A New Year for Family and School Health


(Sponsored Post) It’s a new year, and for many of us it’s a time to assess our health and resolve to shed a few pounds, add more fruits and vegetables to our diets, get more exercise and generally do what we can to make ourselves and our families healthier.

It’s also a good time to take stock of the health of your child’s school. After all, that’s where they spend most of their time outside of your home—nearly 1,200 hours each year. Start with a simple quiz to see what you know about your child’s school. Does the school:

  • Allow adequate time for kids to have recess?
  • Provide active indoor recess to ensure kids get physical activity during inclement weather?
  • Ask parents to bring healthy snacks instead of sweet treats for birthdays and celebrations?
  • Incorporate active games and non-food rewards as part of classroom celebrations?
  • Provide opportunities for physical activity during the school day, such as brain breaks in the classroom?
  • Adhere to Smart Snacks standards for school meals and foods sold in school?
  • Host healthy fundraisers involving nutritious foods or physical activity?

If you answered “no” or “I don’t know” to any of these questions, don’t despair. Join your school’s or PTA’s wellness team and find out! Then pick an area where you can make a difference. Get inspired by others like Tara Fisher-Munoz, a parent in Austin, Texas who took her passion and expertise in gardening to form the Go Green Team PTA with other volunteers and start the school’s garden program. Or Dana Dougherty, a parent and substitute teacher in Arlington, Virginia, who worked with her PTA to set up the 2FIT2QUIT team, that organized 5Ks and family fitness fairs and secured pedal desks to keep kids active while learning.

These parents started with big ideas but small steps. They and many others will attest that once you get started, it’s hard to stop, because just one program can spur a culture of health at school. By getting involved in school wellness, you can also help reinforce those healthy habits your kids are learning at home – and likely learn something new for a healthier you, too.

Learn more about how to get involved in school health at ActionforHealthyKids.org and celebrate your school’s health and wellness during Every Kid Healthy Week.

Amy Moyer, MPH, RD, is the VP Field Operations with Action for Healthy Kids and mother of two girls.

Action for Healthy Kids is a National PTA sponsor and has been invited to submit a blog post as part of their engagement with PTA.

Consider a “Digital Diet” for Your Family

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As tablets, smartphones and other personal technology devices play an increasingly dominant role in all of our lives, finding a good balance seems to be a tricky endeavor in many American households. Both parents and teens log more than five hours a day on their devices (outside of work and school), often during family dinners and while spending leisure time together. Many people also use these devices for hours each day with earbuds or headphones.

Finding balance is critical for many reasons, including children’s communication health. Dedicated time for verbal exchange— listening, talking, reading and interacting face-to-face —is essential for young children’s speech and language development. It is critical that time spent alone with devices (even on educational apps!) does not take away from time for interaction with parents. This “talk time” is also a precursor for reading, academic and social success. The benefits extend to older children as well, whose brains are still developing throughout the teen years, as well as family relationships.

Too much time on digital devices doesn’t just negatively impact communication health and academic success, it also has an effect on physical health. There has been a tremendous increase in hearing loss among children recently. Noise-induced hearing loss is a preventable problem, but once it occurs, it is irreversible. Earbud and headphone misuse can be especially problematic.

May is Better Hearing & Speech Month, a great time for technology-dependent families to introduce some better habits. (The exception being for children who require assistive devices to communicate.) A recent survey from the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association (ASHA) showed that once parents and teens learn more about the potential negative effects of tech overuse, they are willing to change their habits. Being mindful of balance is also key as we approach summer, when increased leisure time often means even more tech time for kids. Here are some “digital diet” tips from ASHA:

  1. Create a family technology plan—together. An agreed-upon set of rules is a good way to keep everyone on track. Schedule regular check-ins to determine whether you’re actually substituting tech time with more quality time together. Surprisingly, most teens whose parents set rules agree that the rules are fair—and parents report they work.
  1. Designate tech-free zones in the home. The kitchen, bedrooms, the family room…there may be one place in your home that you can keep devices out of, as a general rule. This helps with the temptation to constantly check your phone or jump at the sound of every incoming notification. It makes a difference to even have 30 minutes free from tech distractions.
  1. Talk instead of text, when possible. Texting offers tremendous convenience for parents to get in touch with their kids. But texting is not a replacement for verbal exchange. Tone, facial expressions and other nonverbal signals are just some of the ways in which texting falls short (and no, emojis don’t do the trick). Try to avoid texting your child when both of you are at home, as a start.
  1. Resist overreliance on technology to pacify boredom. Technology is an easy way to keep even the youngest children entertained. However, the best opportunities for conversation, learning and bonding are often found in situations that may be viewed as boring, such as while running errands or on a long car trip.
  1. Always practice safe listening, especially when using earbuds or headphones. Teach kids to keep the volume down (a good guide is half volume) and to take listening breaks. These are messages kids need to “hear” from their parents.

Remember, if you ever have concerns about your child’s hearing or speech/language skills, consult a certified audiologist or speech-language pathologist.


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Jaynee A. Handelsman, PhD, CCC-A is a pediatric audiologist and the 2016 ASHA president.