Posted in Minnesota Parent

Kids & bikes – 101

MN. Parent Magazine- May Issue

Kids love to ride bikes. And Minnesota loves bicycles. Minnesota has been ranked among the top “bicycle friendly” states in the country by the League of American Cyclists. The season is short, yes. So it’s time for families to take full advantage of the bicycling seasons. But before you dust off your bikes from their winter storage place, it’s a good idea to make sure your kids are aware of some basic safety concerns. It’s not rocket science, just learning how to stay safe on the road while on two wheels.

Safety 101

(note: children less than 10 years of age are not mature enough to make decisions necessary to safely ride in the street. Sidewalk riding only is recommend-Nat’l Highway Traffic Safety Administration)

Head – Brain – Helmet

Although everyone has already heard the safety stats on wearing a helmet, here’s some more. It’s safety rule #1 for bikers, and there’s a reason that the safety stats are so prevalent. According to the Kids Health organization, 300,00 kids go to the emergency room because of bike injuries, and at least 10,000 kids have injuries that require a few days in the hospital.  Ouch. Whether you child is going out for a long ride, or just hopping on the bike to go to the neighbors house, make sure that helmet is on their head.

But don’t go buy any old helmet at the local garage sale. The U.S. government has created safety standards for them. A sticker should appear on the helmet saying it has met standards set by the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC). The helmet should also fit properly (not be too big or too small). The helmet should sit level on your forehead. Kids might want to tip the helmet back so it doesn’t hug the forehead. I’ve even been guilty of this, as it doesn’t pull my hair as much….but if the forehead is showing, the helmet isn’t doing the job. And a reminder to little boys who love wearing their Twins baseball hats in the summer. NO wearing your hat under your bike helmet. The strap also should be adjusted so it’s snug under your chin. They shouldn’t be twisted or loose. If the straps are hanging to the sides of the helmet, the helmet is likely to fall of your child’s head when they need it most.

And if your child still whines about wearing the helmet, remind them that bike helmets are WAY cooler now than they were back in the 70’s and 80’s. Today’s helmets are lightweight and come in super cool colors for both girls and boys. My son loves to personalize his with his favorite Transformers stickers. Better yet, how about reflective stickers since they will make your child more visible to people driving cars.

Be Seen – Be Safe

Kids should be riding only during the day.  Their smaller bikes and bodies are harder for drivers to see. Some precautions that can be taken either in early morning hours or dusk can include bright clothes and reflectors. Bright clothes and reflectors of all kinds can be found in most stores. It’s important that other people on the road see your kids.

And avoid riding at night. If you must ride at night, wear reflectors on the front and rear of your bicycle.  Most states have laws requiring bicyclists to use lights and/or reflectors during nighttime hours. The laws do differ from state to state on how bright the lights need to be and where they are located.  (note: MN. Statute 169.222- requires front-facing white light visible from 500 feet; attacked to the bike or the rider; rear-facing red reflector; reflectors on each side of both pedals; 20 square inches of reflectors on each side of the bicycle. A red-flashing rear lamp is optional)

Also, make sure nothing is dangling while your child rides his or her bike. You don’t want things to get caught up in the bike chain, including loose pant legs, shoelaces or backpack straps. Kids shouldn’t wear sandals, or worse, flip flops when riding. NO bare feet, please. Take it from this author, who broke her leg by getting it caught in the bicycle spoke when she was 6…no dangling.

Rules of the Road- not just for cars

Bicycles are considered vehicles in many states, and have the same rights AND the same responsibilities to follow the rules of the road as motorists. Especially if your riding in a more populated area (a busy Minneapolis park), or riding on a busy city street versus a bike path. Kids should be aware of these basic rules, and be sure to follow them yourself if your all out on a family bike ride:

  • Go with the flow of traffic, not against it.
  • Obey all traffic laws, including stop signs, signals and lane markings
  • Attention kids-  watch out for those parked cars! Ride far enough out from the curb to avoid the unexpected, like the door opening suddenly, or the car pulling out.
  • Look before you turn. When turning right or left, always glance behind you for a break in the traffic, then signal before making the turn. Keep an eye out for left or right-turning traffic.
  • Keep an eye out for possible path or road hazards. Potholes, rocks, gravel, leaves and broken glass are everywhere. All these hazards can cause a wipe out.
  • Control your vehicle…or bike. ALWAYS ride with both hands on the handlebars. Older kids who ride frequently can graduate to just one hand, but never 0 hands! You might even suggest your child wear riding gloves, it will help them grip the handlebars better. And they’ll look like a professional. Cool.
  • Carry your books and other items in a bike carrier, or a backpack.
  • No crazy driving! Be predictable, not unpredictable. Ride in a straight line and not in and out of cars. Signal your move ahead of time.
  • And last but not least….no wearing headphones while riding the bike. Music can distract kids from the noises around them, such as a car honking its horn so they can get out of the way.

