Screen-Free Week is coming – can you go a week without screens?

Today’s post is by Children’s Librarian Lauren:

“Have I told you all about the time that I got sucked into a hole through a handheld device?” So goes a lyric on the Arctic Monkeys’ technologically ambivalent album Tranquility Base Hotel and Casino. This line repeats in my head every time I find an hour of my life has been lost to compulsively scrolling through Instagram or following clickbait articles. So much of our lives is mediated through screens, and the side effects aren’t always as light as lost time and an earworm. Night-time screen use has been linked to insomnia, and studies are linking excessive social media use to anxiety and depression.

For kids too young for Snapchat, studies have tied screen use to developmental delays. The American Association of Pediatrics recommends no screen time for kids under 18 months and 1 hour max for kids under 5 years old. The more time toddlers spend silently watching screens, the less time they spend talking, playing, moving, and learning. Likewise, the more time parents and caregivers spend with screens, the less time we have to facilitate those crucial experiences for our kids.

To combat the negative effects of screen-based entertainment, some folks came up with Screen-Free Week, an annual week of unplugging and re-discovering the joys of real life fun. From Monday, April 29 to Sunday, May 5, families and individuals will be closeting the iPads and shutting off the backseat DVD players. Sound like something your family could try? Here’s some ideas on how to amuse yourselves while the screens are away:

Be bored! Boredom provides kids with an opportunity to get creative. Lin-Manuel Miranda – the creator of Hamilton and one of the most creative folks around – fondly recalls being left to his own non-screen devices. If you’re not up to writing an award-winning musical, though, provide your family with open-ended materials like art supplies, the contents of the junk drawer, and your backyard. Here are a few ideas to get you started:

Clash your clans in a fantasy book! Look in the kids section for the blue sticker with a unicorn. Magic Tree House and Percy Jackson are classics that work as family read-alouds, or check out a new book like The Cryptid Catcher. We also love us some Neil Gaiman, especially Coraline, a delightfully creepy tale that begins with a super-bored girl who, to put it mildly, finds a way to amuse herself.

Go outside for a walk! This is one of the best times of year to hang out around the canal trail, when birds who migrated south are coming back and starting to make nests for the spring. You can see turtles, beavers, and snakes at Lock 12, and in the last couple weeks I saw diving kingfishers, big herons, and colorful wood ducks in the new section of trail north of West Main Street. Sleeping Giant State Park is still closed from tornado damage, but nearby Brooksvale Park has salamanders, frogs, and even farm animals, as well as easy hiking trails. The library has free maps of local trails, as well as wildlife guides for kids and adults to borrow.

Take advantage of the spring birds & blooms that are popping up all over this time of year, as close as your own back yard! Ask little kids to point out colors, compare sizes, and count petals on flowers. Explain pollination and photosynthesis to big kids – or, better yet, let them explain it to you. See how many different kinds of birds you can spot.

Take a break from Allrecipes and Epicurious, and follow a recipe from a book! Whether tacos or teiglach are more your speed, you can find a ton of family-friendly recipes in cookbooks designed especially for kids. Some cookbooks specialize in classics and others offer a history of food. Wherever your interests lie, head to the 641s for your cooking needs.

After you’ve cleaned up the kitchen and the kids are busy writing their own history-based raps, you might have a few minutes during Screen-Free Week for some adults-only reading:

Will you be participating in screen-free week from April 29 to May 5?

Little Starlings

I am a deep introvert. I’m perfectly fine talking only to the cat or TV. Hence, when my son was born, I figured if I didn’t start talking to him, he’d never learn to talk (my first mistake), and thus began thirty years of talking to myself and narrating what I’m doing.

Research published in the book Meaningful Differences, by Betty Hart and Todd R. Risley, showed a direct link between the number of words a child heard at home by the age of three, and their academic performance in Grade 3 (the age of 8). Children in poor/welfare homes heard, on average, 600 words an hour. Children of working-class homes heard 1200, and children of professional parents heard 2100. That racked up to children of professional parents hearing 30 million more words by the age of three than a poor child. So?

Exposure becomes verbal fluency. Verbal fluency is required for reading proficiency, and reading proficiency is required for academic proficiency.  The child who has minimal language is going to lag far behind on reading and academics.

How many words is your child really hearing?

