Taking children out of school for family vacations is illegal in many (probably most) school districts in the US, Canada, Great Britain and Australia. Most school districts have specific policies regarding absences for reasons other than illness. Some districts allow a limited number of days (usually fewer than four) for such activities – if permission is obtained beforehand. Parents who ignore the rules can be summoned to court and fined and children may be obliged to attend summer school. However, such punishment is rarely carried out. In Great Britain, attendance officers sometimes check airports and railroad stations in the days before vacations for children traveling while school is still in session.
Yet surveys suggest that parents fairly regularly ignore the rules. On Google, the topic “Taking children out of school for vacations” has 169,000,000 responses! Here are some representative responses, from parents, educators, pediatricians, and psychologists.
● The leading reasons for parents taking children on vacation during school time are significantly lower travel costs and a parent’s vacation time falling while school is in session.
● The decision to take a child out of school should be based on the grade the child is in, the child’s scholastic abilities, whether essential lessons will be missed, the child’s feelings about missing school, the philosophy of the teacher(s) on the subject, and the school’s policy. Likely, children in lower grades will miss little essential work – though this is an assumption.
● A child being absent from school disrupts the class and increases the workload for teachers. Some children are out for a week or two for travel. For the family, a child out of school is one absence. For the teacher of a class of 20 or 30, there may be numerous absences during the school year. This means repeating lessons and assigning and checking makeup work, slowing learning for everyone. The class should not be held back for absences that are not essential.
● I wonder if the people who think that it is a mortal sin to take children out of school for well thought out family trips are aware that a cornerstone of modern education is that all children do not learn the same way. Many high schools today have buildings where the students spend little time and where books and blackboards merely supplement other forms of learning.
● What are you teaching children when you swap a week of school for a sunny beach? They learn that attendance, and by extension, education, isn’t a priority. Schooling needs to come first, and nothing, not even deals on a Disney cruise, trumps attending school.
● I teach in a top rated junior high school in an affluent community. I am appalled by how often parents tell me (they don’t ask me) that the student will be absent for an upcoming trip. And I am appalled by how often the parents and students tell me that the trip is “educational” when in fact it is absolutely not. We teachers laugh about these lies in the teacher’s lunchroom. The lies show a total lack of respect for teachers.
● Travel should be an integral part of a child’s education. A semester overseas is becoming the norm at colleges and universities. Younger children should be encouraged to travel, obviously during vacation time if at all possible. However, taking meaningful, short trips – to historical places or capital cities, or with exposure to a different culture, for example – trumps missing a few days of school.
● Children have more than three months of vacation a year. Surely, parents should be able to find time for travel and visiting relatives in that time frame. Perhaps travel during vacation time is a bit more expensive, but these are facts of life, a lesson that young children have to learn to become responsible adults.
● When you take children out of school for unauthorized reasons, do you level with the teachers or do you make up excuses – a family emergency, for example? Once you get started on the road of deceit with the school, and worse, if your kids are old enough to understand what you are doing, what appears to be merely a few days of playing hooky (unauthorized absence) ends up being a big lie.
● I am a forty-year old mother. My two children attend junior high school. Somewhere in my junior high school years my father attended a conference in Athens, Greece. I was taken out of school to go along, probably for a week or so. When I think of my junior high school years, Athens is the first thing that I remember.
● In our school, the administration is supportive of short trips during school time. When the children return they are expected to give a talk on their experiences and bring back pictures and typical objects to show. Possible negative fallout from this is that other children are envious of the ones traveling. Remarks heard – probably emanating from their parents – are that the kids who travel are rich and spoiled.
● A significant issue in our school district is teachers “calling in sick”, usually before a school holiday, to extend their time off. Not a good example for parents and children.
● One advantage of home schooling children – an option that seems to be increasing in popularity – is that you can take your children anywhere at any time. Their education travels with them.
Do your summer plans include plans to protect your kids from the sun?
