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What do I pack in my child’s lunchbox

 

A new year, a new decade, a new beginning.  Nothing like making some resolutions now to start afresh and improve the quality of your family’s life.

The topic today is not a new one but it is important enough to keep repeating so that we all think carefully about what we feed our children on. This applies equally to schools because while some are meticulous about controlling what foods children are allowed to eat on school premises, others don’t give this any attention.  In fact, educating children about healthy eating sometimes helps their parents become aware of good nutrition too.

I was impressed once when I visited a family with young children. The mother insisted that the children helped pack their school lunchboxes. There was a list on the ‘fridge with items that should be included so the children knew what to pack even though they had a choice of items falling under the various categories. They could also vary the amount of food according to their appetites and how long they would be staying at school for the day.

The list looked something like this:

Foods to be packed every day:

  1. One piece of fresh fruit.
  2. Some crunchy or raw vegetables (e.g. carrots, cucumber, tomato, baby corn).
  3. A meat or protein food such as slices of lean meat (not processed meat), hardboiled egg, peanut butter or nut paste*, nuts.
  4. Dairy food such as a piece of cheese, grated cheese, milk or yoghurt.
  5. Starchy food such as whole wheat bread, a seed roll, pita or flat bread, fruit bread or crackers.

Of course, there are some foods that should not be found in lunchboxes.  Here’s a list of those.  My wise family mentioned above didn’t have this list displayed because that might have put thoughts into young heads!  It is, nevertheless, important to know the kinds of foods that might not be the best for a busy school day, where bodies and brains are needed to function well.

Here are some lunchbox snacks to avoid:

  • Packaged fruit juice and dried fruit. Dried fruit has simply too much sugar in it. Occasionally one or two pieces might be useful but handfuls are not recommended. 
  • Pre-packaged muesli bars and other ‘energy bars’ that haven’t been carefully vetted for sugar and salt content. 
  • Muffins (sugar laden!) and any other baked product that contains sugars, additives and colourants (cup cakes, etc).
  • Foods containing highly refined flours (white bread and rolls, cakes and cookies). 
  • Flavoured milk. 
  • Pre-packaged ‘snack packs’. 
  • Packaged dried fruit straps. 
  • Packaged chocolate spread. 
  • Processed meat.
  • Sweets (sugar does NOT give you more energy).

ILT practitioners are well aware of the significance of a good diet to helping overcome learning challenges.  We look for the root causes of learning difficulties and food is one area that we keep having to explore.

 

 

Movement while learning really helps! More proof.

 

This article appeared recently and serves to support the growing belief in the role of movement in helping learning.  It appeared in the British Journal of Sports Medicine.

Students who take part in physical exercises like star jumps or running on the spot during school lessons do better in tests than peers who stick to sedentary learning.

The meta-analysis of 42 studies around the world, aimed to assess the benefits of incorporating physical activity in academic lessons. This approach has been adopted by schools seeking to increase activity levelsamong students without reducing academic teaching time.

Typical activities include using movement to signify whether a fact is true or false, or jumping on the spot a certain number of times to answer a maths question.

The study concluded that incorporating physical activity had a large, significant effect on educational outcomes during the lesson, assessed through tests or by observing pupils’ attention to a given task, and a smaller effect on overall educational outcomes, as well as increasing the students’ overall levels of physical activity.

Lead author Dr. Emma Norris (UCL Centre for Behaviour Change, UCL Psychology & Language Sciences) said: “Physical activity is good for children’s health, and the biggest contributor of sedentary time in children’s lives is the seven or eight hours a day they spend in classrooms.

“Our study shows that physically active lessons are a useful addition to the curriculum. They can create a memorable learning experience, helping children to learn more effectively.”

Co-author Dr. Tommy van Steen (Leiden University, The Netherlands), added: “These improvements in physical activity levels and educational outcomes are the result of quite basic physical exercises. Teachers can easily incorporate these physical active lessons in the existing curriculum to improve the learning experience of students.”

Researchers looked at data from 12,663 students aged between three and 14. Nearly half of the studies took place in the United States, with seven conducted in Australia, five in the UK, four in the Netherlands and one in China, Croatia, Ireland, Israel, Portugal and Sweden.