Armed with safety information, your kids will be able to enjoy the Minnesota biking season. Did I mention it’s short? Get out there and enjoy!

Suggested websites:

www.kidshealth.org

www.bicyclesafe.com

www.bicyclinginfo.org

www.livestrong.com

www.nhtsa.gov

www.mndnr.gov/trails

Posted in Minnesota Parent

Too Much too Soon?

April-Cover Feature Story MN. Parent Magazine

Photographer: Cy Dodson (www.cydodson.com)

It was a perfect summer evening. The sun was just starting to set behind the trees framing the baseball diamond. All of the players were in their correct positions. All had their shirts tucked in. Hats straight. Red belts matching red socks. For a moment, if you squinted perhaps, you might think you were watching high school players — soon-to-be-men focused on the task at hand. But then the shortstop bends over and begins to draw a circle in the dirt. About the same time, the first baseman takes off his glove and begins tossing it into the air.

“No playing in the dirt! There’s someone at bat!” barks the coach, adding, “first baseman! That glove needs to be on your hand!” These were not upper level players. These were little boys — boys in first and second grade.

I smiled as the shortstop stood back up and got into his defensive stance, his eyes still focused on his unfinished artwork. Yes, the shortstop is my boy, and yes, he loves to play baseball. I didn’t cringe inwardly when my son told me a few years ago he wanted to play T-ball. I wasn’t sure of the time commitment, but I figured he was only a kindergartner, so it couldn’t be that extensive. I have noticed, though, after watching my son advance through T-ball and now coach-pitch baseball (a technique where players under nine years-old bat a baseball safely pitched to them by their own coach) — the time and price commitment only grows with the child and the choice of team play.

Molly Sproull’s son is involved in hockey in Lino Lakes. “It started, really, with his skating lessons. He skated for fun, just a Saturday morning type arrangement. He was probably three at the time.” Her boy is now eight, out of the Mite Program and into a more organized club. “Hockey is also triple the cost of soccer,” says Sproull, whose son also participates in summer soccer. “All of that equipment. We’ve taken advantage of skate leasing programs, and we’ve used Play It Again Sports to try to cut back a little bit. We’re cutting corners where we can.”

Minnesota offers an array of sports through the changing seasons. Between all of the community rec, school, and private club programs, the number is almost dizzying. While sports such as lacrosse and golf are increasing in popularity, the sports commanding the numbers are hockey and basketball in the winter, and baseball and soccer in the summer.

When a parent hears, “I want to play hockey” or “I want to try baseball” the first reaction is usually “Great! This could be a lot of fun,” followed with more pressing questions such as, “where do I sign my child up for this? How much will it cost? What is the time commitment? Will my son/daughter be good enough?”

According to the Sporting Goods Manufacturers Association (sgma.com), about 15 million children play baseball. This makes it the third-most popular sport, right after basketball and soccer. A smidge over 14 million kids play outdoor soccer; however, if you factor the indoor soccer participant numbers, it bumps ahead of baseball into second place. Basketball outpaces both of them, boasting 26.2 million youths six and older. In the Midwest, hockey also rules. After all, Minnesota has produced more U.S.-born professional hockey players than any other state.

which sport? when?

By late winter, baseball and soccer leagues and clubs are already organizing the teams and coaches, having meetings and getting uniforms ordered. Practice usually begins indoors in mid-March. Outdoor practice starts up when the fields are dry enough for play. Molly Sproull takes off her hockey mom cap then, and turns to soccer. “My son has played soccer since age four,” she says. “We started with indoor soccer, and he played March through the beginning of July. It’s relatively easy to pick up. The equipment is minimal at this level; there aren’t a lot of expensive things needed. That’s been a positive. We’re moving into traveling soccer this summer.”