1. Summer vacations increase sun exposure. (So do winter vacations in snow country.) While you may be savvy about protecting your kids from everyday sun-related hazards, summer vacations add numerous factors to contend with: more hours of sun per day, more time spent outdoors, more intense harmful UV (ultraviolet) radiation, being at the beach or around pools, being closer to the equator, higher altitudes and children taking medication that may enhance sunburns, to mention just a few. All these factors require additional protection.
2. Most parents are too complacent about sunburns in children. Most burns are mild and heal relatively rapidly; symptoms are rarely severe and there is little or no visible scarring. In fact, the sun’s intense ultraviolet radiation on children’s vulnerable skin causes irreversible damage to the DNA in skin cells. This sets off a cascade of negative effects.
3. Intense, intermittent sun exposure, the kind that occurs on summer vacations, has a worse prognosis than constant tanning. Melanomas, the most serious type of skin cancer, are associated with such exposure. The worse the burn and the younger the age of the child at the time of the burn, the earlier in adulthood melanomas may occur. In a lifetime, two percent of the population experiences melanomas.
4. Familiarize yourself with the UV Index. Daily readings of sun intensity are available on the web for every location in the US, Canada, UK and Australia. Forecasts include predictions for the following days and give recommendations for minimizing skin damage based on the day’s sun intensity. See UV Index.
5. June is a risky month for skin damage. In the northern hemisphere, the sun is almost directly above and shines the most hours. Skin may be especially vulnerable as tans from the previous season, which may offer some protection, have faded. Cool weather plays no role in sun intensity. Intentionally tanning skin at the onset of summer to protect from subsequent burning is counterproductive. Each tan is a mild sunburn and damages the skin. Damage is cumulative for life.
6. Skimpy beach attire has no place in the sun. Dressing up for the beach may be a nuisance but traditional “protective” beach apparel – white T-shirts, for example, especially when wet – provide virtually no protection. Clothing that is virtually 100% protective is available. The more skin covered by such clothing, the greater the protection and the less the need for sunscreens. Infants less than six months of age should be kept out of the sun.
7. Sunscreens are essential for exposed skin, but no panacea. Sunscreens merely slow down tanning, they do not eliminate it. Many parents erroneously believe that sunscreens prevent burning/tanning, and allow children to stay in the sun for prolonged periods of time. Sunscreens are rarely applied correctly. Generally, far too little is applied and it is reapplied too infrequently. Applying the correct amount is expensive. When applying, don’t forget to protect ears, lips, necks, scalp and hands. Sunscreens’ effectiveness is reduced by water, perspiration, wind, humidity and other factors. Occasionally, sunscreens cause rashes. For more information on the use of sunscreens on children go to: http://www.cdc.gov/cancer/skin/basic_info/children.htm
8. Eye protection is as important as skin protection. Infants’ eyes absorb more harmful radiation than do adults’. Ideally, infants should wear sunglasses or stay out of the sun to reduce the risk of cataracts in later life. Get sunglasses that wrap around towards the ears to protect the sensitive skin of the eyelids. Avoid “fun” or “novelty” sunglasses. These are marketed for young children for fun but offer no protection. Buy sunglasses at reputable stores that sell eyeglasses. Be mindful that having infants keep sunglasses on is challenging. See kidstraveldoc/sunglasses.
9. Other protective measures. Hats with four-inch brims help protect the eyes, neck and forehead. Have sunshades on strollers; some specifically block radiation. Being in the shade of a building but having a blue sky or fluffy white clouds directly above offers little protection. Being under a beach umbrella protects from direct radiation but allows considerable radiation reflected from water and sand. Dirt, grass and concrete reflect comparatively little radiation.
10. People of color are less likely than Caucasians to develop melanomas. But when they do occur, the outcome is worse. The reasons: a misconception that dark-skinned people do not get skin cancer and the difficulty in recognizing melanomas in dark skin.