In one of the 42 studies analysed, eight- and nine-year-olds simulated travelling the world by running on the spot in between answering questions relating to different countries. The research team, also led by Dr. Norris at UCL, concluded that the children were more active and more focused on the task than peers in a control group, following teachers’ instructions more closely.

In another study in the Netherlands, primary school children who took part in physically active lessons three times a week over two years made significantly better progress in spelling and mathematics than their peers—equating to four months of extra learning gains.

Why fidgeting might be good for children

 

 

Parents and teachers tend to frown at children who fidget in our homes and classrooms.  It is usually interpreted as  a sign of boredom or lack of attention and so we order children to sit still.  But now, a recent report in Medical Express (medicalexpress.com/news/2019-09-fidgeting-good-child-health.html)) suggests that fidgeting could actually be good for their health. Research suggests it might help protect against obesity, improve cardiovascular health, and even save lives.

Researchers from Australian universities measured the energy expenditure of 40 children aged four to six while each spent an hour in a room designed to calculate energy through the amount of oxygen breathed in and carbon dioxide breathed out.

The children all followed the same procedure for the hour: 30 minutes watching TV, ten minutes drawing or colouring in, and 20 minutes playing with toys on the floor. The number of times children changed posture was counted and taken as our measure of fidgeting.

The fidgeting that was witnessed varied enormously, despite all of the children following the standard set of activities. There were 53 posture changes per hour in the most fidgety third of the sample, and only 11 per hour in the least fidgety third. These differences directly affected the number of calories burned.

The difference between most and least fidgety groups was only around six calories per hour. But when extrapolated over months and years, this could lead to large differences in energy use.

After all, children of that age typically spend around nine to ten hours per day sitting down, so a six calorie difference per hour of sitting would become a difference of 60 calories per day, 420 calories per week (about three bags of crisps), and 22,000 calories per year (equivalent to about 2kg of body weight in a 20kg child).

They also found that children were much less fidgety while watching TV than when drawing, colouring, or playing with toys on the floor. This may partly explain why time spent watching TV increases the risk of obesity so strongly in children of this age compared to other sedentary activities.

Meanwhile, an older study found that more fidgety adults resisted weight gain when overfed compared to less fidgety individuals. Taken together, this evidence suggests that differences in the tendency to fidget might partly explain why some people are more susceptible to obesity than others.

It is now well established that prolonged periods of sitting are harmful to health, and it is possible that fidgeting might reduce the harms of sitting. A study of more than 12,000 adult women in the UK found, as expected, that the amount of time spent sitting per day predicted the risk of premature death over the subsequent 12 years.

At the start of the study the women had been asked to self-rate their tendency to fidget on a scale of one (no fidgeting) to ten (constant fidgeting). In the most fidgety third, the risks of premature death from sitting were substantially reduced compared to the least fidgety third.

Why fidgeting seemed to reduce premature mortality was not explored in that study. However, a more recent laboratory-based study in adultsfound that the harmful effects of prolonged sitting on blood vessels in the legs (such as reduced blood flow) could be mitigated by asking the study participants to fidget by moving their legs while sitting. Fidgety individuals may have some protection from cardiovascular diseasecompared to less fidgety individuals

Fidgeting is not considered as being important to health at the moment, but the growing body of research suggests that it should be. The evidence might even lead to new (and much needed) approaches to preventing obesity and promoting cardiovascular health.

Such approaches might be particularly practical as they involve fairly small changes in how we live. Fidgeting or standing breaks during long periods of sitting in the classroom, or at home, far from being an annoying habit, could be precisely what we need.

Does the school want your child to have his IQ tested?

Your child’s school may have requested that you arrange for an IQ test to be done, possibly along with a fuller educational assessment – most often by an Educational Psychologist.  We usually understand the reason for and content of tests to determine reading, maths and spelling ages, but many parents are unsure of the nature and reason for the ‘IQ’. 

The letters IQ stand for Intelligence Quotient.  The test is the most common method to measure intelligence and its value lies mostly in its ability to predict a child’s chances of school success fairly accurately.  Most school subjects require those mental skills and knowledge that are tested by the items comprising the IQ battery of subtests.

IQ tests are based on statistics and the child’s results will reflect her academic abilities as compared to other children of the same age.

