farmA study in Sweden has found that children who grow up on dairy farms are much less likely to develop allergies than those who grow up in other environments, including nearby rural areas without farms. Other studies have found similar results.

The Swedish study was conducted by researchers at the University of Gothenburg. They studied the health of children from birth to age 3 from a large rural area. About half lived on dairy farms, and half did not. The children who lived on dairy farms tended to have no allergies, while the others were 10 times more likely to develop allergies.

Children who developed allergies between 18 and 36 months of age had a higher percentage of immature B-lymphocytes in their blood at birth and during their first month of life than those who did not have allergies. B-lymphocytes (B-cells) enable the immune system to develop immunity against substances that have invaded the body and to prevent allergies. Children without allergies had more mature B-cells.

Allergies and asthma have become more prevalent in Western countries in recent decades, especially in young children. Scientists have speculated that this may be due at least in part to efforts to create environments for children that are as clean as possible. This theory is known as the “hygiene hypothesis,” the idea that too much hygiene prevents infants’ and toddlers’ immune systems from developing properly. Scientists believe that being exposed to dirt and microbes can boost the development of children’s immune systems.

The researchers also found that children born to mothers who lived on dairy farms were less likely to develop allergies and asthma even after they left the farms. The mothers transferred their immunity to their babies.

The children in the study who lived on dairy farms developed greater immunity because they were exposed to microbes and also because they and their mothers drank raw, unpasteurized milk from cows that passed on immunity to them. Other studies involving Amish communities who raised cows and drank raw milk on farms that limited use of toxic pesticides, herbicides, and chemical fertilizers found that those children were also less likely to develop allergies, asthma, and other diseases.

25 Jun 2014

Planning a Summer Camping Trip

In: Swing Sets

camping tripSummer has arrived, and one of the best ways to get children to enjoy the outdoors and create lasting memories is to take a family camping trip.

Preparing for a camping trip is important, especially for young children. Pitch a tent in the backyard or the living room so your children can get used to sleeping in an unfamiliar environment. Talk to your kids about what to expect. Ask them to help you plan activities for your trip. Help your children make a list of items to take, and ask them to help you pack or to do it themselves. Most of all, be enthusiastic. If you are excited about the camping trip, your kids will be, too.

Let your kids bring along some of their favorite toys. In an unfamiliar environment, having familiar objects around is important to create a sense of security for children. You can also bring along bikes to travel quickly from your campsite to the beach or a play area.

Check if there are fire restrictions at your campground. If there are, make sure your children know in advance. You don’t want to them to get excited about the prospect of sitting around a campfire and making s’mores and then be disappointed when they find out they can’t.

When you arrive at the campground, be prepared to orient your children and answer their questions. Point out your campsite number or the location of landmarks and show your children how to get to the bathroom.

Stay organized. Make sure your children know where to put items such as silverware, flashlights, and sunscreen so they will be easy for everyone to find. Children should also keep their clothes and other personal items in their own duffel bags.

Assign chores to keep your children involved and make them feel important. For instance, kids can gather firewood or get water from a pump.

Talk to your kids about wildlife they may encounter. Discuss animals they see, and tell them what to do if they should encounter a dangerous animal. Also talk to your children about how to properly store food to avoid attracting wildlife and why they should not feed wild animals.

Do things that interest your children. Kids can be entertained for hours looking at rocks, plants, or bugs or skipping stones. Show interest in things that your children enjoy.

Camping can instill a love of nature in children. Spending time together outdoors as a family can create fond memories that will last a lifetime.

16 May 2014

Pool Safety Tips

In: News

family swimmingMemorial Day will be here soon, and many people are looking forward to uncovering their pools and spending time swimming and relaxing. It is important to keep pool safety in mind at all times, especially when it comes to children.

Always supervise children when they are in or near water. Never leave a child unattended in or around water. Designate an adult whose exclusive job is to supervise children who are swimming at all times.

Learn to swim if you don’t already know how. Teach your children to swim, or sign them up for swimming classes. Young or inexperienced swimmers should wear a flotation device.

Check how deep the water is before diving. People should enter the water feet first the first time. Above-ground pools are generally not deep enough for diving. Never allow anyone to dive into the shallow end of a pool or through an inner tube or other pool toy. If you or someone else wants to dive and the pool is deep enough, take a class to learn how to do it properly.