Miscellaneous. Many over-the-counter and prescription medications including ibuprofen (Motrin, Advil), antihistamines, and anti-acne substances can increase skin sensitivity to the sun, worsening burns. Ask your pharmacist or check the web for more information. UV rays penetrate three feet (one meter) or more of water placing water sport participants at risk. If sun exposure is unavoidable for infants less than six months of age, make the exposure as brief as possible and use the same protection measures (clothing and sunscreens) as for older children. Such protection is safer than risking sunburns. Check the expiration date on sunscreens. Products lose potency after a year or so. Storage at high temperatures also decreases potency.
Do your kids know when to hug a tree?
1. When planning family travel and outdoor activities, include telling young children what to do if they lose sight of you. (Avoid the word “lost;” It seems to scare children.) Generally, young children panic when they don’t see you and realize that they are in an unfamiliar setting. They look all around and then run as fast as they can in whatever direction they happen to be facing. This greatly complicates retrieving them. Being lost is an extremely frightening experience for young children, often remembered into adulthood.
2. Teach them to stay put when they don’t see you. Tell them that you will be right back. The “Hug a Tree” program teaches them to literally hug the nearest tree, enabling you to retrace your steps to reunite. Hugging a tree may also help reassure them that the situation is under control. Or teach them “Freeze,” a game in which children run about until a designated caller yells, “Freeze!” The children stop in their tracks (freeze) and remain in place until someone gives the all-clear signal. Play this game with them.
3. Or tell them to approach “another mommy” (a woman with a young child). Mommies are easily identifiable by young children and easy for them to relate to. Telling them to approach security personnel and police officers is obviously OK, but such people may be more difficult for young children to identify and to feel comfortable with.
4. Try not to frighten children when speaking to them about “becoming separated.” Intermingle your message with reminders of the fun they will be having wherever you are going. Tell them that sometimes you, the parent, can become separated from them, and that if that happens you will return promptly. And don’t scold them when you find them. Use the situation as a teaching opportunity. Tell them what you and they did wrong to have created the predicament.
5. Envision situations where separation may occur. Elevators are one example. Children run into elevators as soon as doors open, and the doors may close before you get in. They should hold your hand when entering. Should they find themselves riding alone, they should remain in the elevator until it returns to your floor. Otherwise, they usually get off as soon as the door reopens, often on another floor. Pressing the elevator button will return the elevator to your floor eventually.
6. Pin identification tags on young children. In crowded areas attach a tag with your cell phone number to the child’s outer clothing. Law enforcement officials say such identification speeds reuniting parent and children, and in no way encourages abduction. Random abduction of children from public places is an extremely rare occurrence, says the FBI, and is usually committed by family members. Stories that this happens frequently at amusement parks, airports, and other such venues are untrue.
7. Place a leash on toddlers. You may get some disapproving stares and, rarely, some uncalled for sarcastic remarks from total strangers, but leashes do prevent toddlers from wandering off. They are especially helpful if you have an active child or more than one toddler in your charge. See KidsTravelDoc/Leashes.
8. Electronic surveillance systems allow you to “see” your children when you cannot. Most consist of a transmitter and receiver. Transmitters are lightweight, may resemble small teddy bears, and attach to a child’s clothing. You hold the receiver. Transmitters send signals if a child wanders further than a predetermined distance. Receivers have maps that display the direction and distance of the location where the child is at that moment, and may have a beeper that becomes louder as you approach the child. Some receivers can activate the transmitter to set off a loud alarm to alert adults in the vicinity of the lost child. See KidsTravelDoc/Surveillance Systems.
9. For older children, check that they understand where you will meet them. They may not be listening when you tell them, especially if they are excited about the place you are visiting. Write down the meeting point and see that they put the paper into their pocket. Check out the meeting point. Stores and arenas may have more than one exit. Landmarks change from one visit to the next. Many amusement park rides have exits not in view from the entrance. Cell phones are invaluable for helping older kids reunite after becoming separated. In wooded areas consider supplying them with a whistle.
10. Report missing children to security officials immediately. Don’t spend time searching alone. Most public places have protocols for missing children alerts including security personnel with two-way radios and surveillance cameras. Report back to security when you find your child. Dressing children in items that stand out in crowds helps find them. If you have more than one child, dress them identically. And once they are dressed for the day’s outing, take a picture of them so that you can show security personnel in the event you become separated.