The average IQ score is around 100 but a ‘normal’ or ‘average’ IQ can fall anywhere between the scores of 71 – 129, being further divided into ‘below average’ or ‘above average’ if nearing these scores respectively.  The two extremes would be IQ scores of less than 70 and more than 130.  Children falling into these extremes would account for roughly 2.5% each of the entire population of children.  They are described as ‘special needs’ children because on the one hand, having an IQ score of under 70 may suggest that academic success will be difficult to achieve, while an IQ score of over 130 places one in the category of ‘gifted’, meaning that academic potential is extraordinarily high.  Children in both these categories need special help with their widely differing educational, social and emotional needs.

Typically, IQ scores can be used to predict future scholastic levels although this type of prediction can be misleading.  Many children cope with high levels of education due to determination and perseverance.  However, for the sake of clarity, here are the widely accepted levels:

IQ over 110: The individual should be capable of a university or other tertiary education

IQ between 90 – 110: Capable of completing secondary education and beyond

IQ between 80 – 89: Capable of completing High School or a technical education

IQ between 70 – 79: May have difficulties in High School

IQ below 70: Needs special education

IQ tests are conducted by trained psychologists who are qualified to administer these tests. Most IQ tests consist of two broad parts: a subtest which tests verbal skills such as vocabulary and general knowledge and a performance subtest which tests visual, motor and spatial skills.

IQ tests are believed to be unreliable below the age of six years.  Between the ages of 6 – 18, test results are fairly reliable but may fluctuate depending on environmental factors such as exposure to languages (especially the language used to test), learning opportunities and family support.  The average child may have an IQ score that varies by up to 15 points during the ten years or so of schooling.  This is why IQ scores should not be taken too seriously in spite of its importance as a predictor of later scholastic success.

What IQ tests can’t measure

IQ tests can’t determine success in life.  Success depends on a combination of intelligence, social skills, endurance and even a healthy dose of chance or opportunity.  An IQ represents only the chances of a child’s achieving in the academic sphere.  It cannot predict or substitute for attitude, motivation and interest.  In addition, it can’t test for specific talents such as musical or artistic potential, physical prowess, creative thinking, leadership and social skills.

In short, it can be used as a helpful tool in understanding more about a child’s academic potential but falls far short in defining the essential nature of the child.  We are all far, far more and less than our IQ scores may suggest!

If a child has learning difficulties, an IQ score will almost certainly be required.  The results cannot, however, fully explain the reasons for the challenges he or she experiences at school.

What is the best treatment for attention problems?

 

So many parents are being told that their children have concentration problems, can’t focus or show limited attention span.  Along with these descriptors, they hear that their child daydreams, fails to complete tasks, loses things, fidgets excessively and so on.

Seeking medical help usually results in a prescription for a stimulant drug, such as Ritalin, Concerta and Strattera.  We do know that behaviour can be changed using certain drugs.  On Ritalin, for example, children are better able to pay attention, stay on task and sit still but the results are temporary; only with repeated dosages and sustained-release tablets will the benefits last all day.  Increasing the dosage over time brings risk of potential side effects even if these don’t show immediately and prolonged use should be discouraged because of uncertainty about long-term effects.   In addition, the drugs don’t address the basic problem.  They may make children easier to manage but don’t make them smarter or happier.  Children don’t learn any better when on medication – in fact, their work may show a lack of thought and originality.  They help the children get through the day in a mechanistic way but don’t make them better prepared for tomorrow.  Unfortunately, the drugs are often used alone, with no on-going programme to help the child in other ways.  In short, they may be the quickest and easiest ‘solution’ for children with attention problems but they aren’t the best.

The reason is that drugs don’t affect the underlying problems.  Behavioural problems and inattentiveness are symptoms of other problems and the answer isn’t to be found in medication.   Let’s have a look at some case studies:

Little Anna was the smallest child in class and came across as being quiet, withdrawn and easily distracted.  She stares at other children and plays nervously with her crayons and books.  When evaluated for neurodevelopmental delays, she showed that her stress levels were very high.  She had some early developing irregularities that interfered with her brain’s ability to cope with the sights and sounds in the world.   She was simply overwhelmed by what she perceived as ‘threats’ from her environment.  Once these were addressed, her stress levels dropped and she became more responsive.

