Sunday, January 31, 2010

The Benefits of Recess

I would like to continue the discussion about the importance of recess. A forum of the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC) spent ten years researching this information. Their findings were printed in the NAEYC Journal, September 2009. I have summarized the information on the cognitive, socio-emotional, and physical benefits of recess for you in today’s column with a few of my own musings (in italics) concerning recess.
Cognitive benefits: It was found that children are more on task and less fidgety when they have recess. Those with ADHD (attention deficit/hyperactivity syndrome) benefit the most. (Could it be that recess is a cheaper and healthier alternative to drugs for ADHD?) Memory recall is improved when children have breaks from teaching and brain research shows a positive relationship between physical activity and the development of brain connections.
Socio-emotional benefits: When children choose their own play, they teach each other games, take turns, and resolve conflicts. They do this by learning negotiation skills to keep the play going. (Could it be that some of our members of congress have never had recess?) They also learn conflict resolution on supervised playgrounds where the games they are taught have this built in.
Physical benefits: Children eat healthier when they have recess before lunch, rather than after lunch. Children who are active during the day at school are more active after school whereas children who are sedentary during the day tend to remain sedentary after school. (Could it be that our couch potato children suffer from a lack of recess?)
I will end our discussion on recess with a quote from the article. "Depriving a child of recess as punishment is similar to depriving a child of lunch. It is not only unfair, it is also unhelpful. Just as hungry children cannot concentrate well, children deprived of breaks cannot concentrate well either. Sometimes the most disruptive children need recess the most."

Toad House Publishing

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Sunday, January 24, 2010

The Demise of Recess

The demise of recess—what dark words to begin this week’s column. I received a suggestion for this topic because schools are reducing the amount of recess in the school day. The National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC) offers forums and policy statements regarding the demise of recess. It is from their website that I found reasons to keep recess (the activities such as playing out of doors and unstructured play time) in the preschool and elementary day.

If you are like me, you remember recess as a most important, enjoyable part of your school day. In the early fall, I dug in the soft dirt under huge trees and imagined conversations with fairies and leprechauns. It was during recess time that I learned most about myself. I could swing to the greatest heights, flying like a bird. I could hang from the monkey bars upside down until my face turned red with the effort. I could survive skinned knees, receiving kindness and a band-aide from my teacher. I could jump rope ‘salt and pepper’ and I could run away from the boys. I came inside after my exertions red faced and breathless, the blood coursing through my veins and into my brain. Recess made me physically ready to learn.

In contrast, children today are lucky to have ten or fifteen minutes of outdoor playtime during the school day. In the winter months, I have seen children come to school without appropriate warm clothing for playing out of doors. These little ones huddle near the doorway with no hat, mittens, or boots until the end of recess or until they are allowed back inside.

We wonder about the upswing in childhood obesity, the increase in heart disease, and the increase in childhood diabetes. We wonder why we have a generation of children who can’t entertain themselves, have social difficulties, and are fidgety and off task in the classroom.

In the late 1980s, some schools cut back on recess to allow more instructional time. This trend accelerated with the passage of No Child Left Behind in 2001. Some schools, afraid of low test scores sought to improve scores by having children spend more time at their desks on schoolwork. However, the NAEYC found no research to support such assumptions that test could be improved by keeping children in the classroom all day.

I am staring at the computer in front of me and have not written a logical or thoughtful word for the last fifteen minutes. Where are my boots and my hat and my mittens! My brain is drained and I think I need to go out for recess!

Toad House Publishing

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Thursday, January 14, 2010

And More Benefits of Breast-feeding

This is our third and last column on breast-feeding. The first two columns focused on the benefits to the infant. This column will focus on benefits to the mother and on her nutrition.

Breast-feeding is a natural contraceptive in the first few months. If you prefer not to have babies ten months apart, breast-feeding will help. As babies begin to take other food for nutrition, the contraceptive effect diminishes.

Women who breast-feed may have lower rates of certain breast and ovarian cancers and a reduced risk for type 2 diabetes (US Department of Health and Human Services). Women who have breast-fed are at lower risk than mothers who have not for developing high blood pressure and cardiovascular disease decades later, when they are in menopause. The benefits increase with duration of past breast-feeding, the study found. Women who had breast-fed for more than a year in their entire lifetimes were almost 10 percent less likely than those who had never breast-fed to have a heart attack or a stroke in their postmenopausal years. They were also less likely to have diabetes, hypertension and high cholesterol.

Research suggests coffee, tea, and soft drinks with caffeine should be limited. Caffeine does pass through the milk and makes some babies restless and fussy. Try decaffeinated coffee and tea and caffeine-free soft drinks or better yet, for your own health and the baby’s health, drink more water.

