenings and check-ups are also essential, Beard said.
- Creating structure. Parents can prepare their children to succeed in the school environment by establishing a predictable daily routine and reasonable family "rules" that children must observe, Beard said. "Parents should also encourage turn-taking, helping and sharing at home with adults and siblings," she said.
- Field trips. Any outing can be an opportunity to engage a child's curiosity, Horvath said. "When you're riding the bus, talk about the different buildings or count the windows. When you're at the doctor's office, look at the magazines and point out the letters that your child already knows. Walk around with your child and talk about what you see in the windows of stores or restaurants."
- Be silly. "Give yourself permission to be silly with your kids," Horvath said. "There's a lot to be said for puppet shows." Beard said that parents can encourage creativity by making up stories together with their children.
- Read 1,000 books together. Horvath said that a benchmark for readiness is to have 1,000 books read to each child before starting school -- even if it means reading the same book over and over. Reading to children should be a part of the daily routine, Beard said. She suggested visiting the library and attending story hour to show children how exciting reading can be.
- Stay involved in the school community. School readiness does not end with the first day of class, Beard said. Families can help their children succeed in school by showing an interest in what happens during classes, asking questions about the day, displaying children's work, visiting and volunteering in the school when possible and attending parent-teacher or case conferences.
The Center on Education and Lifelong Learning and the Early Childhood Center are part of the Indiana Institute on Disability and Community at IUB, which can be found online at http://www.iidc.indiana.edu/. For family resources in Monroe County, visit http://www.monroecountykidscount.org. Horvath can be reached at 812-855-3674 and firstname.lastname@example.org; Beard can be reached at 812-855-6508 and email@example.com.
High (school) anxiety. The Class of 2010 is gearing up for what many students have described as the most difficult transition of their school years, said Dixie Patterson, family coordinator for the Center on Education and Lifelong Learning at Indiana University Bloomington. "Although schools and families try to prepare students for the transition to high school, students still have a lot of questions and anxieties," Patterson said. "Transitions appear to be easier and less stressful when families and students know the community well, know a lot of people, and when students have already been in the high school building." Patterson and co-author Julie Havill developed a booklet of tips for students, families and teachers, "If I knew then what I know now: Transition planning through the school years," based on conversations with over 150 high school students and families representing diverse socio-economic backgrounds. Students with mild and moderate disabilities and their families were among those interviewed. Patterson offers tips on managing the transition:
- Navigation intimidation. Finding lockers and classes were among the top concerns for incoming freshmen, Patterson said. "Lots of freshmen were really fearful of not finding a class and being late," she said. Attending school and community events in the school building before the student enters high school can help to make the building more familiar, Patterson said. Families who are new to the community can arrange for a formal visit and request to meet with the principal and teachers.
- Making the grade. "Students said that the biggest surprise as freshmen was the importance of grades in high school. Earning a passing grade for required credit was a new concept for most high school students," Patterson said. Students said that talking with upperclassmen, especially those designated as peer leaders or student mentors, was helpful in learning how to manage their course load.
- Extracurricular activities. Students, teachers and parents agreed that participating in extracurricular activities helped students adjust to their new environment. The activities helped them make new friends and feel like a part of the school community. Sports teams, band or choir, drama and yearbook clubs are among the different activities offered at many schools. Patterson said that each student should try out at least one extracurricular activity.
- Parent-teacher connections. Parents can assist the transition by connecting with teachers and staying informed about school activities. Patterson said that parents should attend conferences and orientations, find out how to contact teachers and let teachers know what they are interested in or willing to do in support of the student and the school.
- Self-determination. "The biggest difference at the high school level is that the student participates more and there is and should be more opportunity for self-determination," Patterson said. Parents can help students prepare for new responsibilities by making sure students are aware of their different options for classes and activities and helping them learn time management skills, she said.
The Center on Education and Lifelong Learning is part of the Indiana Institute on Disability and Community at IUB. Patterson can be reached at 812-855-6508 and firstname.lastname@example.org.