Christie Cuttell, Cottage Grove, has two boys in baseball. “Summer baseball is easier on the whole family,” she explains, “there’s not as much going on, and it’s a lot easier getting to the venues. School is wrapping up; it’s just better financially.” She adds that she enjoys baseball more, since it’s outside. “With basketball and hockey, you are confined … holed up. I have friends who have kids in hockey, and they’re inside five months straight.”

Cathy Hults, Circle Pines, also enjoys her fourth grade son’s involvement in baseball. “When my son was little, we tried to get him into a few sports,” she explained. “He’s very active. He’s been in baseball forever.” She also added that the sport doesn’t require as much of a financial commitment, beyond registration fees and basic baseball gear.

Tony Grubbs, Ham Lake, has coached in the Centennial School Program for five years. He said both his kids showed interest in baseball at an early age. “I started [coaching] T-ball and worked my way up. I’ll be doing coach-pitch one more year. I have a good time, and I love doing it. Our draft begins earlier and earlier, however. I noticed our baseball league [also] offers more clinics in December and January.”

Grubbs says that while all parents want the best for their kids, he feels many parents judge success on simply winning the game. “I see success when the player gets better,” he stresses. “The player learned to throw the correct way — that is success. Yes, people want to see wins. But I love to see the kids do well and improve and understand the game.”

And there’s nothing wrong with keeping your child in a less competitive league. “The in-house league is nice for folks who don’t want [the time and cost commitment of a] traveling league,” says Grubbs. “You still get play experience. The traveling kids usually live and die their sport, however, and can be better players.” He said that traveling teams bump up the time commitment and financial levels. “With a traveling team, you might be practicing every night all week, with games on weekends,” he says.

Cathy Hults’ baseball-playing son also plays basketball in the winter. “This is his second year of basketball,” says Hults, who says this is considered a late start in basketball. “But he picked it up really fast. He’s a tall kid,” she added. She said she hasn’t noticed a big difference with the financial and time commitment with basketball, but that she and her husband are checking out the traveling basketball team for next winter. “Traveling basketball, I understand, is around $400.”

Coach Brent Cuttell, Cottage Grove, confirms. “Stay in-house for as long as you want, it’s much cheaper. If you go the traveling team route, it gets more expensive: tourneys, travel, and hotels. Financially, traveling teams are five times more expensive than in-house. [With] traveling, you probably pay $400 or more and in-house is only $80 to $100.”

All of the time commitment and financials on baseball, basketball, and soccer seem to pale in comparison to hockey.

Grubbs said he is learning about hockey firsthand through his younger son. “This is his first year,” says Grubbs. “It’s a lot more expensive. You can find used stuff pretty reasonable, but I about fell over when I saw the bill.” He added that the registration fees alone can be financially challenging.

Coach Cuttell, who attends several coaching clinics a year, including the Glazier Football Coaching Clinic in Minneapolis, said he has noticed a trend in Minnesota youth hockey. “Some communities you’ll have 800 kids playing, but in a matter of years you’ll only have 15 still playing. They burn out. They quit playing. In this state, there are summer hockey clinics, skate clinics, goalie clinics — they create a 12 month commitment … and soon you have the kid saying, ‘I don’t like it anymore.’”

Molly Sproull seconds the concerns regarding financial commitment, but chooses to look at some positives. “In hockey, at least in the age six and seven group, parent coaches are so enthusiastic. You don’t always get that in other sports. There are so many more time and money commitments, and the coaches are so willing and able to share their skills.” She adds that she has an older daughter, and worries about balancing her activities and schoolwork with her son’s hockey practices and games. “I worry also a little bit about him moving up into the upper grades, and going to practice a couple hours a night. He will have homework, too. Cramming it all in … it concerns me a bit.”

Barclay Kruse, chief communication officer at the National Sports Center in Blaine, said there are a lot of hockey programs available. “We run our own hockey programs, where parents can sign their kids up on teams,” he says. “Though in the world of youth hockey, the community-based club is king.” He added that most folks don’t know that some of the biggest hockey tourneys are in June and July. “We run an event for seven weekends … different age groups on different weekends. We keep ice in six of our seven sheets, all the way through the summer. There’s enough demand in the summer for that.”

