Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Survival Of The Fittest: How to Boost our Kids Immune System

As parents, we constantly worry about our children getting sick.  Just recently, my girls  have been talking about a cold or flu "going around" as if it were making the rounds infecting every child in its path.  In B’s class alone, there have been 8 girls absent, one after the other.  They say the class picture taking has been cancelled for one grade level due to over 10 students being absent in one class alone.  

Still closer to home, B and I both just recovered from sickness.  B went down with fever, although she tested negative for dengue, her platelet was at a level that’s slightly lower than normal.  We had to observe her platelet count for a few days, subjecting her to quite a number of needle pricks. Half a week lasted before her platelet count returned to normal levels. 

The reality is that out of all the children exposed to a virus, only a portion of these children will get sick to some degree and others will not give way to the disease at all. This is because the strength of our children’s immunity, not just the strength of the germs, also determines our kids’ vulnerability to the viruses, bacteria, and other germs that constantly circulate in our world. 

While it’s nearly impossible to avoid all of the flu, colds and other things that come hand-in-hand with large groups of kids, we can give our kids (and ourselves) a leg up with immune system boosters that can shorten the length and severity of sickness – and maybe even keep a few at bay.  Here are some healthy habits we can instill in our kids:

1.  Wash your hands! Germs are easily pick up, especially around kids who are already sick with coughs or colds. It is important to keep remind our kids the importance of washing the hands, especially after using the bathroom.
2.  Get plenty of rest.  Pediatric sleep experts agree that a healthy, deep sleep allows our children’s bodies to release a significant amount of growth hormone that boost the immune system and allows it to regenerate itself and fight off disease.  Especially during school season, a rigorous sleep schedule helps little energetic bodies wind down and busy minds rest. 

The National Sleep Foundation offers these guidelines on how much sleep our child should be getting.
  • Newborns (10.5-18 hours of sleep)
  • Infants 3-11 months (9-12 hours of sleep at night, plus day naps of 2-4 hours)
  • Toddlers 1-3 years old (12-14 hours)
  • Preschoolers 3-5 years old (11-13 hours)
  • School-Age, 5-12 years old (10-11 hours )
I know how tempting it is to push our kids to finish reviewing for that math exam; but in our household, C is adamant that the 2 younger kids be in bed by 8:30 pm.  9:30pm at the latest for my eldest, if let’s say swimming training has finished late and consequently dinner had also been eaten later than usual.
3.  Make Healthy Meals That Your Child Actually Will Like-This can be very challenging if you have a picky eater.  But in my household, everyone – husband included, has been trained to eat what’s on the table.  Even a slight whisper to whine merits a quick “You are not dining in a restaurant!”

I avoid serving processed foods; instead, I try to give them of fruits and vegetables. 

5.  Reduce Sugar and Sweeteners – Just a small amount of sugar has been proven to suppress the immune system by impairing white blood cells up to 50% for very short periods of time.  I do not mean for candies and desserts to be taken out altogether – they are a fun part of growing up!  We just have to ensure to try to limit candy consumption in one sitting, and I remind my kids to make it a habit to drink a glass of water with the sweets to keep sore-throat away.

6.  Yogurt - It has now been firmly established that the gut is the center of immunity, so eating yogurt regularly helps maintain healthy gut flora.  It packs a healthy dose of good bacteria, called probiotics, that can line the intestinal tract to protect the body against harmful bacteria and infections.

I buy the regular, unflavored yogurt, and not the one loaded with artificial flavorings and sweeteners.  My kids usually eat yogurt with slices of banana.
8.  More Water, Less Sugary Drinks- Toxins build up and can weaken immunity when there's not enough water in the diet. Sugary drinks made from juice concentrate can actually dehydrate and increase our child's need for water.  I place the kids water in a sippy cup (but it is really a Rubbermaid sports bottle, bought at SM) so I can monitor the amount of liquid that they have consumed for the day, 2-3 refills within a day is the usual. 
7.  They Must Play!- Sitting around all day in class then again at night doing homework makes not only the body sluggish, but the immune system sluggish as well. If your kids aren't involved in sports, make it a point to sneak in 20 minutes of exercise into your kid's day at least three times a week. Park the car a few meters away from the school gate and make them walk the short distance, make them help with the household chores, encourage a bike ride outside or participation in a more organized sport after school.  You might be surprised at what they’d like to do outside!

