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What Would You Do? A Kid's Guide to Staying Safe in a World of Strangers

What Would You Do? A Kid's Guide to Staying Safe in a World of Strangers
Keeping Children Safe

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Summer Safety for Children

“Summer afternoon—summer afternoon; to me those have always been the two most beautiful words in the English language.” (Henry James)
Summer is near and soon children will be on vacation from school. Most families take advantage of summertime to travel and do fun family activities such as going to amusement parks, water parks, camping, and a plethora of other kinds of fun activities for children and their parents. Just as the above quote from Henry James implies, summers are beautiful. Keeping summer days beautiful, however, by preventing accidents or harm coming to children is a goal to which all families should aspire.
Summer time is more than just making sure our children are sufficiently slathered with sunscreen while playing outdoors. One of the greatest summer gifts that parents can give their children is the gift of time. Parents should invest the time wisely by being there for their children and strengthening familial relationships and bonds. Few things help children feel safer than knowing that parents are committed to being there for them and enjoying fun family summer activities. It is of paramount importance, though, that families keep their children safe during their various summer travel and recreational activities.  
Safety in Amusement Parks
It is understandable for parents to have concerns about the safety of their children in amusement parks. Even though serious safety problems for children at amusement parks are extremely rare, the thought of losing a child in a theme park or water park is a nightmarish scenario for parents. There are safety strategies that will better protect children from getting lost in amusement parks, as well as protect children from predator threat.
Parents, even before taking children to an amusement park, should begin by studying the park’s layout. Park layouts can usually be found at the various park websites or on their brochures. In addition, parents should plan the day’s amusement park activities in advance and never allow young children to wander through the park alone. If the children are teens, parents should never let them go off alone without knowing where they will be at every moment.
Most amusement, theme parks, and water parks have safety centers where lost children can go. Parents should always point out such facilities to their children and tell them to go there if they get lost or separated from the family or in any kind of an emergency. Families should agree in advance on a meeting place, such as the merry-go-round or the Ferris wheel in the event the children would get separated from the parents.
In all vacation planning, including trips to amusement parks and other locales that are packed with other children, it is a good strategy to have younger children dress in bright, distinctive clothing, including shoes.  If parents dress their children in such clothing they will have an easier time recognizing their children in a crowd of other children if they get separated. Distinctive clothing and shoes can also help with identifying an abducted child. Police maintain that having a child wear distinctive shoes is a most important strategyfor helping to find and identify a child who has been kidnapped from a park or anywhere. In a recent abduction incident, the abductor shaved the child’s head, and changed the child’s clothes, but officials found the abducted child by identifying the distinctive shoes which had not been changed. 

It is also a good idea for parents to take cell phone pictures of their children wearing that day’s outfits. Such photos can be valuable in helping parents reclaim their lost children from park offic

Unfortunately, as my book, What Would You Do? A Kid’s Guide to Staying Safe in a World of Strangers explains, too many parents use the term “stranger danger” and advise their children never to talk to any strangers. “Stranger danger” is not a good phrase to use. It can make children fearful of talking to certain types of strangers in emergency situations, such as when they get lost.  One of the most important skills for a child who is lost or needs any kind of help in an emergency situation is the ability to talk with the appropriate strangers.
The Center for Missing & Exploited Children advises parents to teach their children to be comfortable approaching families and park personnel, such as security guards in uniform. The Center advises parents, however, to teach their children not to approach costumed characters in a theme park if they become lost. Children approaching costumed characters in an emergency would be unwise because predators can easily disguise themselves. Instead parents should instruct their children to head for the nearest snack bar because kids are adept in seeking out food kiosks which attract a lot of families.
Family trips to amusement parks can be quite fun and provide opportunities for family bonding. Advance preparation and following these simple safety procedures in the park can minimize the risk to children without negatively impacting the family fun.
Safety on Camping Trips
Family camping trips can provide wonderful opportunities for family bonding and can be memorable, magical experiences for children. Camping trips often involve hikes, campfires, and swimming activities. Unfortunately, while camping, some children lack the necessary safety skills and precautions that would better guarantee that they don’t get involved in dangerous situations at the campground.
Parents should instruct their children to play on their respective campsites and not in the roads winding around the campsites. There is danger from passing vehicles when children play in the roads around the campground. Parents should also instruct their children on proper bike riding safety before letting their children ride bikes in and around the camp. Bike rules are pretty much the same as automobile rules. All cyclists, including children, must yield the right-of-way when appropriate and ride as far to the right of the road as safely possible.
Parents, before embarking upon a camping trip, should instruct children in proper campfire safety strategies. Parents should teach their children never to run within the vicinity of fires or play with fire.  Parents should teach children that playing around or near a fire pit area, even after the fire is out, can seriously burn them. Parents should teach children to respect fire and make them aware of the damage fire can do to the surrounding forest if the fire is not tended properly.
It is important to take precautions to keep children safe when swimming in campgrounds or any place where there are swimming facilities. Many private parks may have lifeguards, but many public swimming areas may lack the security of lifeguards. Parents should keep an eye on their children when they are swimming in ponds, lakes, or pools in a campground or park or at the beach. Parents should be sure their children wear weight-and-age-appropriate flotation devices for added security.
Parents should also instruct their children in the necessary stranger safety precautions while camping, while in amusement parks, or while staying in hotels or motels, or spending time in any public arenas while on vacation. Strategies for empowering children to take a pro-active role in staying safe from abduction or predator harm can be accessed through my book, What Would You Do?A Kid’s Guide to Staying Safe in a World of Strangers. The book is available at Barnes & Noble, Amazon, Books-A-Million, Follett, Baker & Taylor, and Ingrams. Additional information about the book and additional safety strategies can be accessed through the book website, Melissa Harker Ridenour Books at