In restaurants where you question the sanitation, choose foods that arrive at your table too hot to eat immediately.
1. This rule is especially important when visiting developing countries. In such countries, intestinal illnesses among travelers are quite common. Most of the illnesses are due to viruses and other intestinal disease-causing microorganisms present in the food you eat. The neatness of an establishment, how busy it is, or who eats there are not particularly reliable guides for judging sanitation.
2. Sufficient heat kills organisms. The fact that food is piping hot tells you that it has just been heated to a temperature sufficient to kill the organisms, and that the food did not remain standing after preparation to be contaminated by flies or people’s hands. (Very rare exceptions to this rule are large reef fish found in the tropics: snapper, grouper, amberjack and others. These fish occasionally produce toxins resistant to heat. Properly prepared smaller fish are safe.)
3. Don’t contaminate your own food. The worse the sanitation, the more important becomes hand washing. Disease-causing organisms may be present on objects in gift shops, doorknobs, faucets in restrooms, and on peoples’ hands you shake. Soap and water is the best way to sanitize hands. Alcohol-containing hand cleansers are generally adequate when soap and water is unavailable.
4. Choose items such as hot soups and stews containing only small pieces of solids. Large pieces may remain insufficiently cooked in the center. Thin omelets and items boiled in oil or water are generally safe.
5. Avoid items that are difficult to clean in the kitchen. Removing all particles of soil from leafy vegetables is near impossible. Soil is a frequent reservoir for organisms. (Some major hotels in developing countries soak vegetables in disinfectant solution, making them safer to eat.) Avoid fruit that has been peeled by someone else. Peel your own fruit – after washing your hands.
6. Also avoid hors d’oeuvres, sandwiches and other items that require much handling in the kitchen. Food handlers in poor countries rarely use gloves, use gloves incorrectly, or may not have access to soap and water. Hors d’oeuvres and such are often prepared hours before serving, contain numerous ingredients including raw vegetables, and may be stored at room temperature.
Foods that ” turn” your stomach do not necessarily upset your stomach. Properly prepared and stored ultra exotic items such as snake soup, earthworms and insects may be difficult to get past your lips but are no more likely to make you ill than equally well prepared hamburgers, pizza and chicken wings.
7. Be among the first in line at buffets, especially outdoor ones in the tropics. Buffet-type food requires much handling to prepare and then remains on tables for hours, increasing the risk of lapses in sanitation. Outdoors, food is exposed to heat and insects. Placing large casseroles on beds of ice does not ensure sufficient cooling of the upper layers. Sternos may keep food only lukewarm. Desserts are generally eaten last, but are often placed on the table at the same time as other items. Organisms multiply rapidly in creamy products.
8. Never season foods with uncooked spices.The methods used for gathering, preparation and storage of spices contribute to contamination by rodents and insects. Folklore in Mexico and elsewhere claims that spicy sauces and lemon juice kill organisms and make food safe. Not so. Only spices added before cooking are safe. Be leery of dips such as guacamole; they often contain raw vegetables.
9. In poor countries street food deserves its negative reputation,says the World Health Organization (WHO). While the food may be appealing, authentic and cheap, sanitation is a serious problem. Stalls, carts and equipment are generally dilapidated and virtually impossible to keep clean. Vendors have little or no knowledge of sanitation, buy the least expensive raw products available, lack refrigeration, and rarely have access to safe water for cooking, dishwashing or hand washing.
Ceviche, a cold, raw fish soup popular in parts of South America and often served by street vendors, causes more intestinal illness than any other single food anywhere, says the WHO. To start, fish are often caught in nearby polluted water.
10. “Conventional/unexciting” restaurants may be safer than “quaint” local ones. International hotel chains, for example, have strict rules on avoiding food contamination and have experts overseeing operations: buying from reliable retailers, purifying water, using refrigeration and mechanical dishwashers, and teaching employees the principles of hygiene, for example. But power outages, difficulty in maintaining equipment, and staff vague on hygiene require careful food selection even at such restaurants.