John never sits still.  His constant activity often makes him a nuisance in class and at home.  Under investigation, ILT found that due to hitches during his birth and early development, he had mixed dominance, and had failed to develop left-right preference because he hadn’t integrated the two sides of his body.  He also hadn’t developed the foundational systems needed for efficient motor functioning and stable posture.  As these were addressed, he became better able to keep his body still and use it in developmentally healthy movement activities that he could not master before.  This led to his behaviour becoming less annoying, increased ability to make friends and improvements in classroom learning.

Kevin is a daydreamer. He often stares out a window or at the television screen.  He is slow to complete his work.  He is clumsy and often drops things.  He has allergies and is often ill with sinusitis and colds. An ILT evaluation showed that his body didn’t work automatically.  He was using his mind to run his body so the brain’s higher levels, supposed to be used in learning and daily coping, were not available for cognitive functioning.  It would have been so easy for Kevin to slip through the cracks without achieving his potential.  A programme to help underdeveloped brain areas brought about noticeable improvements in his schoolwork and physical coordination.

Little Sam was asked to leave his nursery school because his ‘violent’ behaviour and tantrums became too much to manage.   A full neurodevelopmental evaluation by ILT showed no irregularities in development or sensory-motor system functioning.  What was suspected was a sensitivity to food colourants and preservatives.  On a trial basis following this suspicion, Sam’s family excluded any foods containing these additives and Sam almost immediately became calmer, eventually returning to his school as a happy, friendly little boy.

So drugs aren’t the answer to behavioural problems or inattentiveness.  Instead, these children need a comprehensive evaluation followed by an individualized programme that corrects identified areas of irregular functioning.

Interestingly, an ILT associate ran a programme with a group of over 50 children, all diagnosed with ADHD[1].  They were given daily certain sensory-motor stimulation and other movement activities designed to recreate the movement patterns that function to develop the brain in the early years.  About half these children were on Ritalin when they started the programme.  All were taken off Ritalin from three to six months later with no need to be put back on Ritalin or other behaviour-modifying medication.  For all children, the results showed the elimination of behaviour problems, better school results and dramatically improved coordination.  Social skills improved significantly as well but most importantly, the children were clearly happier.

Correcting behavioural and learning problems isn’t easy.  Effective intervention needs a holistic approach that reaches to the problems in the background and provides a supportive, encouraging environment.  For this reason, ILT is practiced in the family – no weekly visits to a therapist but ‘quality time’ spent in movements in which one or both parents can be involved.  The rewards are immeasurable. There is nothing better than watching a child who begins to feel good from the inside out!

 

[1][1][1] Shirley Randolph, Tree of Learning Centre, Boise, Idaho

The wonderful body-brain connection

 

 

 

 

 

 

Most people still believe that learning happens in the brain and the body doesn’t play a role.  See how teachers insist that children sit still without any fidgeting with any part of the body when in the classroom.

In the past, children could make up for this body neglect by using their bodies in all kinds of activities after school hours. They used to climb, run, tumble, dig, fall into ditches and fall out of trees.  The change isn’t all due to TV and screen time but also because today’s families live in small homes without access to open play areas.   Long hours are spent in commuting to and from school. The streets have become dangerous places.  It’s been estimated that children are spending 25% less time on free play than they did in their grandparents’ time.

The reality is that the brain needs the body’s movement in order to create the neural pathways that make ease of learning possible.  You can’t make a child learning ready with workbooks, i-pad games or computer programmes. It develops as children’s brains mature along with experiences occurring as a result of bodily sensation and movement.

Important movements are the early reflexes, followed by large body movements such as climbing, jumping, swimming, playing hopscotch, catching and throwing balls, riding bicycles, running, skipping, sweeping and digging.  Smaller body movements develop fine motor skills, such as cutting vegetables, drawing, building with blocks, moving to music and learning rhythm through clapping, singing and so on.   Movements that need crossing the midline help build the pathways connecting the two brain hemispheres and are crucial for learning to read, write and understand maths.

Children love to move; they need to move.  If their bodies are given the chance needed to move in play, they will develop to a stage of learning readiness.  Perhaps not all of them will reach this stage at exactly the same time but we do have the genetic potential to be wired to learn.

So limit sedentary time.  Push your children out of doors.  Make sure you spend quality time in play parks or open spaces over the weekends.  Buy body healthy toys like trampolines, skipping ropes and balance boards rather than the latest hi-tech toy.   Go back to basics if you really want your child to reach his or her potential at school.

 

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