Picture credit: Billy Alexander

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Summer Vacation: A Brain Drain on Children?

Research verifies that children’s summer vacation causes brain drain. They forget what they learned in school. There are ways to prevent brain drain.
According to an article by Valerie Strauss in the June15, 2009 edition of The Washington Post, brain drain is the term for the learning loss that many children experience over the summer vacation from school. Educators and parents are seeking strategies to prevent learning loss during the vacation time.
Research findings about Brain Drain
According to the Strauss article, researchers from John Hopkins University, the University of Virginia, the University of Tennessee, as well as others, most students lose two to two and a half months of math skills during the summer break. Students coming from low income homes, lose two to three months in reading skills. Middle class students, however, make slight gains in reading achievement as standardized test scores indicate.
The research findings suggest that children lose math computation skills when they don't use them and that middle-class students read more over the summer than those from poor families. This could possibly be because middle class students have access to more books in their homes than those from lower income homes.
According to the Strauss article, knowledge retention is related to the greater variety of summer experiences for children from middle-class and higher income homes. Their exposure to summer camps, vacations, and learning experiences in their own homes, facilitated by their parents, helps to reduce the effects of brain drain. The lack of resources for poorer children in the summer has vast, negative consequences.
Strategies to Prevent Brain Drain
According to the Strauss article, Richard Allington, an education professor from the University of Tennessee and a member of the International Reading Association, asserts, "If we can eliminate the summer gap, we can close the longstanding achievement gap between richer and poorer kids. Basically, even poor kids grow reading skills at about the same rate as middle-class kids, when they are in school. Two-thirds of the achievement gap occurs during the summers, not during the school year."
The Strauss article maintains that Richard Fairchild, executive director of the Center for Summer Learning at John Hopkins, sees value in summer learning programs for children to make up for the deficit. Fairchild’s center promotes quality summer learning programs, especially for children from less affluent families. His center has 5000 programs in 50 states that provide academic enrichment, physical exercise and healthy meals to children to better ensure academic success when they return to school.
Parents can help stave off their children’s brain drain by having them frequent the library in summer and encouraging reading. In addition, parents can have their children use safe, educational Internet sites.
Sylvan Learning Centers offer free grade-appropriate math workbooks for children to use in the summer months. Some of the Sylvan Centers offer a camp-like learning environment with craft activities, brain teasers and video streaming of important world events. Parents should check their local newspapers and bulletin boards for educational summer camp offerings, such as writing , computer, and theatre workshops.
Parents should also take advantage of opportunities to have their children use math computational skills. For example, if the children are swimming in the pool, parents can have them figure out the area, diameter, and volume of the pool. They can ask their children to compute how much the water in the pool would weigh at about 9 pounds per gallon. On road trips, parents can have their children compute the trip mileage by using a map and adding up the distance as indicated on the map.
Parents should have their children handle and count money. Parents can teach children how to use and balance a check book. Such activities will lessen the brain drain of math skills, the curricular area that is most dramatically affected by the summer lapse from school.