Based on these studies, along comes VersaMe’s Starling, a handy-dandy little device that tracks just how many words your baby hears during the day.  It’s just a little clip-on star that records the number of words a baby hears, not the actual words (no one will hunt you down because of what you said when that [jerk] cut you off ). It’s convenient, easily rechargeable, and holds a charge for up to three days, so you don’t have to worry about plugging it in every night. It uses Bluetooth technology to report in real time to your smartphone, so you can track as you go. The clip is rather strong – the first day, it took my 14 month old 4 hours to wrestle it free, and by the next day, she wasn’t paying it any attention. It is fully waterproof, drool proof, and not particularly chewable, which was nice.

The first day we broke 10,000 words, the second day 11,000, and the third day for some reason, even though we went to a party with lots of people talking to her, it didn’t record, which was disappointing. Our best was 16,000.

Per day, 11,000 words seems like a lot, but when you figure the child is only awake 12-14 hours, and take out an average of three hours for naps, we didn’t even hit Middle-Class. Yet, I have a toddler who is off the charts in vocabulary and language skills.  Even the authors of the original study admit that quantity is nothing in the face of quality. Ten minutes spent reading a book with your child will go farther than three hours of TV.  And no, Starling can’t differentiate between people and TV.

Should you try Starling?

If you are a new parent with questions, if you’re the parent of a developmentally delayed child, if you’re just curious about yourself, then by all means give the Starling a try. It’s easy, it’s fun, and interesting to see the results. But remember, worrying about arbitrary marks isn’t good. Children, toddlers, babies all need critical down time to process all that information they’re learning.  Imagine someone following you around talking to you every waking second. You’d lock yourself in the bathroom for just 5 minutes of quiet. Your baby is no different. Language is important, but so is quiet alone time.

Starling is fun. It’s informative. Use it as an investigative tool, maybe increase some quality time or have an extra imaginary conversation on a play phone. If you want to try out a Starling, you can borrow one from the library.

For a helpful look on the making of brilliance and achievement, check out Malcolm Gladwell’s Outliers. For a fascinating look on the importance of auditory language, check out I Can Hear You Whisper: An Intimate Journey Through the science of Sound and Language (it’s not as sciency as it sounds), by Lydia Denworth. It’s awesome!

Checking Your Flu

It’s almost impossible to get through the winter without hearing about the flu. While we often use the word flu to describe any miserable feverish head cold, a cold (rhinovirus) is NOT the same as the flu (influenza). A head cold is 10 days of misery. Flu will disable you for weeks, if not outright kill you.

Flu shots are a government conspiracy. I got the shot and still got the flu.

Preventing death and permanent disability is not a conspiracy. Complications of a cold include sinus and ear infections, asthma, or rarely pneumonia. The most common complication of the flu is pneumonia – the #4 killer world-wide, but can also leave you with organ damage or failure,  encephalitis, and even sepsis. If you get the flu shot and then feel lousy, it’s not flu; it’s your body charging up its antibodies. If you get a flu shot and then get a cold, it’s not the flu. Recombinant flu vaccines don’t even contain flu. CAN you get the flu after getting a flu shot? Of course you can, the same way you seem to get the same cold every year. Here’s why:

Is there more than one type of flu?

There are actually three flu viruses, A, B, and C. A is common, B less so, C mild and rare. Each type has two parts: the hemaglutinin protein (the H) and an enzyme to let it reproduce (the N, for neuraminidase). There are 18 types of H’s and 11 types of N’s – thousands of combinations of H1N1’s, H2N3’s, H6N4’s. Now, not all of these can be caught by people (some are limited to animals), but viruses can mutate and change very rapidly. With all those combinations, the Centers for Disease Control have to make a best guess at what flu will prevail that winter, and make enough vaccine a year in advance. If your shot is for N1H1, and you catch H2N3 – you’ve got flu. Better flu shots (called trivalent or quadravalent) will give you immunity to the top three or four likely flus, quadrupling your chances of staying healthy. Even if you do manage to get a flu, your partial immunity will give you a much milder case.

What are the odds I will get the flu?

What are your chances? In the winter of 2016-17, more than 2500 Connecticut residents showed up at the Emergency Department for flu-like illnesses. 80% of those were type A, and of those , 98% of them were of the H3N2 variety (the others were the old H1N1). Sixty-five of them died. That’s not a total of reported cases; that’s just how many wound up hospitalized. If you have diabetes, heart problems, take immune suppressors, pregnant, sickle cell disease, cancer treatment, are over 65 or under 2, you are considered high risk. If someone in your family or workplace fits these categories, you are placing them at risk.