Learn and teach your children basic water safety tips. Keep your children away from pool drains, pipes, and other openings where they could get trapped. Enforce rules about diving, swimming with a buddy, and walking around the pool. Do not leave toys near the pool. If you have a blow-up pool, empty it when it is not being used.

If you or a family member or friend is swimming, keep a phone nearby in case you need to call for help.

If a child goes missing, the first place you should check is the pool.

Take a class to learn basic life-saving procedures and how to perform CPR on adults and children.

Install a fence at least four feet high around your pool and use self-closing and self-latching gates. The latches should be higher than a children is able to reach. Ask your family and neighbors to do the same. Fences should not have anything nearby that could be used to climb over them, such as furniture. They should not have any handholds or footholds. Chain-link fences are easy to climb and are not recommended. A fence should have no more than four inches between vertical slats.

Install door alarms and window guards if your house serves as a fourth side of an enclosure around a pool. Install pool and gate alarms to let you know if a child goes near the pool. A surface wave or underwater alarm will alert you if someone goes in the water.

Be sure that your pool has a rigid cover in good condition and compliant drain covers. Remove any ladders or steps when the pool is not being used.

Keep the water in your pool clean by monitoring chemical levels, circulation, and filtration. This will reduce the likelihood of swimmers developing earaches, rashes, or other problems.

Discuss pool safety with family, friends, neighbors, and anyone who takes care of your children.

30 Apr 2014

Help Your Children Plant a Garden This Spring

In: News

child gardenSpring is here, and children will want to spend more time outdoors. Planting a garden together is a fun family activity that will encourage children to enjoy nature and also teach them about the world around them.

Let your children help you decide what types of vegetables and flowers to plant. Most children will want to plant vegetables that they like to eat. You can choose flowers that will grow to your children’s height, or sun flowers that will tower over their heads.

Plant your garden in a sunny place where your children will see it often. If you do not have a backyard, you can plant seeds in pots on a porch or patio or on a windowsill. If your children see the garden every day, they will notice changes and be more interested in the process.

Allow your children to help you dig holes and plant seeds. If they are too young to do that, have them help you cover the seeds with dirt.

Show your children how to water the plants with a watering can. Young children may not be strong enough to handle a hose.

You can also teach your children about mulching and composting. Show them how to spread grass clippings or shredded leaves around the plants.

Make a sign with your children’s names so that everyone will know the garden is theirs. This will keep your children more engaged and excited.

Older children can keep a journal where they draw pictures of plants as they grow and make notes about what they see at each stage of the planting and growing process, including insects, birds, or other animals they see in the garden. Ask your children to write about what they enjoy most about growing a garden.

Encourage your children to be patient, but realize that they might want to pick vegetables early to see if they are ready. This will teach them more about the growing process.

Provide guidance, but give your children freedom to make decisions about their garden. Allow them to make mistakes, and treat gardening as a learning experience.

children playingVitamin D can promote healthy development and prevent a number of diseases and medical conditions, but many people do not get enough.

Vitamin D helps the body absorb calcium, which is essential for bone growth and healthy development of teeth. This is especially important for children, who are growing. Not getting enough vitamin D can lead to rickets, which causes bone deformity and fractures, and can prevent a child from reaching his or her potential height.

Vitamin D can also contribute to a healthy immune system that can help the body fight off infections and prevent autoimmune diseases. In addition, research in adults indicates that vitamin D can lower the risks of developing heart disease, some types of cancer, diabetes, and other diseases.

One of the best natural sources of vitamin D is sunlight. When the sun’s ultraviolet rays penetrate bare skin, they cause the body to produce vitamin D. However, with many children spending several hours a day watching tv, playing video games, or using smart phones, many do not spend as much time outside as previous generations did.

Encouraging children to spend more time playing outside can increase the amount of vitamin D their bodies produce. It is important not to spend too much time outside on a sunny day. Experts say children can spend brief periods of time outside without sunscreen, but be careful not to let them get sunburn.

If you live in northern latitudes, your children may not get enough vitamin D from sunlight. People with darker skin also absorb less vitamin D from sunlight than those with lighter complexions.