You can avoid most of the errors in sanitation made in local restaurants by preparing your own food when traveling. Many hotels that cater to families offer kitchen facilities. Many children who find food shopping at home “boring” find it is fun overseas.
With spring and summer just around the corner, it’s time to review how you protect your kids (and yourself) from mosquito bites. While most bites are merely annoying, there is a tiny percentage of mosquitoes that carry disease-causing viruses, a percentage that may be increasing slightly with the emergence of Zika, West Nile and other viruses.
1. Your first line of defense against bites is ridding your surroundings of mosquitoes. This was the subject of our previous posting. To read it, go to http://kidstraveldoc.com/global-warmingdisease-carrying-mosquitoesprotecting-children/
Next is the use of insect repellents. Applying repellents and doing it correctly is not fun and games for children – or for you. It is time consuming, messy, expensive and annoying for all involved. Prepare yourself for frowns and complaints.
2. Use repellents containing one of the following active ingredients.
No repellent bears the name of these ingredients. Check ingredient labels to see if they are present. These repellents have been tested and approved by government agencies, are safe for young children when used correctly, and are effective against mosquitoes – and some against ticks, fleas, and chiggers. (Repellents offer minimum, if any, protection against bees, wasps and hornets.) Little is known about the safety and effectiveness of the numerous other products on the market. Anyone can produce a substance and call it a repellent.
3. Read application instructions carefully. Check lower age limits and recommended concentrations of ingredients. DEET, for example, should not be used on infants less than two months of age; oil of lemon eucalyptus, not on infants under 3 years. The skin of young children is especially permeable to substances applied to it. DEET is the only approved repellent that comes in various concentrations; for children, use products that contain between 20 and 30% DEET.
4. The terms “natural” and “chemical free” have little meaning. Oil of lemon eucalyptus, for example, is “natural.” However, this doesn’t make it safer/better than repellents formulated in laboratories. (Poison ivy and deadly mushrooms are 100% natural. Vitamin C taken from oranges is identical to that synthesized by chemists.)
5. To apply repellents, smear or spray products on your hands and then rub it on your child’s skin. No need to place it under clothing; long pants and sleeves reduce the amount of repellent required. Wash off when no longer needed. Thin coats suffice; thicker coats do not increase protection. Avoid eyes, mouth, wounds or rashes. If accidentally applied to such areas, rinse with soap and water. Apply outdoors or in well-ventilated indoor areas. Seek help immediately if a child swallows a repellent.
6. Avoid products that combine insect repellents and sunscreens. While many situations call for both, the intervals of applications and other considerations make combinations impractical. Generally, apply sunscreens at least twenty minutes before exposure. Apply repellents just before going outside. Repellents may reduce the effectiveness of sunscreens. If both are needed, consider using a stronger sunscreen.
7. Familiarize yourself with one or two repellents. Products come in the form of lotions, creams, gels, aerosols, sticks and towelettes. Contact manufacturers, if necessary; most have websites. Know how long protection lasts; duration of effectiveness is generally shortened by hot weather, perspiration, swimming and other factors. Know how to store repellents. Most products have expiration dates. Using extremely old repellent may cause skin irritation and rashes.
8. It is not practical to use repellents on children every minute they are outdoors. Base your decision on season of the year, amount of vegetation in the play area, and amount of time the child spends outdoors. Check with local authorities regarding insect control programs, mosquito activity forecasts, and disease alerts. Mosquitoes are most active around dawn and dusk.
9. Use permethrin on clothing. Permethrin helps prevent insects from crawling under or biting through clothing. Once correctly applied, permethrin remains effective on clothing through many washings. Permethrin can also be sprayed on camping gear such as tents. Use permethrin for visits to areas with heavy concentrations of insects, like swamps and woods.
