Saturday, April 25, 2009

Smoke-Free Environments

For a few weeks we have been talking about the domino effect upon learning of early exposure to second hand smoke. This topic is depressing because the problem was preventable: we only have to shield our little children from environments in which adults are smoking. For some of us this is easy. No one in our immediate community of family and friends smoke. We are adamant about the restaurants we choose to patronize and when we see someone smoking we remove our children from the vicinity. A very few of us are vocal about this topic; non-smokers are a silent majority.

For some of us, shielding our little children from smoking environments is hard especially if a close friend or family member smokes. Sometimes our jobs, especially waitressing or bar tending, place us in smoking environments.

For the past few years, I have been on a simple campaign to support establishments that have gone smoke-free. Food tastes and smells better and the insurance rates for non-smoking establishments are less than for establishments where smoking is allowed. Workers in non-smoking environments have less sick days. Today I am happy to announce another smoke-free restaurant in Rusk County. On May 1st, Katie's Cafe in Bruce will be smoke-free. Thanks Katie! My little friends and I are thrilled. I hope the readers of this column will pay Katie a visit and thank her on behalf of all the children who come with their parents to her restaurant.

Toad House Publishing

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Friday, April 10, 2009

Two Divergent Paths

Last week we begin looking at the effects of second hand smoke on babies. We hypothesized the two divergent paths children may take depending upon whether or not they had been exposed to second hand smoke. Let’s now take our two hypothetical children along their separate development trajectories. What happens to the child who is exposed to second hand smoke? How is this different from the child who has been protected from this exposure? We will begin with the exposure of the young child to second hand smoke and follow the effects on learning and school experience. The effects are like falling dominos.

The exposure to second hand smoke upon the respiratory system of young children causes fluid in the inner ear. When we have fluid in the inner ear the sounds of the environment and the sounds of language in our environment are not clearly heard. Our two hypothetical children hear differently. One hears only some of the sound frequencies and hears these intermittently depending upon how much fluid has collected in the inner ear. If the mother and doctor are aware of the problem, the child will most likely be given antibiotics. If the problem is persistent he may have drainage tubes surgically placed in the ear. Even if these measures are taken, this child will always have a large percentage of time when his hearing is jeopardized. He cannot figure out which sounds to tune into and which sounds to ignore. He is on a path to delayed language acquisition and problems in sound production. He is also on a path towards attention deficit, a very serious barrier to being ready to learn.

Our other hypothetical child hears the sounds of the environment and language clearly. This fortunate child easily learns language learns to locate sounds in his environment. He discriminates which sounds to tune into and which environmental sounds are unnecessary to his learning. When it is time for school, he is ready to tune in and learn.

Let’s move ahead to preschool. The child who has been exposed to second hand smoke does not follow directions easily. Why not? Either he has not heard clearly what the teacher says or his brain has not had enough practice tuning out the noises in the classroom to focus on the words of the teacher. The sounds of the door opening, a child coughing, or any of the sounds that bombard us each minute distract him. He really isn’t ready to learn as our other child whose hearing has always been good and whose brain has figured out what sounds are unimportant and can be disregarded.

So our troubled little one gets further behind and he’s only in preschool. If he isn’t speaking well, he may be referred for an evaluation of his learning. He may need speech therapy. While these interventions are helpful and necessary, the root of the problem is still there: at the most crucial time in his learning, way before his first words, his hearing was jeopardized. Sadly, this was preventable but he can never go back to the child he could have been.

The dominos continue to fall next week. We will look at the learning problems that escalate as the child moves from preschool to school with the challenges of learning to read.

Link to to view or print fingerplays from Set 13 Spring

Toad House Publishing

Twinkletime Rhymes to Print

Sunday, April 5, 2009

Effects of Second-Hand Smoke on the Unborn Child

All parents love their children. Everything that parents consciously do as they raise a child is based upon this: from eating well when pregnant, to picking out a toy they know their child will love, to watching out for the safety of the young child, to providing good food.

When a woman is pregnant, her blood stream carries nutrients to her unborn child which pass through the placenta into the blood stream of her baby. The placenta does not discriminate. The poisons in the mother’s body from smoking, alcohol, and other drugs also pass through the placenta to her baby. The observable effects of these poisons are reduced brain size and reduced body weight in the newborn. What does this mean? It means this mother's newborn begins life with less brainpower and a body that will not be as strong as if the mother did not smoke or drink.

In the next few columns we will look at two hypothetical children, one who lives with a family that smokes and one who does not. If we could see the divergent paths of these two babies as they grow up, we would see one child struggling with learning, frequently ill and the other excelling in school with robust health.

Watch a mother nurture her newborn. She surrounds the baby with soft comfortable clothing and gently changes the diaper. She places her baby carefully in a crib or infant seat. She is careful to secure the harness of a car seat. However, if she allows second hand smoke to be in the air the baby breathes, it is as if she dressed the newborn in burlap or tossed him roughly into the car. The newborn’s respiratory system is delicate. Second hand smoke does very serious damage to these tender organs. The effects of this damage are long term health problems and difficulty in hearing. Any difficulty in hearing will create difficulty in school. The paths of our hypothetical babies are diverging. We see one child with chronic colds, ear infections, and problems in school and the other healthy and bright.

We all love our children and with the awareness of the dangers and subsequent health and learning disabilities of secondhand smoke, we need to change our habits and behaviors to protect them. Next week we will look more specifically at the effects of second hand smoke and the outcomes of this exposure in how children learn.

Toad House Publishing

Twinkletime Rhymes to Print

Thursday, April 2, 2009


After so many months of cold weather, we are beginning to see the cycle of seasons making a full circle, back to the awakenings of life in our northwoods. Some trees have not weathered over winter. Their decaying wood will provide nourishment and protection for new seedlings. The trees that have wintered over will soon show new leaves, drawing upon the life that came before and then giving new life in the seeds that will be sown.

In our homes we have pictures that document the seasons and history of family. We have pictures of our great grandparents who are no longer here, our grandparents, our weddings, parents, children, and pictures to mark the birth and addition of each child. We share our pictures with extended members of family using the new technology of e-mail and cell phones.
Grandparents who live hundreds of miles from precious grandchildren connect on line using videocameras and computers to see real time pictures from far away.

This morning, when I checked my e-mail there was a link to more pictures. There were pictures of the beginning of a cycle of new life in a family: the birth of little Ina, the happiness of her parents Jason and Ahhyun, the joy of her grandparents and two aunties.

The birth of Ina begins a new season in the life of the Lee family. Ina will grow and thrive in the love of her family. She will gain strength from all the generations and the ancestors of the past. Happy Birth, little Ina.

Toad House Publishing

Twinkletime Rhymes to Print