Back-to-School Briefs


The Got Milk? campaign has been a huge hit with kids, many of whom are collecting the amusing magazine ads and taping them to their bedroom walls alongside Britney Spears and 'N Sync. But are the ads getting them to drink enough milk? Here are guidelines for parents from the National Academy of Sciences: Children ages one to three should consume 500 mg of calcium per day, the equivalent of three six-ounce servings of milk or milk-group foods. Children ages four to eight should be getting 800 mg of calcium daily, which is the equivalent of nearly three glasses of milk. Teens ages nine to eighteen need even more--1,200 mg of calcium daily, which translates into four glasses of milk or milk-group foods. For a free brochure about your teenager's calcium needs, call 1-800-WHY-MILK and ask for "Clueless about Calcium."



If your child's back-to-school plans include a return to private music instruction, give the Minnesota Music Teachers Association (MMTA) a call. The MMTA, an organization of more than eight hundred teachers committed to the development of musical performance and creativity, now offers a directory of certified music instructors in your neighborhood or city. Organization members are located throughout the state; teachers who specialize in preschool music lessons are also available. Call (651) 429-9479 for a list of teachers, or visit the MMTA Web site at:



If you'll be leaving your child home alone after school this year, here are some tips to make that separation as safe as possible:

* Start by leaving the house for a short time. Give your child specific directions to follow and see how he does. If this experiment works, try leaving for longer periods of time and with more directions.

* Outline specific rules about using the telephone, allowing friends in the house, using appliances, leaving the house and playing outside, watching television, and eating snacks.

* Think carefully about what you want your child to say when a stranger calls or knocks on the door. Role-play what to do in questionable situations.

* Post important phone numbers, such as workplaces, doctors and neighbors, near the phone. Make sure your child knows when and how to call 9-1-1.

* Set up emergency plans to guide your child through problems and accidents, including information on where he can go for help. Make sure he knows where to go if there is a severe weather warning, what to do if he gets injured or if he loses his key.

* Detail what he can do while home--such as homework and chores. Make a list of acceptable activities that your child can do while you're gone.

* Arrange for him to call you or another adult as soon as he gets home.

* Establish your schedule, so he'll know when you'll be home. Most experts recommend limiting children's time alone to about an hour a day.

--Susan Youngwood



Some were chasing balls into the middle of the street. Others crossed between cars midblock, instead of at the corner. Every year, cars strike and kill about 1,800 children under the age of nine. "Kids have no concept of danger," says traffic safety officer Bill Wolfe. "They think cartoons are the reality--that if you are run over by a truck, you bounce right back." Wolfe notes that children have no peripheral vision until they turn about seven; in addition, "they often don't hear what doesn't interest them. They'd rather hear the candy-bar wrapper opening than the sound of an engine."

To keep your kids safe this school year, consider these safety tips:

* Teach your kids to stop before the edge of the sidewalk at all times.

* If riding the school bus, never run to or from the bus; stand back from the curb; wait for the driver's signal before crossing; and always cross at least ten feet in front of the bus.

* Teach your kids to stop at driveways, alleys, and areas without curbs.

* Make sure kids know the difference between parked and moving cars. Play a game of "I spy" with younger kids. Say "I spy something green and it's parked" and "I spy something red and it's moving" and have the child point out the cars.

Explain that they should never cross between parked cars, because the cars block their view of oncoming traffic--and drivers can't see them.

* Playing around railway crossings can be deadly. Visit a rail crossing and stop about a car length from the edge of the closest rail. Stop, look, and listen for a train coming in either direction. Explain what happens to the lights, bells, and gates when a train is coming. If no train comes, pretend one is passing. When crossing, always step over the rails--a child's foot could easily become wedged in the groove.  

--Susan Youngwood
(Sources: "Kidestrians," a Canadian safety program, and the National School Bus Service.)



Sure, five- and six-year-olds suffer plenty of butterflies as they board the school bus for the very first time. But older children head back to school with knots in their stomachs, too. A recent survey of middle-schoolers reveals some of their most common concerns, with some suggestions for how to help them move ahead with confidence:

* Being lost: "The thing that worries me most is if I will be able to find my room, and if I do ask somebody, if they are going to tell me the wrong directions."

