“Educational Toys”

So, Thanksgiving 2015 is past and now onto Black Friday (and BTW, Happy and Healthy to all).  Many of you are now actively hitting the malls and websites in search of gifts to spread Holiday Cheer, especially to your children.

Here are just a few listings for all kinds of educational toys and videos for you to consider:




Now–guess what?  You can largely disregard the above and most resources that you may have uncovered.  Where can you find the best educational play tool for your child?  Go into your bathroom and look in the mirror: there it is!!  Without even trying too hard and actually while enjoying yourself immensely you can teach your child (of all ages!) more than virtually anyone or anything.  Indoors or out, whatever you are doing, you can likely make games and play that will help your kids learn.  Just a few thoughts (and I’m barely scratching the surface here):

  1. Outside–I’ve previously discussed: take walks or bicycle rides together, sports, nature (hikes, fishing, birdwatching, playing in the sand or surf at the beach).
  2. Work/chores–especially younger children will love working with you (older kids and teens–not as much).  Cooking and doing simple household repairs–measuring teaches math. Use tools in an age appropriate manner and with caution of course.  Sweeping, raking, and picking up can be a parent/child activity.  A few thoughts: helps with physical activity/exercize; you can make it a challenge (“who can finish first?”); you might need to repeat your child’s work–but that’s besides the point; remember to reward their efforts.
  3. Toys and games–remember: keep it simple.  Best are things that enable your child to use his imagination.  Balls.  Building blocks/toys like legos (age appropriate size), tonka toys, Lincoln logs all teach visual/spatial skills.  Art objects like crayons, paints, play-doh obviously cultivate creativity.  Play  with household tools/supplies–a “tea party” is great.  Lots of old “tried and true” board games–Chutes and Ladders, Monopoly, Life, Candyland all teach math; Scrabble, Scategories, Pictionary teach vocabulary for older kids.  Mousetrap is another building game.
  4. Driving: “I Spy,” Alphabet challenge (“call out when you see something that starts with A”) teach verbal skills; license plate games teach geography.  With older school age children, you can listen to the news, ask if they’ve heard of a story being reported, and seek their thoughts and comments (obviously, choose subject matter with care).
  5. Play games with your children AND their friends, and their parents also.

Additional thoughts: Play to your child’s interests–the stuff they like.  With younger children,  gauge their energy level–tired/bored children don’t learn well and are poor playmates (adults too!).  It’s good to learn structure and discipline with rules.  But be flexible–it’s still a game, not life/death.  Flexibility should apply to scheduling.  Your child’s leisure time need not be planned to the minute.  There is value in lying in the grass and imagining the shapes that can be seen in the clouds. ALWAYS endeavor to play with your child, but that does not mean play with them all day long.  Especially as your child grows up, its important for them to learn to grow beyond their immediate family.

I’m sure you can think of lots of things I’ve omitted.  For those who really want to read up on the subject you can do so here.  Thanks for following.

Short and (not too) sweet

I have spoken before about the problem of increasing obesity rates among children and adolescents, about the role of increased caloric intake and even the insidious role that corporate financing can play in influencing the discussion.

I want to again mention the concept of “empty calories”: the emptiest of those calories are fluid calories.  That’s why we warn against the disadvantages of soda and sport drinks as I’ve discussed previously.  Even fruit juice is an unhelpful source of “empty calories.” If you want fruit nutrition, better to consume the fruit which contains the fiber than just the juice with only the sugar.

Alcohol, of course, is loaded with calories.  When I counsel your teens about the dangers of alcohol I endeavor to emphasize that factor: it’ll make you gain weight, I tell them.  It’s far more effective to talk to young people in terms that are meaningful to their lives.  So chronic alchoholism and cirrhosis are simply irrelevant to a 16 year old.  But there’s a reason why they refer to a “beer belly” or “beer gut.”  I tell them that regular alchohol consumption will likely make them heavier and less competitive in their athletics and that the girls will find themselves in bigger jeans and bathing suit sizes.  That’s what registers.

So the best drinks are skim or low fat milk and water or club soda with lemon, lime, or other fruit added.  Maybe a glass of fruit juice for breakfast.

As to artificially sweetened soft drinks?  Not so good.  Studies now indicate that they likely increase the risk of diabetes by changing the “microbiota”–intestinal bacteria.  For you intrepid science geeks, check out the full article here.

One more tidbit: an excellent and simple method to assess your and your child’s risk of cardiovascular disease is waist/hip ratio.  Measure your waistline and divide by hip circumference.  Males should be no more than 0.9, females 0.8.

Send along questions or comments and thanks for following.

Cell Phone Radiation

When my wife first attempted to buy me a car phone, over 20 years ago, I was reluctant and resisted.  Why in the world do I need such a foolish luxury, I protested?  Now, of course, like most of us, I develop symptoms of acute anxiety if I have difficulty locating my essential iphone even for a second(“Oh, my Gd, what if I lose it?”)  And even some of our youngest children are quite adept at cellphone use.  it amazes me to see young toddlers in my office skillfully using their parents’ phones, interfacing with aps, utilzing educational videos and playing games.  And, of course, American teens mostly consider their phones as essential as the oxygen they breath, a part of their birthrite.  Their cellphone has been almost a bodily appendage for much of their lives.

There is a growing body of evidence that cellphone emitted radiation carries significant health risks to all humans and particularly children: problems including cancer, hearing deficits, autism, Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s, insomnia, and infertility.  Reseachers have defined correlations with childhood cancer, damage to DNA, sperm death.  Respected international scientists have uncovered evidence of poor brain cell development in rats exposed to cell phone radiation.  I wish to stress that  none of this is yet comprehensive or definitive.  Nevertheless, it is certainly very disquieting.

There are many reasons why children should be at greater risk. Their brains are smaller and skulls are thinner; both of those factors mean radiation can penetrate deeper.  Juvenile brain tissue seems to absorb radiation about twice as much as older brains and bone marrow by almost 10x.

So what can be done?  First of all, in my opinion, there is almost no imaginable reason for a child to own her own cell phone before middle school at the earliest.  After 3 decades as a pediatrician to say nothing of raising 3 children of my own I simply cannot  see any way that a school age child’s lifestyle can evolve so independently of his parents’ to justify needing a private communication-information system/portal.

Some other suggestions:

  • Use head sets, speakers, or bluetooth wherever and whenever possible
  • Text instead of talk
  • Do not allow your child to keep the cell iin their room and particularly in bed under the pillow
  • Boys in particular should not keep cellphone in front pockets by their groin
  • Girls should not keep cellphone in bra by breast
  • Place wi-fi routers discretely as far away from main child play area and bedroom as feasible
  • Endeavor to keep cellphone 8″ from head or from pregnant woman’s abdomen.
  • Keep in mind that the handset releases radiation unless it is completely powered down and shut off.

Now, let’s be realistic here: cellphones and tablets aren’t going anywhere and its much more likely that they will only become more ubiquitous in our society.  But I think we can manage if we are cautious and keep some of the above in mind.

Send along questions and thanks for following.