Discussing Autism Prevention: Where to Begin?

As I have recently announced, my blog has a new focus, preventing autism.  This is such a broad topic and I am struggling with where to begin.  My initial thought was to follow Gloria Lemay’s 7 Steps For Scramblng the Brain of a Baby.  I could go through each item and discuss how it may have played a role in causing my sons autism.  But I would really feel like I was riding her coattails if I were to take that approach.  I thought, maybe I could just tell the story of my pregnancy with my first child, and what I personally feel may have lead to his Asperger Syndrome.  Not sure what the reader reactions would be on that one.  Would they be judgmental, patronizing, or argumentative?  My desire is to invite neither criticism nor debate,  but to encourage my readers to consider carefully each decision they make while they grow their families.  Not to simply take the word of your doctor, your mother, or your friend as factual but to research and to own each choice that you make along the way.

Technology can be useful, even life saving.  But it is generally not the best approach, in my experience, when it comes to promoting wellness.  Health begins with nutrition, but the industrialization of farming has robbed us of what we really need to build healthy families.  To make matters worse, our busy lifestyles often coerce us to make poor choices about food.

When I discussed my plans to start a family with my obstetrician, he never asked me a thing about my diet.  When I became pregnant with my first child, the only information I received on nutrition was a list of foods not to eat, and a prescription for prenatal vitamins.  At no other point during the pregnancy did my doctor discuss what I was eating.  But technology was a prominent feature in my routine, low risk prenatal care and in the birth of my children.  It is our responsibility as parents, or prospective parents, to learn which foods to eat to build health (and where to buy them), and about the risks and benefits of each test and intervention that our health care provider recommends.

So that is my short introduction.  In addition to my new focus, I also plan to move all autism prevention and related blogs to a new platform, which is now located here.  If I continue with this platform as well, the topic here will be more focused on homeschooling and parenting special needs children. Stay tuned!


Pick Up Your Toys!

Around our house we often find an assortment of toys that the children have left out after play.  This is one of the most aggravating things about having children, in my opinion.  I accidentally stumbled upon a strategy to get the toys picked up quickly.  My boys are 6 and almost 4 years of age.  My 6 year old has Aspergers Syndrome, and can be a bit difficult to manage.  (To put it mildly.)  So we must sometimes find creative ways to get necessary jobs done without a lot of resistance.  This is one of them.  I can’t guarantee it will work in your home, but it’s worth a try.

Step One: 

Purchase or borrow a copy of The Mouse and the Motorcycle, by Beverly Cleary.  Read it to your children.  Or, if you are pressed for time, play the audiobook for them.  This is great to listen to in the car.  As a last resort, you can use the movie.   You will notice that there is a dramatic scene in the story where Ralph is almost sucked up by the vaccuum while riding the motorcycle. 

Step Two:

This happened automatically for us, but if it doesn’t, subtly emphasize the fact that the mouse and his motorcycle are almost sucked up by the vaccuum.  This was the main point that my son took from the story, without me saying a thing.  Things can be sucked up by the vaccuum cleaner.   Ok, so I took advantage of it.  <evil cackle> 

Step Three:

When you are about to take out the vaccuum to clean, casually say to your children, “I’m going to vaccuum now, please put away whatever might get sucked up.”  Or however you want to word it.  Try to be matter-of-fact about it.  Hopefully your children will rush off to rescue the toys.  Don’t give them much time.  Turn on the vaccuum in an area that is free of toys and start working your way around, keeping an eye on them to see that they keep picking up.  If you see a toy when you are cleaning,  point it out to them.  Have fun with it.  Talk to the vaccuum.  “No!  Don’t do it, vaccuum!”  Act very alarmed.  “Uh, oh, he’s going after another one!”  “Look out toy!”  “Oh no!”

For us, it gets the toys picked up quickly.  Score one point for the parents!  I hope it works for you too.

Phthalates and Other Toxic Ingredients in Baby Care Products

A recent study published in the February issue of Pediatrics looked for detectable phthalate exposure in the urine of 163 infants born between 2000 and 2005.  Over 80 percent of the infants studied had measureable levels of phthalate metabolites in their urine!  Commonly used products among infants with higher levels of phthalate metabolites included baby lotion, baby shampoo, and baby powder.  No correlation was found between high urine phthalate levels and the use of baby wipes and diaper creams.  While in Europe phthalates are banned from use in personal care products and some toys, in the US manufacturers are not required to even disclose the presence of these widely used chemicals in their products.  That’s right, they aren’t listed on the label, making it extremely difficult to measure levels of exposure and study the effects of phthalates. 