Now, of course, some years are worse for flu than others. The biggie was 1918, when the H1N1 (yes, that same one you’re getting vaccinated for right now) had a new mutation to a form no one had ever had before, and it became a world-wide pandemic for two years, killing as many as 50 million people. Fifty. 5-0. Million. The next major flu was 1957 Asian flu (H2N2), which killed two million people. The 1968 Hong Kong flu (H3N2) killed more than a million. That’s not counting disabled, or lost 30 days from work, or sick as a dog. That’s the number dead.

Why do so many flus start in Asia?

Many flu strains are animal-only. They’re limited to birds, or horses, or pigs. In Asia, people, chickens, and pigs are often living in close or crowded conditions, and many Asian cities are very densely populated. Pigs are very similar to people in their genetic makeup (surgeons can use pig organs in people for short times). A bird flu can mutate and jump to pigs, and from pigs it doesn’t take a lot of mutation to become a Human flu. This is why scientists worry every time there’s a breakout of swine flu or bird flu, and millions of animals may be slaughtered to keep it from spreading. All it takes is a new mutation to start a mega-deadly 1918-style pandemic.

Should everyone get a flu shot?

So who should NOT get a flu shot? Check with your doctor first if you’ve got Guillain-Barre Syndrome, if you have immune disorders such as HIV, children on aspirin therapy, severe egg allergies, people with certain metabolic disorders, if you have kidney disease or severe respiratory issues. Sometimes it’s worth the risk, sometimes it’s not, depending on the year.

Washing your hands constantly remains the next-best flu preventative. And while you’re avoiding the flu, or perhaps recovering from it, check out these really awesome books on the flu (I’ve read them!) – and some excellent (scary) novels on flu (check for movie versions, too!) :

            

                 

                   

Hiking Cheshire and Beyond

Cheshire residents have the good fortune to live in a town that is home to 2,000 acres of open space, much of which is accessible to the public. The Town maintains 10 properties where hiking is allowed. Trail maps of these properties are available at the library, on both the main and lower levels – as well as online at the Cheshire Planning Department web page . The non-profit Cheshire Land Trust also maintains properties in town with hiking trails.

Additionally, the Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection (DEEP) website features trail maps to state parks and forests, while on the national level, the National Park Service website offers hiking opportunities throughout the country.

Trail maps are available at the library for the following properties: Boulder Knoll, Casertano, Cheshire Park, DeDominicis, Dime Savings, Farmington Canal, Mixville Hills, Quinnipiac Park River Walk, Roaring Brook, and Ten Mile Lowlands. These maps are also available at the Town Hall Lobby.

Cheshire Public Library does offer many trail books about hiking in Connecticut, New England and across the U.S. Summer is the perfect time to enjoy the great outdoors, and here is a sampling of the books available at CPL.

The green guide to low-impact hiking and camping

America’s great hiking trails

Hiking through history : New England : exploring the region’s past by trail

AMC’s best day hikes in Connecticut : four-season guide to 50 of the best day hikes from the Highlands to the coast

Best hikes of the Appalachian Trail : New England

The National Parks Coast to Coast : 100 Best Hikes

Hiking Connecticut and Rhode Island

Happy trails!

How to Fall Asleep

sleepingWho wouldn’t like a better night’s sleep? In today’s over-connected, 24/7 society, we could all use a little more shut-eye. The Mayo Clinic makes the following recommendations for getting a better night’s sleep:

  • Keep your bedtime and wake time consistent from day to day, including weekends.
  • Stay active — regular activity helps promote a good night’s sleep.
  • Check your medications to see if they may contribute to insomnia.
  • Avoid or limit naps.
  • Avoid or limit caffeine and alcohol, and don’t use nicotine.
  • Avoid large meals and beverages before bedtime.
  • Make your bedroom comfortable for sleep and only use it for sex or sleep.
  • Create a relaxing bedtime ritual, such as taking a warm bath, reading or listening to soft music.

If you’d like more in-depth suggestions, try these titles.

jacket-aspxThe sleep revolution : transforming your life, one night at a time / Arianna Huffington (Book)
Scientific recommendations and expert tips on how we can all achieve better and more restorative sleep, and learn how to make the power of sleep work for us.

 

Good night : the sleep doctor’s 4-week program to better sleep and better health / Michael Breus (Book)
Learn how to identify your sleep issues and what you can do about it.

Sleep smarter : 21 essential strategies to sleep your way to a better body, better health, and bigger success / Shawn Stevenson (Book & eBook)
A 14-day plan with tips and tricks like the exact time of day to exercise for better sleep quality, what to wear to avoid waking up at night, and ways to fall asleep faster.