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too young?

Finally, the most pressing issue of all: are we starting our kids too young? Like it or not, all of the parents and coaches interviewed for this article said they believe children are being introduced to sports at younger and younger ages, and that’s not necessarily a good thing.

“I think it’s ridiculous,” says Coach Cuttell, “when kids are starting at three and four and five years old. I think if we begin putting goals [in place] for what measures a success or not in a specific arena … it’s a lot of pressure.”

Yet, all the parents and coaches agreed on one thing. If kids don’t start young, they are “behind” by the time they hit fourth and fifth grade. “It’s only going to get worse,” says Grubbs. “I don’t think I’m fine with starting kids so young. My older son, in fourth grade, wanted to try hockey. [With his inexperience] he’d stick out like a sore thumb, and I don’t want him to go through that. It’s hard to say no. But if you’re in fifth or sixth grade, you’re behind already. It has become so specific. This is your sport, all year around. Coaches want kids to know what they’re doing, and who know how to play. My younger son is the oldest player on his team and he’s in second grade!”

Says Sproull, “I think it’s a little disappointing that if you don’t start them young — and they would like to do another sport later — they’re going to be at a disadvantage. It’s part of a life lesson, I suppose. It’s sad that that’s the reality now.”

Coach Cuttell sums it up with one of his favorite Cal Ripken Jr. stories. “When asked how many little league games Cal Ripken Jr. played every summer as a kid, do you know what he said? Eight. That’s all he played each year. Then I got to thinking about how much I played when I was a kid. Maybe 10. They have kids playing 40 to 50 games a summer now. Same age. What I think is wrong: when a kid plays too many games … the games don’t mean anything. It’s just another game or tourney. When you only have eight games a year, they mean a lot. Kids want to be kids. They want to go in the yard and kick the ball around. We’ve created such a game environment for young kids, that they don’t know how to play pick up games anymore. They can’t play without an official or umpire. Kids these days think they have to document the game. You just don’t see kids playing pick up anymore. ‘Oh, we don’t have nine players? I guess we can’t play.’ That’s sad.”

“Whatever the season,” Christie Cuttell adds, “sports teach about socialization, camaraderie, teamwork, taking direction from authoritative figures — and that’s a good thing. Just don’t let it become too much.”

[sidebar]

Resources

Lance Armstrong Foundation

livestrong.com

Definitive daily health, fitness, and lifestyle destination website

Sports Illustrated

sikids.com

The online counterpart to Sports Illustrated For Kids magazine. The goal of the site is to create a fun, safe environment for kids, filled with some of the best news, games, and interactive features on the internet.

American Library Association

Ala.org

Offers a list of excellent sports websites that are appropriate for children. Websites cover all sports, including Judo and running. They do the research for you/list the website with a “Pencil” rating system so parents know it’s appropriate for: PreK, Elementary, Middle School, and Parent/Teacher.

Kidsites

kidsites.com

Touts itself as the leading guide to the best in kids’ websites, offering have a sports section full of sports trivia and information.

Posted in Minnesota Parent

Super Camping for Super Kids -MN. Parent (March issue)

Asthma Camp Article
MN. Parent-March Issue

There are several items to consider before choosing a summer camp for your child. How is the staff selected and trained? How is the camp structured? What do the cabins look like? Is there an on-site pharmacy on site? Are the camp counselors knowledgeable in environment triggers?  Is there a “cabin nurse” in my child’s cabin?

Some of the concerns may look familiar. Some of the latter concerns only look familiar to parents of children with asthma. If your child suffers from asthma, the list of concerns is a long one. Some Summer Camps might not be an option for your child. But luckily, there are groups such as the American Lung Association that are offering options to parents and their children who suffer from these conditions.

Enter Camp SuperKids – a camp run by the American Lung Association that has been in existence since 1966.  The objective of the asthma camp is to improve physical condition and psychological outlook of children with asthma as well as to educate Minnesota campers and their families about how to best manage their care.

Minnesota’s Camp Superkids, located at Camp Ihduhapi at Lake Independence, runs from June 26th to July 1st in 2011. The kids that come to this camp have moderate to persistent asthma, meaning the children need a daily controller medication. If the child has very severe asthma (ie: been to the emergency room in the last month of the camp), the Camp recommends the child sit the camp out, and will help the child get ready for the next year.