Phthalates are often used in fragrances.  They are also used in manufacturing, to make plastics such as polyvinyl chloride softer and more flexible.  According to Greenpeace, phthalates are suspected as human cancer-causing agents, and could damage the liver and kidneys, interfere with the development of the reproductive organs, and mimic the hormone estrogen in the body.  Some authorities suspect a link between phthalate exposure and early onset of puberty in girls.  In animal studies, rats exposed to certain levels of phthalates experienced adverse health effects, some of which included shortened life spans, weight loss, low level cancerous cell changes, liver enlargement, and even liver tumors.    One study in humans found an association between phthalate exposure and male reproductive problems. 

In the instances that phthalates do happen to be listed on a product label, you won’t find the word “phthalate,” although a few products may be labelled “phthalate-free.”  There are a few abbreviations that you might find on product labels.  As I mentioned before, manufacturers are not required to list these ingredients, so I give the following caution:  These ingredients may still be in the products even if you don’t find them on the label!  Some chemicals that are classified as phthalates include:  DBP (di-n-butyl phthalate), DEP (diethyl phthalate), DMP (dimethyl phthalate), DEHP (di-2-ethylhexyl phthalate or Bis-2-ethylhexyl phthalate), and BzBP (benzylbutyl phthalate).  The last two ingredients are found primarily in PVC plastics.  DEHP is sometimes found in medical devices.

A few other ingredients of concern which have been found in infant care products include formaldehyde or formaldehyde donor preservatives, mineral oil, parabens, sodium lauryl sulfate, and sodium laureth sulfate, to name a few.  Mineral oil, which is basically synonymous with “baby oil,” is made when gasoline and kerosene are removed from crude petroleum by heating.  Then, using sulfuric acid, absorbents,  solvents, and alkalis;  hydrocarbons and other chemicals are removed leaving the final product, mineral oil.    Parabens are an estrogen-like compound, albeit a very weak one.  These are used as preservatives in many types of personal care products and cosmetics.  Sodium lauryl and laureth sulfate, foaming agents,  primarily present a risk as skin and potential eye irritants.  Formaldehyde and formaldehyde donor ingredients are considered potential carcinogens.  The five most common formaldehyde donor preservatives are quaternium-15, dimethyl-dimethyl (DMDM) hydantoin, imidazolidinyl urea, diazolidinyl urea, and 2-bromo-2-nitropropane-1,3-diol (bronopol).  The concern in baby products as well as products for adults, is that toxic ingredients can be rapidly absorbed through the skin and into the bloodstream, especially with the formaldehyde donor ingredients .  In some cases this occurs in as little as 90 seconds.  To make matters worse, toxins absorbed through the skin bypass the liver’s first pass metabolism.  Because of this critical difference, many substances are more toxic when absorbed through the skin than when they are ingested.  

Even without the potential for phthalate exposure, the use of baby powder carries several risks in and of itself.  Talc is recognized as a potential carcinogen, especially for lung and ovarian cancers.  These powders can easily be inhaled if they become airborne during use.  If a cornstarch baby powder is used in the presence of a candida-associated diaper rash, especially on broken skin, it can aggravate the condition by providing food for the yeast microorganisms causing the rash.  So powders are probably better to avoid entirely. Coconut oil makes a great natural and safe protectant for the diaper area. It also has natural antimicrobial effects.

There are safe products available that you can use for baby, including baby bath/shampoo and lotion.  You can purchase phthalate-free baby wash/shampoo, and lotion here.   This lotion is also free of formaldehyde-donor preservatives, mineral oil, alcohol, parabens,  sodium laurel sulfate or sodium laureth sulfate, and colors/dyes. The combination baby wash and shampoo protects the skin by preserving the natural acid barrier that is normally present, and which is removed by most soap based products.  It is thick and long lasting, we find that we only need 1/3 the amount compared to when we were using Johnson’s baby shampoo.  The products are not tested on animals. Safety is verified by an independent dermatologist.

 If you ever have questions about ingredients in personal care products, visit the website of the Cosmetic Ingredient Review for more information.

