Getting a jump start on school

August 15, 2011

By ASHLEY JACKSON - Bulletin Staff Writer

Can a child fall behind in school before he has even begun?

Research says the answer is yes, and local officials are working to make sure parents are aware of the kinds of skills their children need before they begin kindergarten.

“If children start school behind, then it’s hard to catch up,” said Sheryl Agee, director of Smart Beginnings Martinsville Henry County. It is important to build a child’s cognitive, social and vocabulary skills before he or she starts school, Agee said.

Smart Beginnings partnered with the Martinsville Henry County Coalition for Health and Wellness and Bassett Family Practice to sponsor an event last week at The Starting Place in Martinsville, a center devoted to early childhood learning. The event was a family celebration in which young children could undergo developmental assessments and parents could learn about local resources for health care and school readiness. About 75 kids took part.

According to data provided by Smart Beginnings, there are 4,212 children under the age of 5 in Henry County and Martinsville. One in five children in Virginia starts kindergarten without the necessary skill set, the Virginia Early Childhood Foundation said in a news release.

The purpose of Wednesday’s event was to “raise awareness about health, nutrition and developmental milestones and challenge children’s motor skills,” said Ruth Anne Collins, early childhood health coach with the Coalition for Health and Wellness.

As part of the developmental assessments, each child ran through an obstacle course. There were two obstacle courses, one for 1- and 2-year-olds and the other for 3- through 5-year-olds.

The obstacles in the courses “get progressively harder as they go,” Collins said.

The course for 1- and 2-year-olds included obstacles such as rolling a ball back and forth, bending over and picking up an object and putting it in a bin, stacking four to six blocks, walking backwards, and more.

The 3- through 5-year-olds had to try to catch a bounced ball, hop on one foot, walk a straight line, string beads together and do other activities.

The activities in the obstacle courses are activities that children should be able to do before entering kindergarten to ensure their success, said Brenda Jordan, services coordinator with Smart Beginnings Martinsville Henry County.

Once a child is in kindergarten, it is important for parents to continue to develop his or her skills, especially in the following five areas: listening to and following two-step directions; fine motor skills; alphabet recognition; visual motor skills; and recognition of rhyming words, Jordan said.

Children use fine motor skills to do things such as squeeze Play-Doh and hold pencils. They use visual motor skills when they use their eyes and hands together to draw, cut, color and write, according to information provided at the event.

Those skills all are keys to success, the information shows.

Officials at the event pointed out another key to success: healthy eating habits for kids.

“Research has shown us that having quality early learning experiences and a healthy start in life are positive indicators for future success in school and in life,” Agee said in a news release.

Representatives from the Coalition for Health and Wellness provided healthy snacks for the children of fruit, crackers and water.

The Virginia Cooperative Extension had a table set up as well. Information there explained the dangers of a diet high in sugar.

There are about 20 teaspoons of added sugar in one 20-ounce soda compared with only about seven teaspoons in chocolate milk, according to USDA nutrient data.

“Kids need their water” that contains no added sugar, said Kim Hairfield, nutrition program assistant with the Virginia Cooperative Extension.

The way to measure how many teaspoons of sugar are in a food or drink product is to divide the number of sugar grams by four, Hairfield said.

The more sugar a child consumes, the greater chance there is that the child will become obese or develop type 2 diabetes, according to Hairfield. She added that diabetes is on the rise among children, which is alarming because it used to be diagnosed only in adults and the elderly.

Kids at the event also could color, use Play-Doh and try Zumbatomics, a workout designed for children.

There were representatives to help with Family Access to Medical Insurance Security (FAMIS) applications, a representative from Bassett Family Practice with information on children’s health programs, and other information on school readiness and local resources for children.

In addition to educating families, the event was held to celebrate National Health Center Week and School Readiness Month. Some funding was provided by The Harvest Foundation.


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