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Tips for keeping students sharp over the long-haul

This year’s shift to at-home learning has provided plenty of resources parents can use to keep their children’s minds engaged and actively learning. The shift has also prompted families to create new routines and healthy learning habits.

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Photo by BRUNO CERVERA from Unsplash.com

With the majority of schools across the country closed, many parents are feeling the stress of taking more active roles in their children’s education. As time away from the classroom extends into summer, parents also face the challenge of helping their children maintain what they’ve learned through a period of uncertainty.

This year’s shift to at-home learning has provided plenty of resources parents can use to keep their children’s minds engaged and actively learning. The shift has also prompted families to create new routines and healthy learning habits. Continuing these best practices over the summer may prove beneficial in setting students up for success when they return to the classroom.

  • Set a clear daily schedule with realistic goals and be sure to allow flexibility. A child’s attention span grows longer with age – typically 2-3 minutes per year of age – so the amount of time an elementary school student will focus on a task may be significantly shorter than a high school student.
  • Build in time for kids to play. According to the journal, “Pediatrics,” playing promotes healthy brain development and boosts academic skills. Play time also helps children manage stress – making it an important and fun way for parents to support kids coping with stress or anxiety.
  • Create a conducive learning environment at home. If possible, set up a designated desk and distraction-free workspace children can use for everything from completing school assignments to playing educational games.

While routines are important, they may not be the only key to summer learning success. Research from Harvard indicates parents who engage with their children in simple activities over the summer – like reading together or talking about baseball statistics – can have a greater impact on their children’s academic performance than popular summer activities, such as summer camps, travel or summer school.

Since education can happen anywhere as part of everyday life, there are many activities families can do together to create a sense of summertime fun while fostering academic growth.

  • Spend some time cooking or baking together. Use these experiences as opportunities to practice reading recipes or practice math by measuring and adding ingredients.
  • Work with other parents or family members to find summer pen pals. Have kids write letters back and forth to practice reading and writing skills.
  • Extend story time with read-and-do activities that lay the groundwork for developing engaged readers. For example, the Pizza Hut BOOK IT! Program offers free online activities at bookitprogram.com children and parents can do together, such as drawing, letter recognition or sight-word bingo.
  • Explore science and nature by taking a walk. Try and identify different types of clouds, trees, plants, rocks and animals. Take pictures of any you find interesting. Then look up additional information when you return home to practice research skills.
  • Watch the news or read about current events together. This can provide practical lessons on social studies and help kids raise questions about the world around them.

ABCs of Combating Summer Slide

While on summer break, kids commonly lose some of the learning momentum from the previous school year. It’s a phenomenon casually referred to as the “summer slide.”

A report from the Northwest Evaluation Association found students in third-fifth grades lost about 20% of their school-year gains in reading and 27% in math, on average, during summer break.

After such an abrupt end to formal curriculum, the slide could be a little steeper for kids in the fall. However, summer plans for families likely look different this year. More free time may make it easier to build in time for educational activities, which can also offer an escape during this uncertain time.

Allow for reading aloud. According to the National Association for the Education of Young Children, reading aloud is the single most important activity for reading success as it helps build word-sound awareness. Encourage your child to play teacher and read aloud books, magazines, or comics to family members, pets or even stuffed animals.

Begin a book club. Read the same books as your children then discuss what you all read over a shared snack or gathered around the dinner table. Joining in shows the importance of prioritizing reading during the summer.

Check into services offered by libraries. If possible, make use of local libraries, many of which offer free online resources and have extended due dates. Inquire about online services offered in your area and how your family can participate in programs taking place over the summer.

Where and How to Access Online Resources

From educators helping their students to organizations lending support in trying times, dozens if not hundreds of online resources have emerged to help parents navigate teaching at home.

Internet Access: While many at-home learning resources can be found online, some families lack access to reliable and affordable internet connections. For information on free or low-cost home internet access, as well as other resources for teachers and families, visit firstbook.org/coronavirus-educator-resources.

Online field trips: While school and family outings are limited, it’s still possible to explore the world from the comfort of home. Zoos, museums and other places of interest are sharing everything from educational videos and live webcams to guided tours on their websites and social media.