If you think your child is not getting enough vitamin D from sunlight, try to incorporate more into his or her diet. Many foods contain vitamin D, including salmon, tuna, mackerel, eggs, and fortified yogurt, orange juice, milk, cheese, and cereal. Check with your pediatrician to see if your child should also take a vitamin D supplement.

snowmanEven though it’s cold outside, don’t let that stop you from spending quality time with your children outdoors. Here are some suggestions for fun outdoor winter activities.

Help your children create snow creatures. You can make a traditional snowman, or you can build a whole family of snow people. If there is not enough snow for full-sized figures, create a miniature family. You can also create animals, such as a bear, a cat, or a dog. Encourage your children to be creative and use their imaginations to create and decorate their creatures.

Build a snow fort or igloo as a family. Help your children pile snow to build walls, and cover it with a sheet for a roof.

Have an outdoor winter picnic. Bundle up and eat a warm lunch in a fort or tent or at a backyard table. Some good foods to serve include toasted peanut butter sandwiches, grilled cheese sandwiches, hot cocoa or soup in a thermos, and cookies.

Make snow angels. Lie down in the snow and move your arms and legs back and forth.

Paint the snow. Fill spray bottles with cold water (warm water could melt the snow) and a few drops of food coloring. All you need are the three primary colors – red, yellow, and blue. Let your children experiment with combining those three to make different colors. You may also want to let your children experiment with painting the snow with brushes.

Go for a walk together. There is still plenty to observe outdoors in the winter. If the ground is covered with snow, you can look for animal tracks. You can see where the snow has started to melt and talk about where the water is going. Talk about what trees and bushes look like without leaves and how they will look different in the spring.

Winter is a great time to have fun outdoors. Bundle up, spend some quality time together as a family, and make some lasting memories.

9 Jan 2014

Tips to Keep Your Child Healthy This Winter

In: News

childWinter is the time for colds and flu viruses. Many people with viruses are contagious before they develop symptoms, so keeping your child away from friends and classmates who are not feeling well will not necessarily prevent him or her from getting sick. Bundling up will not necessarily prevent colds either. However, there are some steps that you can take to reduce the risk of your child getting sick or to speed up recovery.

Consistent and thorough hand-washing is an effective way to prevent the spread of colds and flu viruses. Teach your child to wash his or her hands with soap and warm water after using the bathroom, before eating, and after coming in from outdoors. You don’t need to use anti-bacterial soap. Any soap will help to eliminate germs. You should wash your hands before preparing meals and after wiping your child’s runny nose, or after you could, sneeze, or blow your own nose. Be sure your child’s teachers and baby sitter regularly wash their hands, too.

Teach your child not to touch his or her nose or mouth, since that can deposit germs into mucus membranes, where they can be absorbed into the bloodstream and cause illness. Teach your child to use a tissue or clean sleeve to wipe his or her nose or mouth. You should also teach your child to cough or sneeze into a tissue or the crook of an arm to prevent the spread of germs.

Ask about your school or daycare’s policy on keeping sick children home. Most facilities require a child with a fever, the flu, an upper respiratory infection, vomiting, diarrhea, an eye infection, or a rash to stay home until the symptoms have subsided.

Be sure that your child’s vaccinations are up-to-date. You should also be sure that your child gets a flu shot.

Proper nutrition, exercise, and plenty of sleep can help to boost your child’s immunity naturally. This can help prevent your child from getting sick or speed up recovery from a cold or virus.

If your child gets sick, blowing his or her nose often can help to get rid of mucus. Make sure your child gets plenty of rest when sick to speed up recovery. Using a humidifier, especially at night and during naps, can thin your child’s mucus secretions, which can help with the cough and congestion and help your child get enough sleep. Encourage your child to drink plenty of fluids, such as water, juice, an electrolyte solution, or milk. Chicken soup can help to soothe a sore throat and thin nasal secretions. Vitamin C won’t prevent a cold, but it can help to lessen the symptoms.

Call your pediatrician if your child experiences ear or face pain, a very sore throat combined with a fever, wheezing or trouble breathing, diarrhea, vomiting, a fever of 103 degrees or higher, or a milder fever that lasts for more than three days.