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Gift Ideas for Kids with Sensory Integration Dysfunction

Over the past year or two we have shifted our focus with gift giving for our children to therapeutic items.  The kids really enjoy them and they provide play with a purpose.  If you are more organized than me, you can use them to develop daily sensory diet for your child.  Here are a few of my favorites: 

 We put a jumpolene in our basement, gave it to my 5 year old last year for Christmas.  It can be used as a trampoline for children, with a recommendation of two kids at a time and a total weight of 150 pounds or less.  Instead of using it as a trampoline, we bought ball pit balls for it in Kmart, $15 per 100 balls, though we did get some of them on sale for $10. I managed to wheedle his grandparents and his uncle into buying some of the balls because you need a lot and they do add up. Our OT has 1,400 balls in her Jumpolene.  Be careful where you buy a Jumpolene.  I bought it from California Fun Toys and they only offered a warranty of one month.  The manufacturer, Intex, told me that they offered a “courtesy replacement” should the Jumpolene start leaking within 3 months.  Unfortunately, they didn’t bother printing that information on the box so we didn’t know to call them in time.   But I understand Abilitations has a great warranty and will replace it if it starts leaking air before you have it one year.  Our OT has had hers replaced free by Abilitations more than once.  I can tell you by experience, it is worth a few extra dollars to have the peace of mind of the one year warranty.  Be careful if you need to move your Jumpolene, don’t pull it by the top chambers because that tends to break the seams.  We also have a mini trampoline, the boys love to use it to jump into the ball pit.  Trampolines are good for heavy work, proprioception, and vestibular stimulation.  The vestibular sensation, which comes from the inner ear, is responsible for balance.  Overstimulation of this sense results in a feeling of dizziness or vertigo, which you may be familiar with from various amusement park rides.

Another great sensory item is “Super shape changers” from Oriental trading company. A size large is only $20. These look almost exactly like Body Sox but they are about 1/3 the price.  I think these are good for proprioception, which is the sense of where the various parts of the body are located in relation to each other as well as where the body is in space.  If you want the brand name Body Sox, I recently found those for $37 at www.allegromedical.com.  Oriental Trading has nice tunnels for crawling through, for about $20.   Crawling is good for developing upper body strength and as “heavy work.”  Finally, they have some cute pop up dome tents for indoor use, also inexpensive. 

Swings are a very commonly used item for kids with sensory integration dysfunction or autism.  We have an Ikea Ekorre hanging swing and we love it. See ours here, next to the ballpit:  Swing and Jumpolene Ballpit  These don’t seem to be available from Ikea any longer, but there are lots to be found on Ebay and they aren’t too expensive. Many of them can be purchased as a “buy it now” rather than going through the hassle of bidding.  The hanging swing is grey canvas with a round, red bottom inside into which their round air cushion is inserted.  It is enclosed on three sides, offering a safe cozy retreat for the child.  Incidentally, Ikea has a lot of great furniture ideas for sensory kids, such as the items listed here. I like the swivel chair with the pull down canopy for a relaxing retreat from a too-bright world. We don’t have it yet, but I’m hoping sometime in the near future. Ikea also has inexpensive pop up tents and a tunnel.  Their colorful car rugs with roads on them are a nice item as well, it encourages imaginative play and some crawling while pushing cars around.  

 Another great sensory swing is the Cuddle Swing from Abilitations or Sammons Preston which are both made of a soft and stretchy material.  They are similar to the one recently featured on Extreme Makeover Home Edition, though I never have been able to determine exactly which brand was featured.  The Cuddle Swings enclose the child like the body sox do.  

 I made some crash mats shortly after we got the jumpolene/ballpit, giant (Like 4′ x 6′) pillowcases filled with chunks of furniture foam. You can use clearance priced fabric to do this.  Don’t make the mistake I did and buy the foam brand new. Try to find a mattress or furniture company that will give you scraps. My son likes to crawl under these mats like you would with a weighted blanket, as well as jumping onto them.   He goes into the ballpit with a flashlight and pulls the crash mats over his head so he can play with the flashlight in the dark.  We sit on them together to read books.  I also use place one under his feet when he practices piano.  It gives him something to rest his feet on and keeps him from kicking me and from resting his foot on top of mine while I try to tap out the rhythm for him.

For weighted items such as vests, blankets, and lap pads at a reasonable price, visit hugsnstitches4u.com    She makes very nice handsewn items, you add the weights to save on shipping.  She can even make the items with your child’s favorite character.   I just got a vest for my 5 year old and it is sewn beautifully. 