Reading programs: Literacy is the foundation for all learning, so focusing on activities that promote reading gives children a chance to practice that essential skill, often in ways that don’t feel like learning. One resource is The Pizza Hut BOOK IT! Program, the nation’s largest and longest-running corporate-supported reading program. Parents can visit bookitprogram.com to find a number of activities designed to help children find joy in reading. Resources include book recommendations, activity and book pairings, video messages from best-selling authors Tom Angleberger and Kate DiCamillo and printable worksheets, story maps and more.

Educational websites: Many academic websites have opened their subscription-based content for free or reduced access. You can find videos, interactive programs, lesson plans and more. Before creating an account, check if your school has secured free or discounted access codes.

New skills: From learning the basics of keyboard typing to trying a new instrument or mastering a new language, there are sites dedicated to helping students develop new skills while they’re at home.

NewsMakers

Natural therapy shows promise for dry-eye disease

Castor oil has been proposed as a natural product that could offer a safe, effective and easy-to-use alternative to existing therapies.

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Researchers at the University of Auckland are running a trial of castor oil as a potential safe and natural treatment for dry-eye disease following a successful pilot study.

While exact figures aren’t available for New Zealand, in Australia, it is estimated dry-eye disease affects around 58% of the population aged over 50. Advancing age, menopause, increased screen time, contact lens wear are just some of the risk factors for developing dry eye disease.

Blepharitis is the most common cause of dry-eye disease, accounting for more than 80 percent of cases. It is a chronic condition with no known cure.

“Currently, patients are left grappling with symptoms of dryness, grittiness and, in some cases, watery eyes that feel uncomfortable impacting on their quality of life and work productivity,” says doctoral candidate and lead clinical investigator Catherine Jennings.

Current treatments, such as antibacterials and anti-inflammatories, are generally unsuitable for long-term use, due to significant side-effects and potential for antimicrobial resistance.

“Often patients are left feeling helpless when attempting to manage a chronic condition,” Jennings says.

The current trial is of a product containing cold-pressed castor oil enhanced with mānuka and kanuka oils applied using a rollerball attached to a small glass bottle.

“The previous pilot study, conducted by our research team, was unique in its use of castor oil in such an application on the eyelids, with the product not known to be used anywhere else in the world for treating blepharitis,” says Jennings.

Castor oil comes from a flowering tropical or subtropical shrub from the species Riccinus communis. It has been used therapeutically for millenia, including more recently in eye cosmetics and eye makeup removers.

In the pilot study, 26 patients with blepharitis were treated with cold-pressed castor oil over four weeks. They had measurable improvements in symptoms, such as reduced redness of the lid margin, decreased thickening of the eyelid, and a decline in bacterial profusion, as well as reduced eyelash crusting.

Building on the success of the pilot study, the research team is now engaged in the more extensive double-blinded, randomised and placebo-controlled study. They are aiming to recruit 92 participants and generate robust scientific evidence for clinicians.

The ultimate goal is to sustainably improve quality of life for this large group of patients using a natural, safe and effective product, principal investigator Professor Jennifer Craig says.

“Castor oil has been proposed as a natural product that could offer a safe, effective and easy-to-use alternative to existing therapies,” Craig says.

“My hope is this study will produce evidence-based guidance for clinicians with regard to offering castor oil as a possible management option for patients suffering from blepharitis, so they continue to enjoy a great quality of life, read the books they love, be productive in their work environment and enjoy other visual hobbies.”

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For epilepsy, yoga may be good for your mind

People who did yoga were more than four times as likely to have more than a 50% reduction in their seizure frequency after six months than the people who did sham yoga.

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For people with epilepsy, doing yoga may help reduce feelings of stigma about the disease along with reducing seizure frequency and anxiety, according to new research published in the November 8, 2023, online issue of Neurology, the medical journal of the American Academy of Neurology.

“People with epilepsy often face stigma that can cause them to feel different than others due to their own health condition and that can have a significant impact on their quality of life,” said study author Manjari Tripathi, MD, DM, of All India Institute of Medical Sciences in New Delhi. “This stigma can affect a person’s life in many ways including treatment, emergency department visits and poor mental health. Our study showed that doing yoga can alleviate the burden of epilepsy and improve the overall quality of life by reducing this perceived stigma.” 