Give your child some extra TLC while sick, and remember that a cold will help to boost his or her immunity, which can reduce the number of illnesses later.

from 123rf.comScientists studying human perception believe we have up to 30 senses, including blood-sugar levels, empty stomach, thirst, and proprioception, or an awareness of our body’s position in space. Spending time outdoors allows people, particularly children, to develop many senses simultaneously in a way that is not possible when they spend time indoors with technology and block out some senses to focus on a screen. Researchers believe that the most learning takes place when more senses are engaged, such as in natural surroundings, than when the brain becomes fatigued by too much “directed attention.”

Schools that incorporate outdoor classrooms and nature-based experiential education have found significant increases in student performance in social studies, science, language arts, and math. In addition, a Canadian study found that teachers were more enthusiastic about teaching in schools that involved their students in nature. Improved teacher engagement translates into more effective teaching.

Playing in green spaces is especially beneficial to young people, since children are more likely to invent their own games and include all their peers than when they are on a playground. At-risk children have been found to improve their social skills and have a reduction in symptoms after spending time outdoors. A study in Chicago found that having trees outside inner-city housing projects reduced negative social behaviors and promoted positive ones.

Some schools are moving in a positive direction by incorporating the natural world more in the school day, but others are cutting back on recess and focusing more on academics and technology. While those areas are important, it is important to strike a balance to promote the optimal development of children.

Singing in a circle, from School's Out.Many researchers believe that children are becoming overly risk-averse due to an increased reliance on technology and parents who try to guide them in pre-determined directions, rather than allow them to explore on their own. Many parents fear making mistakes and not having their children turn out well.

One solution gaining popularity is to help children develop skills by exploring the outdoors in less structured ways through forest schools. Children in forest schools spend time outside throughout the year, in all weather conditions. The amount of outdoor time can range from a few hours once a week to all day, every day. Exploratory activities are led by children and facilitated by adults.

Children learn about cross-curriculum topics, such as nature, ecosystems, and specific plants and animals, as well as abstract topics such as mathematics and communication. Forest schools encourage curiosity and exploration with all the senses. They also promote spatial awareness and motor development.

At forest schools, children learn practical skills, such as building structures, using tools, lighting fires, and making environmental art. They also develop intrapersonal, interpersonal, and intellectual skills; trust; self-confidence; independence; and teamwork.

Children who participate in forest schools tend to be more relaxed than their counterparts who attend traditional schools. Studies have found significant benefits for children with attention deficit-hyperactivity disorder, behavioral problems, and autism. Researchers have also found that children who have unstructured play time are more focused when it comes time to do academic work.

The first forest school was created in Wisconsin in 1927. Since then, the idea has expanded throughout much of Europe.

21 Nov 2013

Explore Nature with Your Children

In: News

outdoor photoAmerican children spend an average of over 50 hours per week indoors using electronic devices. The sharp decline in the amount of time spent outdoors has led many children to develop a condition known as nature-deficit disorder, which can lead to psychological and behavioral problems.

Exposing children to outdoor environments and activities can combat this phenomenon. Studies have shown that spending time with nature can improve mental function, reduce aggression, and help fight depression. A 2012 study by the University of Utah and the University of Kansas found that people scored 50 percent better on a creativity test after spending four days backpacking and not using electronic devices. A British study this year found a reduction in arousal and frustration and an increase in meditation when people entered a park.

There are many things you and your children can do together outdoors. Take a trip to a park, wooded area, or your own backyard, and observe the natural world around you with all your senses. Look for different types of animals, insects, leaves, trees, and flowers. Take pictures and videos and share them with family and friends. Go outside at different times of day to see different types of animals.

Give animals a new home by putting up a bird box, or leave materials such as sticks and grass in a place where animals can use them to make a nest or other shelter. Put food out for animals to eat, or feed the birds at a local park.

Collect leaves that have fallen off trees and try to identify them. If you need help, you can find many resources online. You can also identify animals, insects, trees, and flowers.

Put water in a bucket and see what types of wildlife you attract. Look for animal tracks and other signs of wildlife and try to identify the animals that made them. If you have time, you can volunteer for a wildlife conservation organization.

Have your children put away their phones and video games for a little while every day, and spend some time outdoors together. It will allow you to learn, spend quality family time, and become happier.