 I like to choose stocking stuffers from http://www.therapyshoppe.com.  They have sensory fidgets, oral motor items, fine motor, small games, and much more for very reasonable prices compared to other therapy catalogs.  We have purchased many items, such as the motorized wiggle writer, little critter massagers, lots of fidget balls, whistles and string pipes, cute animal mini tape measures, chewy tubes, wikki-stiks, triangular crayons, short jumbo crayons (love these!), and lots of other small items.  We also bought the weights for our new vest there, they were very reasonable too.  Here is a nice list of other stocking stuffer ideas for sensory integration.  http://specialchildren.about.com/od/sensoryintegration/qt/sistockingstuff.htm

Another great item that is helpful for proprioception as well as vestibular stimulation, is a hop ball.  Did you ever have a hippity-hop ball as a child?   My 5 year old has been enjoying his red hop ball, sized for children 5 and up,  for over a year.   He is very tall, and loves the color red with a passion.  Our 3 year old is just getting big enough to use one.  We are giving him the yellow hop ball, which is sized for a children 3 and up, for one of his Christmas gifts this year.   How fortunate that his favorite color happens to be yellow!  There is also a blue hop ball, for children ages 9 and up, that supports up to 300 pounds.  I really like the Gymnic brand, the hop balls have been very durable.

Here is a list of other items in the gross motor category. For balance and coordination there is the Monkey Balance Board or Ducky Balance Board, approximately ages 3-6.   EZ Steppers are a good item for both balance and bilateral coordination.  We are giving our 3 year old both a balance board and stompers for Christmas.  For upper body strengthening, the Twizzler Twist and Spinner Bar or a Trapeze Bar with Rings would be a good choice.   Since it is winter here right now, I plan to buy one of these in the spring, probably for my 5 year old’s birthday. 

More to follow…

McDonald’s Advertising on Children’s Report Cards

Free Happy Meal For Good Grades?

McReportCardMcDonald’s Ad on Children’s Report Card envelope

McDonald’s has now hit a new low in their practices of marketing to children. As if it weren’t enough that fast food restaurants spend $3 Billion dollars a year on advertising directed at children, they now adorn report card envelopes in Seminole County, Florida with the message “Reward Yourself With A Happy Meal From McDonalds.”  So what happened to McDonald’s pledge to reduce its advertising to children under 12 by January 2008?   Yet the coupons were for children from kindergarten through fifth grade.  This slick advertising campaign is scheduled to run through the end of the 2007/2008 school year.   So what do the parents think?  In a press release from the Campaign for a Commercial Free Childhood, one parent states “My daughter worked so hard to get good grades this term and now she believes she is entitled to a prize from McDonald’s.  And now I’m the bad guy because I had to explain that our family does not eat at fast-food chains.”  The school district sold out children and parents for the mere $1,600 cost of printing the report cards.  For the bargain rate of less than 6 cents per family per year, McDonald’s is able to send their advertising to all 27,000 elementary school kids in Seminole County at least three times.  Doesn’t print advertising usually cost more than this?

This promotion really begs the question, is it appropriate to reward good grades with junk-food?  Is this what we want our children to reward their own achievements with when they grow up?  What kind of reward would send a better message? What about something that involves a parent spending time with the child?  It doesn’t necessarily have to cost money.  For a younger child, a trip to a favorite playground could be a good motivator.  Or going hiking together.  In warmer climates or in warm weather a trip to the beach could be a good incentive.  In the winter, maybe a drive to a location that has a good sledding hill.  For a small amount of money, the child can be rewarded with a trip to a children’s museum on a Saturday or to see a movie during the inexpensive afternoon matinee.  Parent and child can choose an project from a craft store to make together.   Take a trip to the bookstore and pick out a new book together.   Wouldn’t a reward that stimulates the mind and provides a bonding experience send a better message?

Our 3 year old begins Headstart

I enjoy homeschooling.  But this year I am feeling overextended with teaching Jamie for kindergarten, working my internet business, working as a nurse, shuttling around to appointments, and keeping up with the house.  And the sibling rivalry is getting to me!  I have the “bully” and the “screamer” here.  I was fully expecting my 3 year old to qualify for the local school district’s preschool with an IEP this year.  He had received birth to 3 services since he was 6 months old, and though he has made huge gains his speech is still difficult to understand and he has low muscle tone.  So when we had his PPT last spring, I was surprised to find out that he was unlikely to qualify.  He has lost all of his delays!  We are thrilled with his progress, of course, but I was looking forward to some quieter mornings with our “screamer” in preschool.  He did qualify for speech therapy.  The school district suggested Headstart.  So I decided last spring to apply to enroll Samuel in the half-day program.