The point is make sure your child gets plenty of exercise; studies have linked a healthy immune system with moderate exercise.   Exercising as a family and limiting the amount of time your kids spend in front of the TV and playing video games is a good place to start when trying to establish a regular exercise routine for kids
An increase in blood flow associated with moderate exercise helps to circulate antibodies along with white blood cells necessary to fight infection more quickly. As a result, this provides our bodies with an early warning system to ward off potentially damaging germs. In addition, the increase in body temperature as a result of physical activity may aid in inhibiting the growth of bacteria; thus allowing the body to fight infection more effectively.
9.  Try A Dietary Supplement- It's hard for most parents to do all of these things all of the time, so adding a dietary supplement provides a bit of insurance. 

Best vitamins include Vitamin A, C, or E. These are a good source of antioxidants, which will boost our immune system.  The minerals zinc and selenium also help with boosting our immune system.  Low doses of zinc have been shown to boost the immune system and reduce the severity and duration of colds and other viruses.

As you can see, there is no one magic cure, one supplement, or one way to boost your childs immune system, but there are many things you can do to help your situation.  Set a good example. Give your child the healthiest environment you can.  Provide them with a clean home.  Set good examples with your own nutrition and exercise habits.

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Wednesday, October 20, 2010

My Pals Are Here: Singapore Method Curriculum

Better late than never...

I forgot to share with you that one of my best finds during this year's Manila International Book Fair (MIBF) is the discovery of the local distributor of the Singapore textbook, My Pals Are Here. My kids use these textbooks for their Singapore Math and Science curriculum.

I just want to share the good news to all the parents whose kids are learning the Singapore method. The local distributor is selling the complementary books to the My Pals Are Here textbooks. There are exercise books available for all levels of students

a. My Pals Are Here - Reteach. The exercises in this book are carefully structured to provide learners with more time and opportunities to learn.

b. My Pals Are Here - Practice. The exercises offered here are opportunities to revise and extend concepts and skills.

c. My Pals Are Here - Enrichment. The exercises in this book are carefully designed to challenge and motivate fast learners.

The latest edition costs a little more than P400.00. But if you do not mind buying the old edition (read: published 2005 or earlier) like I did, you get to save 50%. I bought up all the enrichment books I could get my hands on. Yes, on all levels. It was a little bit like hoarding. :) Roughly, I got two books for the price of one. Bargain, di ba?

When their school shifted to using the Singapore Method a couple of years ago, I found myself complaining, along with numerous other parents, that the curriculum seemed too easy that it was like going down a grade level. Or at least, that was how it looked like if you look at the textbooks alone. I remembered the first time I browsed through the math book, shocked that her grade level curriculum covered addition and subtraction only up to 20, when my girl can easily add unto the hundred value already. "adding and subtracting up to 20? Easy-peasy!" Little did I know that the analytical part of problem solving would require some re-learning of math concepts. Students are required to get creative as mathematical equations are worked with together with the aid of the bar model method.

This technique of model building is a visual way of picturing a situation. Instead of forming simultaneous equations and solving for the variables, model building involves using blocks or boxes to solve the problem. The power of using models, if learned with proper guidance, often allow grade school kids to be able to solve algebraic word problems. If models can be drawn to show the situation, the solution becomes clearer, sometimes even obvious.