Alcohol is a drug and it does pass through the milk to your baby. Nursing babies whose mothers are heavy drinkers sometimes don't gain enough weight and their central nervous systems are affected. It also affects your "letdown." If you do want to drink occasionally, make sure you do it right after you nurse. Drinking after nursing means the alcohol level in your milk will be low (or gone) by the next feeding.

Please don’t smoke! Secondhand smoke is very, very dangerous for your baby and it is not good for you either.

Something that I hope young mothers will take away from this series on breast-feeding is that it is all a matter of common sense. The simplicity of breast-feeding is well understood: 1) no worry of contaminated bottles, 2) no worry of formula that has gone bad, 3) no worry of BPA in the liners of the cans or bottles, 4) no worry of chemicals in the formula that some day may be found to cause disease and 5) you will not be contributing to pollution by throwing the packaging into landfills. It is a sustainable, inexpensive way to give your baby the absolute, very best start in life that you can.

Toad House Publishing

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Monday, January 11, 2010

Continued Discussion on Benefits of Breast-feeding

Last week we began a discussion on the benefits of breastfeeding related to the prevention of obesity and diabetes. This week we will talk about additional health benefits.

A group of researchers have identified a specific kind of protein in breast-milk that helps jump-start a baby's immune system, providing active protection to the baby. The protein, called soluble CD14, works to develop B cells, which are immune cells that are instrumental in the production of antibodies. Breast milk apparently actively influences the immune system of your child by several different mechanisms. Some features of this improved immune response for children who have been breastfed for a prolonged period may last for a lifetime. We don't know all of the reasons breast milk provides this protection, but we can measure the results.

Research has also found an increased risk during bottle-feeding that includes prolonged airway closure and obstructed breathing due to repeated swallowing. Pre-term infants have shown a decrease in oxygen saturation and an increase in apnea because of the breathing patterns during bottle-feeding.

Lack of breastfeeding was a risk factor associated with later development of Crohn's disease, a disease that deteriorates the small intestine.

Hodgkin's disease is a type of cancer in the white blood cells. There is a statistically significant protective effect against Hodgkin's disease among children who are breastfed at least eight months compared with children who were breastfed no more than two months.

Juvenile Rheumatoid Arthritis is a long-term (chronic) disease resulting in joint pain and inflammation leading to joint damage. Preliminary data found that children who were breastfed were only 40% as likely to develop this disease.

All these little snippets of research should alert us to thinking seriously about how and what we feed our newborn children. Next week I'll share a few thoughts about caffeine and alcohol for nursing mothers.

Toad House Publishing

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Sunday, January 3, 2010

Obesity, Diabetes, and Breast-feeding

Breast-feeding has become widely accepted and encouraged in the years since my mother gave birth. During her era of the post-war industrialized society, artificial formula feeding of babies was strongly advertised to new mothers. Using television, the new cultural innovation, manufacturers promoted a wide range of products perported to make the new mother's life easier. I would disagree. Being inclined myself to take the easier way, I found breast-feeding to be much easier; but is it better?

In the next few columns we will explore the value of breast-feeding. This information is easily obtained through books, from your doctor, and is available online. I will share a few of the highlights from these sources. Today we will talk about obesity and diabetes in breast-fed infants.

The CDC's Katherine Shealy has stated wide acceptance in the medical community that breast-feeding is instrumental in helping babies have optimal weight in adult life. The question of why this phenomena occurs is not easy to answer. For ethical reasons research has not been conducted on newborns. However, researchers have pointed to some probable answers. 1)Bottle-fed babies may not learn to self-regulate their own intake of food because parents tend to encourage an infant to 'finish' the bottle. 2)Formula-fed infants have higher insulin concentrations and a more prolonged insulin response. This stimulates the body to deposit more fat tissue, which in turn increases weight gain, obesity, and risk of type 2 diabetes. 3)A third possibility is that concentrations of leptin (the hormone that is thought to inhibit appetite and control body fat) may be influenced by breast-feeding.

Breast-feeding is an adjustable process - babies' feeding intakes vary according to individual needs and the mothers' supply adjusts automatically to meet these needs. Mothers of breast-fed babies have a more relaxed attitude to their toddlers' intake of solid food and their toddlers consequently eat a wider range of solid foods. They are taller and leaner than their bottlefed counterparts. In a study by Harvard researchers, the longer infants were breast-fed, the less likely they were to be overweight in adolescence. An analysis of seventeen studies from Australia found that babies who were breast-fed for nine months had a 31% reduction of risk for obesity.

Obesity and diabetes are highly correlated. Some of the same research I mentioned was also analyzed for the risk of developing diabetes. Babies who were exclusively breast-fed during their first three months of life had a 34% lower risk of developing diabetes than those who were not breast-fed.

Next week we will continue this discussion on addition health benefits of breast-feeding.

Toad House Publishing

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