First of all, I must say that Headstart is the worst bureaucracy that I have had to deal with in quite some time!  I should have known when I left messages initially and calls were not returned, what I was dealing with.  I met with their family advocate and put in his application early in the summer.  I needed to hand in a few missing things afterward, like a copy of my husband’s social security card, and a recent physical.  I wasn’t told that the his application would not be processed until all of this was in.  When I did turn it in, the physical was not on the proper form.  The form that they never gave to me.  Once I turned that in, I didn’t hear anything for over a month.  Calls were not returned.  We met with the school district and arranged for speech testing for our follow up PPT as Samuel turned 3 and exited the birth to 3 program.  We had the PPT, and it was decided that Samuel would receive speech therapy.  But I still had no start date for Headstart.

Just before we went on vacation in mid-September, I found out that Samuel was accepted into Headstart.  They asked for a new physical, so I called to schedule it for the last week of September after our vacation.  We could not get an appointment until mid-October.  I called back Headstart.  He cannot start without the physical.  Meanwhile Samuel is only sporadically receiving speech therapy, as the SLP keeps wanting to know when he will start preschool so she can pull him out for therapy.  She doesn’t want to make appointments for me to bring him in.  But no one at Headstart could give me an answer about the start date, nor did they return my phone calls.  We got in for the physical, and I drove straight to Headstart to personally hand in the form and try to speak to an actual human.   By some miracle, I was able to meet with the family advocate.  Now we need clearance from the nutritionist about what Samuel can and cannot eat due to allergies.  And the fact that Mommy has much higher nutritional standards than the program does. 

So there goes the rest of the week, and no speech therapy.  However, on Friday I do get a “tenative” start date.  The following Tuesday.  First they have to make a home visit.  Then I have to attend the first two days with him, for 2 hours each day.  9am to 11am, then 11am to 1pm.  But we have an 11am appointment 30 minutes away on Tuesday, so after explaining this several times we went with Wednesday.  (They actually said “Do you want 11am  to 1pm on Tuesday then?”  DUH!)  Of course, my 5 year old isn’t allowed in the classroom so I have to have my parents watch him.  More shuttling around.

As far as the food, I think Headstart’s standards are extremely poor.  I did manage to negotiate sending in my own milk for my child, fresh milk from grass fed Jersey cows.   But apparently it takes an act of Congress for me to send in food.  In order to avoid another month’s delay, I negotiated that he will only be allowed cold cereal twice a week and only Cheerios.  No toxic, GMO, Kix corn puffs or sugary Berry Berry Kix, Raisin Bran, etc.  He can have muffins, bagels, or french toast.  I give him a healthy breakfast at home and consider their breakfast to be a snack.  Looking over the menus, their breakfast is nearly all carbohydrates.  The only protein included is the skim milk.  (another reason to send our own milk in)   When I looked at a recent menu, lunch seemed ok on the surface.  Until I was there and looked at it.   The first day he went directly for the bright red Jello with Cool Whip and rainbow sprinkles.  He ignored most of the other food.  The other items were turkey in a dubious gravy (MSG?), mashed potatoes from a powder, canned fruit (most of the fruit they serve is canned), a white dinner roll, and corn AS A VEGETABLE!  Umm, basic nutrition here, corn is a GRAIN.  Although his propensity to the Jello is foolish but typical, my otherwise intelligent 3 year old chose to ignore the potatoes, turkey, and corn.  Instead  he kept asking for, and receiving, more milk until he was full.  The teacher dutifully continued to refill his cup whenever he asked for more.   Since it was our good quality milk from home, and the food was so nutrient poor I didn’t have much of a problem with this. 

 On Friday he went for the 4 hours without me.  I was running late so he missed breakfast.  No big loss there.  I asked when I picked him up, “What did he eat for lunch?”  Although they had checked off “Yes” for eating lunch on their little form, the answer was “Basically nothing.”  He had his milk, some raw carrots, one bite of pizza, and a fruit popsicle. (They were careful to mention  that it was made with fruit.)  I think I will be asking every day what he is eating, so I can give him a proper lunch at home if needed.  For some reason they could not give me a menu until the next cycle starts.  I want to look ahead, there may be some days I just show up early and take him before lunch starts. 