At that time, I also did not understand the importance on the concentrated focus on using number bonds for addition and subtraction. I had no concept at all on what the number bonds were for, except maybe to confuse the child and exasperate the parent/tutor. Because we all grew up doing carry over 1 and borrow 1 for addition and subtraction of two digit numbers with regrouping, right?

Just a few weeks ago, I attended a Singapore Math seminar, offered by my daughters' school this time, and here it was explained to me that mastery of the number bonds at the early grade level facilitates mental math in the higher grade levels. We were also taught how to solve multi-solution algebraic problems using the bar model method.

It is then that I have come to appreciate the wonders of the Singapore Math and Science curriculum. Teaching them the Singapore method has always been testy for me. But not anymore.

Singapore Math is a balance between drill and creative problem solving. Students are encouraged to move along to more abstract math concepts in a more rational way and, depending on the student's pace, more quickly. I also found out for myself as I tutored my kids that the Singapore approach encourages greater problem solving skills and creative thinking. In fact, algebra problems are a breeze when done the Singapore method way.

In the same way, Singapore Science aims to stimulate young minds, cultivate their interest, and spark their curiosity in finding out about the things around them. It adopts a hands-on and inquiry-based approach to the learning of Science, including experiments, worksheets and projects and research on the Internet for information.

Are you asleep already? It's ok, you can wake up now... I am done with the post. :)

Friday, October 15, 2010

Corn and Potatoes

Sharing with you some more recipes served during R's barbeque party.  This trio of easy-to-make dishes all maximize the use of the grill, for an almost effortless preparation; the use of foil makes for an easy clean-up.  You can cook them on the grill all at the same time.

Grilled Corn with Herbed Butter
1. Keeping the husks attached, peel them back in sections on each ear of corn, and remove the silk. Cover the exposed corn with the husk. Wrap corn in foil individually.
2. Preheat the grate of the grill to medium-high.
3. Place the corn, still covered by the husk, on the medium-high grate. Cook for 3-5 minutes, turn to the other side, and cook for 3-5 minutes, until you have done all sides.
4. Remove from the grill, peel back the husk and foil, return to the grate to mark and lightly char the corn on all sides, turning and jockeying as needed for about 5 minutes total.
5. Remove the corn from the grill and brush generously with the herbed butter or pesto. Squeeze lime/calamansi over the ears and sprinkle with fleur de sel. Serve with any remaining lime/calamansi, and pats of butter on the side.

Roasted Corn Salad with Mango Salsa
3-4 cobs of grilled corn
2 mangoes, diced 
1 medium-sized red onion, chopped
3-5 big-sized calamansi
generous pinch of sea salt

1.  Cut the corn kernels from the cob, and place in a medium bowl. Mix in the mangoes and red onion.Add the juice of the calamansi, one at a time.  Throw in the salt, to taste.

Barbeque Baked Potatoes with Garlic Butter
The fastest way to grill your potatoes is to parboil them first. This is done by taken your sliced potatoes and throwing them in boiling water for about 5-10 minutes, depending on the size. Drain and place in foil, cover up and put on a medium hot grill and they will be cooked in another 10-15 minutes. When you take the potatoes out of the hot water it is best to drain them well and then coat with whatever seasonings sound good to you.
Barbeque Baking: Baking potatoes on the grill is very easy and requires virtually nothing from you while they cook. Because of the intense heat of a grill and because you don’t want to do a lot of turning and watching while you grill your baked potatoes it is best to wrap them in foil. Start by taking a piece of foil large enough for the whole lot of potatoes. Pour about a tablespoon of olive oil in the center. Season with salt, pepper, and garlic powder, or whatever herbs you like. Place the potatoes on the oil and wrap it up. The oil will move around the potato while it cooks, keep it moist and the seasonings will add flavor. Place them anywhere on your grill that isn’t in the way. If you need your grill really hot it is best to place them away from the high heat, like off to the side. Your baked potatoes are done when a fork pierces to the center easily. 

Happy grilling!