For the study, researchers looked at people with epilepsy with an average age of 30 in India.

Researchers measured stigma based on participants’ answers to questions such as: “Do you feel other people discriminate against you?” “Do you feel you cannot contribute anything in society?” and “Do you feel different from other people?”

Researchers then identified 160 people who met the criteria for experiencing stigma. Participants had an average of one seizure per week and on average took at least two anti-seizure medications.

Researchers then randomly assigned participants to receive yoga therapy or sham yoga therapy. Yoga therapy included exercises in loosening muscles, breathing, meditation and positive affirmations. Sham yoga consisted of exercises that mimic the same yoga exercises, but participants were not given instructions on two key components of yoga believed to induce a relaxation response: slow and synchronized breathing, and attention to the body movements and sensations during practice.

Each group received seven supervised group sessions of 45 to 60 minutes over three months. Participants were also asked to practice sessions at home at least five times a week for 30 minutes. They tracked seizures and yoga sessions in a journal. After the three months of therapy, participants were followed for another three months.

Researchers found when compared to people who did sham yoga, people who did yoga were more likely to reduce their perceived stigma of the disease. People who did yoga had an average score of seven at the start of the study and an average score of four at the end of the study, while people who did sham yoga had an increase from an average score of six at the start of the study to an average score of seven at the end.

Researchers also found that people who did yoga were more than four times as likely to have more than a 50% reduction in their seizure frequency after six months than the people who did sham yoga.

In addition, people who did yoga were more than seven times more likely to no longer have seizures than those who did sham yoga.

There was also a significant decrease in anxiety symptoms for people who did yoga versus people who did not. They saw improvements in quality of life measures and mindfulness.

“These study findings elevate the need to consider alternative therapies and activities for people with epilepsy facing stigma,” said Tripathi. “Yoga may not only help reduce stigma, but also improve quality of life and mindfulness. Plus, yoga can be easily prerecorded and shared with patients online using minimal resources and costs.”

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NewsMakers

Eating a vegan diet could reduce grocery bill 16%, saving over $500 a year – study

Total food costs decreased in the vegan group by 16%, or $1.51 per day, compared with no significant change in the control group. This decrease was mainly attributable to savings on meat, -$1.77 per day, and dairy, -$0.74 per day. Changes in purchases of other food groups (e.g., eggs and added fats) also contributed to the observed savings.

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Food costs decrease 16% on a low-fat vegan diet, a savings of more than $500 a year, compared to a diet that includes meat, dairy, and other animal products, according to a new analysis from the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine published in JAMA Network Open.

“We knew that a vegan diet significantly reduces your risk of conditions like heart disease, diabetes, and obesity—and now we have proof that opting for beans instead of beef will also lead to significant savings on your grocery bill,” says study co-author Hana Kahleova, MD, PhD, director of clinical research at the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine.

The research is an analysis of a Physicians Committee study in which participants were randomly assigned to a vegan group or control group. The vegan group was asked to follow a low-fat vegan diet consisting of fruits, vegetables, grains, and legumes, while the control group was requested to make no diet changes. Calorie intake and food costs were not limited for either group.

For the food cost assessment, the participants’ dietary records were linked to food price data from the U.S. Department of Agriculture Thrifty Food Plan, 2021.

Total food costs decreased in the vegan group by 16%, or $1.51 per day, compared with no significant change in the control group. This decrease was mainly attributable to savings on meat, -$1.77 per day, and dairy, -$0.74 per day. Changes in purchases of other food groups (e.g., eggs and added fats) also contributed to the observed savings.

These savings outweighed the increased spending on vegetables, +$1.03 per day; fruits, +$0.40 per day; legumes, +$0.30 per day; whole grains, +$0.30 per day, and meat and dairy alternatives.

The findings support previous research showing that a plant-based diet provides more cost savings than one that includes animal products.

In addition to the cost savings, the study found that a low-fat vegan diet resulted in weight loss and improved body composition and insulin sensitivity in overweight adults.

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