In a perfect world, I would drop him off after breakfast and pick him up before lunch everyday.  But I’m sure that would ruffle some feathers BIG TIME.  I did observe that he would be missing little of value in the program if I did so.  Lunch is followed by toothbrushing and quiet time.  That’s it.  All the circle time, play time, storytime, etc is between breakfast and lunch.  Here’s to seeing how much I can get away with!

Update:  After two month’s I have had enough of this program.  It may just be this particular Headstart, but I think my child is better off without these people.  My husband likes to refer to the head teacher as “the warden.”  My child has been clinging to my leg when we arrive at the program in the morning.  I am able to leave without him crying, but I’m not sure he is completely happy there.  His behavior at home is worse.  And to top it off, when my husband picked him up for the first time last week, he was informed that we were going to be charged a $5 fee because he was 1 minute late!  (Hence the term “the warden.”)  He thought at first that she was joking, but after hearing her tirade decided she was not.  He told me he felt like he was returning a video late, not picking up his child from preschool!  I also wonder if the processed meats they often give for lunch and the bleach they constantly spray on the tables is not affecting his behavior.  So I called the teacher Tuesday morning, after the MLK holiday.  I told her I would be keeping him home this week, and that I suspected that something there, such as the bleach and/or the foods provided, was affecting his behavior.  I arranged to bring him in to the school myself for his speech therapy and physical therapy he is starting this month.  I am adapting our homeschool program to include several activities for him, probably better that what he was getting at Headstart.

Explaining The Value Of Money To Young Children

Today as I started doing schoolwork with my 5 year old, I gave him the task of putting the correct date on the top of our magnetic calendar while I went to get an item to start our work.  I was gone for about 30 seconds, and as I left I admonished him not to chew or break the pieces.  When I returned I found that he had bent the “Today” magnet, almost breaking it in half completely.  The only thing holding it together is the thin white layer on which the word was printed.  After giving him a piece of my mind, I gave him a lecture on the value of money which I think hit the intended target.

We, like most families, struggle to keep the family budget “in the black.”  Similar to other homeschooling mothers, I need to limit the hours I work outside the home.  I do have an internet business as well, but we have a very tight budget. I have noticed that my boys are very careless, breaking toys and other items around the house.  So after my husband and I had a discussion about upcoming expenses such as filling the oil tank, I was not happy to see the piece from our brand new magnetic calendar broken.  I explained to my son that I had just spent hard-earned money on the new calendar and it is designed to be used for years, but I felt that he was not hearing me.  So this is how I explained the concept of money to him:

 I told Jamie that his Daddy works very hard every day to earn enough to buy us the things we need.  I told him that I work too, and if we don’t have enough money I won’t be able to spend as much time with him.  He heard about how Mommy and Daddy worry about not having enough money if something big breaks.  I told him that our furnace broke several years ago and we had to spend thousands of dollars to replace it.  I named many of the things that parents need money for:  payments on the house, electricity, oil for heat and hot water, food, toys, school supplies, clothes, and more.  “Everything you see in this house cost money to buy.”  I told Jamie that when he breaks things or is careless, it makes me feel that he does not value how hard Mommy and Daddy work to pay for them.  I asked him “Do you want Mommy to have to work more hours and not be able to be home with you as much?”  He agreed that he would rather have Mommy at home more.  He was very sad about the calendar piece being broken but I told him he would just have to use it the way it is.  Perhaps each day, the broken piece can be a reminder of our discussion.  I plan to keep reinforcing our conversation by pointing out when he is wasteful or careless. 

 I would welcome helpful comments from other parents on how you deal with this issue in your family.

I recently found this page on teaching children the value of money, some more good ideas.  http://www.raisingsmallsouls.com/teaching-children-about-money/