10. Miscellaneous. Buy repellents at home before traveling overseas. Especially in developing countries, products may be counterfeited and labels may not be in English. Repellents may be confiscated at airports if in carry-on baggage. Tell children to avoid areas that attract insects, garbage cans, flowerbeds and orchards, for example. Spray products may be flammable, should not be inhaled or used near food. Stop using a repellent if children start scratching or develop a rash.
Blame global warming and world travel for the hullabaloo about protecting your family from biting mosquitoes.
1. Mosquitoes love global warming. Higher temperatures allow them to multiply more rapidly and expand their habitat. It may also make them more robust and, in temperate climates, lengthen their breeding seasons – and their biting seasons.
2. Travel brings new diseases from the tropics to your ever warmer, more mosquito-friendly backyard. Mosquitoes thrive in the tropics. So do viruses (and other disease-causing organisms). Mosquitoes spread their viruses only locally. Until recently, many mosquitoes and viruses were mostly confined to remote, rarely visited areas in the tropics. Now mosquitoes, some carrying viruses, hitch rides on airplanes and, within days, establish a beachhead in your backyard. The viruses can also reach your neighborhood via already infected returning travelers. Local mosquitoes can do the rest.
3. Ridding your neighborhood of mosquitoes, not repellants, should be your first line of defense. While repellents are important, applying them correctly and safely, especially on infants, is time consuming, expensive, messy, not foolproof and raises some health issues. (Repellents for infants and children will be the subject of our next posting.)
4. Know your local mosquitoes’ biting patterns and the diseases they may carry. Seasonally, biting begins soon after trees commence blooming and ends with the first frost. Mosquitoes breed in standing water and rarely fly far from their breeding grounds. Each species has a different time of day for peak biting activity, but generally the peak is around sunrise and sunset. Check with your department of health. Stay indoors at such times when mosquito-borne disease alerts are in effect.
5. Eliminate standing water in your neighborhood. Check that authorities apply chemicals to kill larvae in ponds, reflecting pools and other bodies of still water. Sometimes fish are placed in water to eat larvae. Keep family members with serious respiratory issues indoors during aerial sprayings. Health departments will supply dates and times. Report standing water in empty lots and uninhabited houses.
6. Eliminate standing water in your immediate surroundings. Mosquitoes breed in poorly maintained swimming pools and in standing water on tarpaulins covering pools. Empty children’s wading pools and birdbaths at least once a week. Check backyard toys, abandoned tires, flowerpots, and even bottle caps for standing water.
7. Dress children in appropriate clothing so you need to apply less insect repellent. Repellents need not be applied under clothing. Tuck shirts into pants and pants into socks. Have children wear closed shoes. Use head nets if you venture into areas such as salt marshes with high mosquito populations.
8. “Bug proof” your house/apartment. Cover gaps in walls. Use weather stripping under doors. Check bathroom exhausts. Make sure windows and chimneys are properly screened. Remove piles of wet leaves from yards and roof eaves. Air conditioning and fans are effective deterrents; mosquitoes prefer warmth and dislike turbulent air. Fans are effective on porches and terraces.
9. Be leery of devices that claim to repel mosquitoes. Sound and light devices attract mosquitoes to the device, but then attack people near the device, possibly increasing the risk of being bitten. Products that emit vapors may be harmful if inhaled indoors over prolonged periods of time, especially by children. Outdoors, vapor effectiveness varies depending on wind direction and other factors. Ultrasonic gadgets include products that are designed to be worn around the neck or wrist, or attached to a belt, to repel mosquitoes. The devices create sounds that mimic male mosquitoes or dragonflies but do not seem to frighten most mosquitoes.
10. Miscellaneous.“Bug lights” are not repellents but do not attract mosquitoes as many other types of lights do. Taking vitamin B or antihistamines may reduce itching from bites, making people think they are being bitten less. Avoid scented soaps, perfumes, and hair spray; these may attract biting insects. A popular belief is that mosquitoes prefer infants. (Maybe they taste sweeter?) In fact, no one knows if infants are bitten more often. If so, it may be because infants are unable to swat them away. Place nets over strollers and playpens outdoors.