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Monday, October 4, 2010

Happy Mid-Autumn Festival!

I married into a conventional Chinese family, more traditional than my own; in doing so, I have been thrust into participating in ancient Chinese customs and celebrating numerous Chinese festivals.  Chinese culture is rich in cultural customs and deeply embedded in traditional festivals. Just like Christmas and Thanksgiving in the West,  the Mid-Autumn Festival is one of the few most important holidays in the Chinese calendar, the other being Chinese New Year.  It is a holiday to celebrate togetherness of the family, and is a legal holiday in several countries..

The best part of Mid-Autumn Festival is the merriment that comes with playing the dice game.  The Moon Cake Festival dice game originated in Southern Fujian, China, where most of the ancestors of the local Chinese migrated from.  It is a busy social month for my family every September as we get invited to several dice games; it seems that everyone is organizing one… the swim parents, C’s Tuesday group, B’s good friend from school, the beautiful moms from R’s pre-school, but we always look forward to the one organized by C’s side of the family. 
The family's festive proceedings is always jump-started with a sumptuous Chinese lauriat lunch.  After being satiated and when the tables are all cleared, everyone gathers on all sides of the table, around a ceramic bowl with 6 dice in it.  There is no limit to the number of participants – the more, the merrier.  Everyone take turns throwing the dice into the bowl with hopes of getting the “zhung yuan” - the grand prize! 

The game itself does not follow any strict rules; it is no wonder that the rules vary as you participate in one dice game to the next.  But the one thing that is constant is that there are prizes for everyone! Even unlucky ones still get consolation prizes, so everybody goes home happy.  Traditionally, mooncakes and hopia are being given as prizes.  As the years passed, the mooncake and hopia as prizes have evolved into more practical items like school supplies, toiletries, snacks, toys and sometimes, even cash. Whoever wins the 1st prize is considered to be lucky and would have a great and fruitful year ahead.
Enjoy the food, the game, the prizes, and the laughter!  Happy mid-autumn festival!

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Friday, October 1, 2010

Adidas King of the Road 2010

The Adidas King Of The Road is always one of the most anticipated races year after year.  Not only are the race singlet the best in terms of quality and design, the race itself is also very well-organized.  The yellow race bib from last year's race has been worn numerous times, shared by myself and J, when she does land training. 

I haven't been joining a lot of races this year, preferring instead to just run solo.  Alternatively, when I feel like it I do an hour of tae-bo early in morning after dropping off the kids at school.    The registration fee is absurd these days... gone are the days when you just have to fork out P250.  I do not think I can find myself handing out P850 for a race.  Yeah, that's me - cheapo! :)

So while, I am still contemplating about joining, you should consider signing up ASAP if you are determined to join this race.  There is always a mad dash for the Adidas race singlets.  Hurry because singlets are on a first come first serve basis. Once they run out of shirts, the P850 race kit will contain everything else except the singlet.

Here is the press release:
It’s time for the biggest run once again! Adidas Philippines is inviting everyone to participate in the Adidas King of the Road (KOTR) happening on October 24, 2010  at the Fort Bonifacio Global City. Register for 5k, 10k or 21k for 850PHP. It’s a first come, first serve basis.

Enjoy side activities and mini events prepared exclusively for all participants during the race -foot scans, an adidas photo wall, massage and stretching areas, adidas sale and mini programs and concert. Buffet breakfast meals will be served.

Each race kit will contain a unique black singlet that comes with a timing chip that will help you improve your run, a race bib, a reflective slap strap, race routes/ maps, a timing band and guidelines. Be faster and level UP to your game.

You may register at the following participating stores:
RUNNR, RUNNR Cebu, adidas Trinoma, adidas Greenbelt, adidas Rockwell, adidas Ayala Center Cebu, adidas Gateway, adidas Glorietta, adidas Shangri-la, adidas Eastwood, adidas Alabang Town Center and adidas Newport City.