Using the Math-U-See Skip Counting and Addition Facts CD

We just got our Math-U-See (MUS) music CD for learning the skip counting and addition facts.  The songs are sung by a children’s choir.  I think the music is pleasant to listen to, though it can easily get stuck in your head and drive you nuts.  “Choc-late eight is taking two, not from me, just from you, choc-late eight is taking two, with his vacuum”  (To the tune of London Bridge).  I always say passing it on helps get rid of it, LOL.  I like the fact that they use Bible references in the songs, although the CD also has songs using Science and Literature facts for those that prefer it.  Or for public school classroom use.  My 5 year old is picking up some of the skip counting facts, and we have only had the CD for 4 days.  I like to use it in the car.  We also played games with some of the addition facts songs.  There is a song about building a wall using ten, and you stack the manipulatives.  A ten bar goes on the bottom, then you build each layer using the unit bars.  For example, the second layer of the wall in the song uses the six and four.  I found that once I heard the song enough times I was able to use the included songbook and just sing it without accompaniment.  This allowed me to sing the song slow enough so my son could find the appropriate manipulatives to build the wall.  You have to hold onto the wall as you build it though, or they will fall over easily.  The pieces do not stay together tightly.  We also did this with the song about adding to nine.  It was fun for both of us.

I have two criticisms of MUS Skip Counting and addition facts.  In the songs with the addition facts, sometimes it is hard to understand the children that are singing.  And Steve Demme’s quirk about saying 11 through 19 as ten-ty one, ten-ty two, and so on is included in the songs.  Most of them also say the number as what our English language uses, but I think one or two do not.  And since the children are hard to understand at times, a child listening to this may become confused.  Sometimes it sounds like they are saying twenty-four instead of one-ty four, or thirty-three instead of one-ty three.  So if you aren’t careful, your child may think nine plus five is twenty-four or nine plus four is thirty-three.  But if you sometimes sing acapella with the songbook you could reinforce the correct answers.  All in all, it is good and my child likes listening to it.

Recent Study, Obese Toddlers Lack Proper Iron Levels

Data collected in the NHANES study from 1999 to 2002 found that 20 percent of obese toddlers have iron deficiency, compared to 7 percent of normal-weight toddlers.  This actually makes a lot of sense. When the body is not receiving proper nutrition it responds by signaling the need for more food. Obese children are most likely lacking a  great deal more than just iron. In my opinion, processed food and its additives are largely to blame for the current obesity epidemic. Not only are mass produced foods nutrient poor, they often contain harmful substances. In one of Mercola’s recent newsletters he cited a recent study which found that foods containing artificial sweeteners may increase the occurrence of obesity in children. These diet foods may prevent children from developing the ability of the body to use taste to regulate caloric intake.

MSG, a cheap flavor enhancing ingredient, is added to many foods, often in hidden forms like hydrolyzed vegetable protein and autolyzed yeast extract. See the following sources for a list of ingredients that contain MSG: Hidden Names for MSG or Hidden Sources of MSG in Food .  MSG, a neurotoxin, is also implicated in the obesity epidemic. MSG has been shown to cause animals to overeat to the point of obesity. This effect has been well documented since the 1960’s.  

If your child’s diet has been less than ideal, make changes gently. Start by replacing one unhealthy food wth one that is healthy. Find a good quality childs multivitamin that is complete and balanced, including all 8 vitamins of the b complex and iron in plant form such as ferrous fumarate. Inorganic iron, such as ferrous sulfate, is difficult for the body to utilize and may cause constipation. A child’s multivitamin should contain no sugar, artificial sweeteners, colors, or flavors. See this link for my favorite choices of children’s vitamins .   Some suggestions for the first dietary changes include the following:

Iron deficiency in toddlers can occur when they are weaned from the breast or iron fortified formula to regular milk. If the milk displaces iron rich foods, anemia will follow. Juice can also displace healthy foods from the diet. Limit the milk and juice, start offering more water, and be sure to offer iron rich foods each day. Remember that vitamin C increases the absorption of iron, so save the orange juice to be served in small quantitiy with the iron rich foods. If toddlers have a poor appetite at meals, it may be helpful to limit milk intake to 24 ounces per day, and to avoid offering milk before or during the meal. Some authorities say that 16 ounces of milk is enough for a toddler. Remember that cheese and yogurt can replace some of the milk. It is important to make sure that a child’s protein intake is not coming solely from milk and milk products, which tend to be low in iron. Eggs, fish, meat, and green leafy vegetables are all good sources of iron.

Processed foods use cheap ingredients to enhance flavor, such as the artificial sweeteners and MSG described above. Parents can protect their children’s health by reading labels carefully when they do choose foods that do come in bags, boxes, etc. However, children need as much fresh, natural foods as possible. Buy organic local food, if you can. Fresh food and organic foods are more rich in the nutrients your children need. If you can find a local source of grass fed beef, do. Look for a local chapter of the Weston A. Price foundation here to help you find local foods. Split up a side of beef with a group of families to save money. Did you know that grass fed beef is as rich in Omega 3’s as is wild salmon? Food as nature intended always offers more nutrition. It is shocking what mass production of foods is depriving us and our children of.