While this camp has the same fun outdoor activities as other camps do, it offers something a little bit more. Peace of mind for the asthmatic child and his or her family.

“We provide all the camp experiences,” explained Cynthia Peat, Director of Camp Superkids and Manager of respiratory health at the American Lung Association in Minnesota, “they still get to go swimming and canoeing and hiking and zip line. They participate just as any other YMCA camper would.”  While these normal summer activities are a staple for a summer camp experience, they also can be “triggers”. Mother Nature has her share of triggers for the asthmatic child, including pine, grass, pollen, ragweed and more.  The great outdoor experience can turn into the great emergency room experience in a very short time. But at Camp Superkids, all camp counselors are aware and ready.   “That (triggers) is a huge concern,” said Peat, “our goal at the end of the camp is for the kids to recognize and understand that they have to take good care of themselves, and to know what to do around their triggers, so they understand. A lot of kids who has asthma don’t go as fast, or develop as quickly, and parents will shelter the kids from a lot of things. The bigger goal of the camp is to tell kids that they can! Just take precautions”.

The precautions are subtle, but straight forward. Some examples are:

  • There’s a “cabin nurse” assigned to each cabin.
  • Kids check their meds into the nurse. Meds are distributed twice a day
  • There’s an on-site pharmacy, and an on-site doctor 24 hours a day
  • For every 8 campers, there’s one medical staff at all times

At Camp Super kids, the camp counselors are not only specially trained in asthma, most are sufferers themselves.  Joey Cuttoo, Camp Manager, started at Camp Super Kids when he was 7 years old, and suffered from persistent asthma. Cuttoo attended all the way up until he was involved in the Jr. Leaders Program for teens. He now manages the entire camp, and helps with the training of camp counselors. “We work closely with Joey Cuttoo,” explained Peat, “there’s a training program the couple weeks of May, one of our doctors do the run-down. They have a good baseline, then there’s a Sunday review session before capers arrive. There’s a counselor for every cabin of 8 to 10 kids”.

Peat said the children absolutely love taking part in the camp experience. “They go swimming, they zip line, there’s bonfires with camp songs, hiking, there’s a climbing wall, and one night they got to go on a camp out on an Island,” said Peat, adding that there’s a physician on every boat, and a tackle box of emergency supplies along for the trip.

While the kids may only be interested in the fun, outdoor activities, Camp Superkids also offers a little bit of education for their campers. After Dinner the campers will get some Asthma education in the form of games. An example is “Lung-Go” which is like Bingo, except you have to answer questions that are asthma related.  The campers learn what asthma is, how asthma attacks start, how they can avoided, and how asthma can be better managed in the future.

While children of all ages can suffer from asthma, the American Lung Association recommends children ages 7 to 15 attend Camp Superkids. (and 15 and beyond can be involved in the Jr. Leaders program at the the camp) The camp does target the entire state of Minnesota. About 1/3 of its campers come from the inner city, another 1/13 from suburbs and the rest come from greater Minnesota. 80% of the campers receive ‘camperships’, which are offered to low income families. Most of these families often lack the resources or don’t have health insurance to visit the Doctor’s office for their children’s asthma. “We want to make sure we won’t turn away any child who wants to come,” explained Peat.

Camp Superkids can be a challenging camp to run, and Peat sites the coordination of the medical staff is the biggest challenge as well as its highest priority. “We have a medical board, and everyone is on the same page,” said Peat, “we coordinate enough volunteers to help staff the medical part of the camp.” She added, for example, that pharmacy students from the Children’s Hospital volunteer their time in the service center and pharmacy, and nurses, allergists, pediatricians, and respiratory experts volunteer their time a well, with the majority of them coming from the Mayo clinic in Rochester, MN.

Above all, Camp Superkids is fun, and their campers learn that they’re not alone with their asthma and that there are kids out there just like them.  Peat said that the greatest reward for running the camp is the fabulous stories she hears from both the children and the parents. “The kid returns from camp a different person…really being able to take indpendent care of themselves. It’s the best to hear! I’ve already been getting calls on when the camp is this year”.

Registration for Camp Superkids begins February 1st.  For more information go to www.lungmn.org (once on the main page, go to “Programs”, and then “Asthma Camp”)

Price – $495 for 5 nights