Gambling a top issue for youth prevention programs. After-school substance abuse prevention programs in Indiana will incorporate problem gambling prevention initiatives for the first time this year, said Mary Lay, program coordinator of Indiana Problem Gambling Prevention for the Indiana Prevention Resource Center at Indiana University Bloomington. "We felt it was important to include this content in youth programming because gambling has become more pervasive in many ways in our culture," Lay said. "There are more gambling venues -- not only casinos, but also on the Internet and in social situations where youth are participating. On television, half the cable stations are carrying Texas hold'em or celebrity poker shows. We have been getting feedback from schools and youth groups that they are seeing more young people developing problems with losing money or personal property through gambling. We hope to get ahead of the curve and educate youth about problem gambling before it becomes more prevalent." The new content will be delivered to youth in the Afternoons R.O.C.K. (Recreation, Object lessons, Culture and values, and Knowledge) program, an Indiana state-sponsored after-school program focusing on drug prevention. The program serves over 14,000 youth ages 10 to14 years in all 92 counties in Indiana. Jeanie Alter, an IPRC evaluation specialist, said that problem gambling prevention is incorporated into substance abuse prevention because it is associated with the same risk factors, prevention methods and treatment options. "Availability, peer approval and use of other drugs and alcohol are associated with all youth risk behaviors including gambling, drug use and early sexual initiation," Alter said. Prevention methods for all of these behaviors include raising awareness and providing alternative activities, and treatment involves the youth recognizing a problem, being willing to change behavior, and in some cases seeking counseling. Lay said that a common misconception of gambling is that it begins with a need for money. "Problem gambling usually starts as a recreational activity. For youth, the stakes might not involve cash, but could be betting for CDs or an IPod. The addiction comes as what we call 'chasing the win' -- looking for the rush over and over," she said. While an occasional poker party does not necessarily signal a problem, Lay said that parents should be alert to how much time their children spend playing cards, if they seem to be losing valued possessions or money, and if they exhibit any signs of depression.
The IPRC is operated by the Indiana University Department of Applied Health Science and the IU School of Health, Physical Education and Recreation. It is affiliated with the department's Institute for Drug Abuse Prevention. The IPRC Web address is http://www.drugs.indiana.edu. An Indiana problem gambling hotline is available by calling 800-994-8448. To speak with Lay or Alter, call the IPRC at 812-855-1237. Lay can also be reached at email@example.com; Alter can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Undiagnosed vision problems may affect a large number of young children, leading to problems in early education. Only 14 percent of children under the age of six have had a comprehensive eye/vision examination, said Don Lyon, chief of pediatric and binocular vision for the Indiana University Bloomington School of Optometry. Poor eyesight, inadequate visual information processing, problems with focusing and problems with eye movements all can interfere with students' education by making reading more challenging, causing headaches and making it difficult for students to follow classroom instruction such as demonstrations on a chalkboard. "A large number of children probably have a vision problem that is not being diagnosed and properly treated. A thorough eye and vision examination can help students avoid these educational hurdles," Lyon said. Optometrists not only check vision and prescribe glasses, they also diagnose and manage amblyopia (lazy eye), strabismus (eye turn), eye focusing issues, lack of eye teaming skills, eye strain associated with prolonged near activities (reading or computer work) and eye disease. The American Public Health Association recommends eye exams at the ages of 6 months, 2 years and 4 years and then every other year while the child is in school, unless there is a reason for more frequent visits. "An eye exam at 6 months of age, if done properly, can give us as much information at that age as would an exam when the patient was an adult," Lyon said. Some states, including Indiana, require all kindergarteners or first graders to receive a vision screening exam unless the school system receives a waiver from the state. "Parents should not wait for the results of a screening to see if their child needs an eye examination and they should not rely on the vision screening as being the only source of eye care. All children, infants to adolescents, need to have appropriate health and vision care and that means comprehensive vision examinations to rule out disease and other vision issues that could affect children in the classroom and the rest of their lives," Lyon said.
To speak with Don Lyon, contact him at 317-321-1470, 812-855-9196 and email@example.com. InfantSee, a program of the American Optometric Association, provides free assessments from participating optometrists for infants from birth to 1 year of age. A listing of optometrists participating in the program can be found at http://www.aoa.org.
For assistance with these tips, contact Elisabeth Andrews at 812-856-3717 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
EDITORS: This monthly tip sheet is based on Indiana University faculty research, teaching and service. "Living Well Through Healthy Lifestyles" is the guiding philosophy of IU Bloomington's School of Health, Physical Education and Recreation. In keeping with that philosophy, this tip sheet offers information related to both physical and mental well-being. Faculty in other IU schools and departments also contribute their expertise in this area.