In our household we make our own waffles, muffins, chicken nuggets, and other child favorites to help avoid using processed foods. I batch and freeze so that we have healthy foods available to prepare quickly. For me, having a quick and nutritious breakfast ready to go is important. I’m not much of a morning person. We avoid fast food, which is commonly flavored with MSG and other additives. We use whole grain sprouted bread and certified raw milk. Empty calories such as cookies/candy, cold cereals, chips, etc are either not in the home, or offered on a limited basis. (Like at Grandma’s house.) And remember kids may need to try a new food 10 times before they will accept it. Every house has a picky eater, even ours. Be patient but persistent with your picky eaters, and they eventually will expand their horizons. 

Homeschooling, potty training, and my husband’s new diet

Jamie did a little better with homeschooling this week.  I told him that he  cannot watch TV while he eats breakfast.  Instead he must do all his schoolwork before he gets TV or computer privileges.  We were only allowing him 1 half hour show before, but it seemed to affect his school performance so I decided to make him wait.  I also started using the reward chart I got from Scholastic.  He puts on a sticker for each subject we work on, under the appropriate day of the week.  This encourages him to try to read a little bit too, at least until he memorizes where everything is located on the chart.  We are working on memorizing the unit bars in the Math U See manipulative set.  Each number one to nine has a different colored bar with the appropriate number of squares on it.  I started yesterday and he knows them already.  I expected it to take a week or two, but once we colored the workbook picture of the unit bars he seemed to know them.  Today we played some games suggested in the teachers guide.  “If you’re happy and you know it…” grab a five, Simon Says “put a three on your nose” and things like that.  Jamie really wanted to play musical chairs.  I couldn’t figure out how that related to learning the unit bar values but he suggested putting a bar on each chair.  Then he told me the value of the unit bar in the chair whenever the music stopped and he sat down.   I kept changing them around too.  It was sooo much more fun than doing the workbook.  Next week we will work on addition.  I think that is pretty good for just starting Kindergarten.

Reading is still a challenge.  I’m trying to make it a “just right” level of challenge, but he really balks.  He understands phonics very well, but it seems to be a visual or attention issue that is holding him back.  His OT says that she feels he has difficulty tracking objects with his eyes and covers one eye sometimes when he colors,  so we made an appointment with a behavioral optometrist to see if there is a problem.  I know he is young still, but I also know he is quite capable of reading many words if he would just keep his eyes on the book.  His phonemic awareness is very good, and he only gets confused about whether the vowels are short or long.  If I could start again I would never have taught the long vowels when I first taught him the sounds the letters made.  But once he gets some of the rules down he should figure it out.  (Like an “e” on the end makes the “a” say it’s name, and that sort of thing.)  I’m going to order him a spelling book from Modern Curriculum Press and we will alternate that with phonics/reading.  Spelling is basically phonics in reverse, so it should help.  The book is a little below the level he is working at, so it should improve his confidence too.  I understand that the book starts with matching words that begin with the same sound, and moves on to some of the phonics rules later in the book. 

Samuel is doing a little better with the potty.  He actually went independently to his little potty when I had him in just a t-shirt, and had a bowel movement.  Another day I thought he was ready and he went again on the small potty.  He doesn’t wet much anymore, he has that down cold.  Even most nights he is try, I stopped using diapers at night.  I’m hoping to get him into Head Start in the fall, I just got through the first part of the red tape and now we will wait and see if he qualifies for a spot.  Apparently his receiving Birth to 3 services almost guarantees him the spot.  It does seem easier to work with Jamie on school without Samuel distracting him.  I think it will be good for both of them.  And the lady from Head Start claims that they can finish potty training him, LOL.

On the health front, my husband started on the Cinch Inch Loss Plan this week. Basically you replace breakfast and lunch with shakes. Their shakes are very high in protein to help you feel full, and high in leucine to prevent loss of muscle mass. There is a snack bar included in the plan for a snack, to get you through between shakes. There is also a metabolism boosting vitamin supplement and energy tea mix. My husband told me the first day that he did not feel hungry on the plan and that he felt like he had more energy. He even played with the kids right after coming home from work, which is unusual for him. Stay tuned to find out how well it works for him.

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