--Kashonna, sixth grade

What to do: In a time of more serious concerns, parents should feel relieved to know that students worry most about getting lost. Tell your child that teachers are generally very tolerant the first few days as students adjust to their new school; some schools even offer orientations with "dry runs" of bell schedules and a practice round of opening lockers. If not, encourage your child to ask for help from a teacher, volunteer parent, or office staff person.

* Harassment and violence: "I worry that the big kids are going to pick on me, and I worry if somebody is going to beat me up. I also worry that kids might bring guns and knives to school with them."

--Darren, sixth grade

What to do: The media tends to overplay violent incidents and ignore the hundreds of days that pass without problems. Whether it's minor issues of hazing or the more serious issues of weapons and violence, students should look to adults for help. Encourage your child to create a "buddy" system with friends who can familiarize themselves with authority figures. Tell them that their concerns will be taken seriously.

* Harder teachers, classes, grades: "My mom is always saying that if I get really good grades, maybe I can get a scholarship. So I worry, 'What if the classes are really hard and I can't get good grades?'"

--Kristine, ninth grade

What to do: Find out if your school has a home hotline; many schools also offer free tutorial programs, often right after school, on the premises.

* Making new friends: "I just moved here from Maryland and I don't know anybody. I'm worried I won't have anybody to talk to."

--John, seventh grade

What to do: Any child in a new situation naturally feels worried about making friends. Some schools offer "buddy" programs that pair new students with old. In the absence of an organized overture, take advantage of youth programs and community classes offered by churches and community groups such as the YMCA. Or look into having your child join one of the many social, athletic, or academic clubs offered right at school.

* Drugs, alcohol, cigarettes: "I worry about the peer pressure to drink or do drugs. If you don't, older people might think you're just a goodie-goodie freshman."

--Kellye, ninth grade

What to do: While schools do address the issues of making positive choices, through drug-education curriculum and services for children having difficulties, the most important person they need to hear this from is you. Talk with your children and know their friends. Invite them to your home. Tell your child that you expect her to make positive choices and that you are available to help.

Talking with your preteen or teen won't eliminate all anxiety, but it may spawn some helpful solutions.

--Kim Ingram
(Source: Dallas Family Magazine)



The best of children's literature is celebrated in a new magazine based in the Twin Cities. Riverbank Review offers a lively discussion of children's literature by some of the nation's finest authors, critics, and educators.

The quarterly magazine, published in affiliation with the University of St. Thomas School of Education, features book reviews, essays, interviews, articles by writers and artists on writing and illustrating for children, and many other features of interest to parents, educators, and librarians, says editor Martha Davis Beck. Beck, the mother of two young readers, is the former children's book editor of the Hungry Mind Review.

Among Riverbank's regular features are "Bookmark," highlighting ten outstanding books on varying themes, and "One for the Shelf," which spotlights books appropriate for family reading. The publication is also the new home of the Children's Books of Distinction Awards, previously presented by the Hungry Mind Review.  

Riverbank Review is available in bookstores and by subscription. Subscriptions are $20/year or $35/two years. For information, call (651) 962-4372. You can also check out their Web site at



Raise your hand if you count packing lunches as one of the most disdainful of your back-to-school duties. For all of you, help is here. Deidre Schipani, manager of culinary services for Lunds and Byerly's, offers these suggestions to liven up this thankless routine:

* As much as is reasonable, let kids select and pack their own lunches; they're more likely to eat what's inside.

* Compartmentalize. Kids like things in their own containers. Think Japanese bento boxes. Or fill plastic containers with cut-up fruits, vegetables, and cheese and crackers.

* Think small portion sizes.

* Think edible containers, such as a salad in a hollowed apple, pita pockets, cucumber stacks filled with peanut butter, tomatoes filled with salad.

* Wrap it up. Think tortillas or pitas.

* Cut sandwiches into fun shapes with cookie cutters.

--Gail Rosenblum

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