Our six-year-old son – our first child – is starting first grade in September. He enjoyed his preschool kindergarten, but we worry if he will fit in easily at school, where everything is more regimented. How can we help him prepare for this big change? B.N., Trenton, New Jersey, US
Nurit Helinger, an occupational therapist at the Schneider Children’s Medical Center in Petah Tikva, Israel who is responsible for guidance at its child development institute and the facilitator of the Shalom First Grade workshops, replies:
First grade symbolizes the transition from a world of free play and imagination to a world of formal studies, duties and responsibilities. This change is exciting and meaningful, both for the child and for his family. The guiding principle for moving from preschool to first grade is self-organization.
Independent organization is the ability to plan in advance a task of several stages and after its implementation to monitor the quality of performance. This is especially evident in the morning, when the child is required to dress, brush his teeth, put on his shoes, comb, eat and leave the house with all the necessary equipment for the school. Another example is homework, which also requires quality planning and execution.
Therefore, it is important to help your child achieve independent functioning as much as possible before entering the first grade. He should be allowed to perform complex and varied tasks on his own, even if they are not related to his studies. In this way, he will learn how to organize himself and transfer the strategies he used to other tasks that will be required upon entering first grade.
Of course, the intention is not to “throw the child into the deep water” but to accompany him, mediate for him and help in various ways such as building a table of tasks that will remind the child what is the right sequence for doing things. Anh activity that is especially recommended for practice in the home to improve the skill of organizing is cooking and baking. This activity involves several skills: It improves the child’s manual skills through mixing, cutting, kneading, opening and closing boxes and thus helps prepare the child for the holding of various writing tools and their use over time.
Working in the kitchen exposes children to numbers and letters on the packaging of food products and in the cookbook. It also requires the children to interact interpersonally, to hand out roles, to allocate attention and to withstand frustrations.
Working in the kitchen triggers all the senses. The contact with food – sometimes wet, messy, cold, hot and with varied textures such as rough or smooth, the exposure to smells and tastes and even sounds and noise from mixers, blenders and food processors – are all significant for sensory regulation, which essential for child development.
Working in the kitchen is a task that requires planning, control and organization, but this activity must be supervised by an adult.
Other ways of preparing for first grade are games and leisure activities that improve the cognitive skills required in school: card games, dominoes, memory games and the like. There are also games that improve the function of the hands and their orderly and precise function when writing such as pick-up-sticks and mazes.
“As if” games that mediate the interaction between teacher and pupils by using free play help cope with the child’s fears, excitement, sadness, confusion and joy.
There are also activities to avoid or to do in small amounts, such as filling in workbooks in preparation for writing and copying. It is not recommended to require the child to do monotonous writing, such as printing letters between dotted lines. He will get sick and tired of it.
Young children should also not be allowed to play a lot of games on iPads and smartphones. While they do improve the speed of response and eye-hand coordination, screen-based games do not encourage interpersonal interaction and are sometimes constructed in a way that is not sensually adapted to the child’s developing brain. In addition, they often do not contribute to improving children’s attention level.
I went to the supermarket and saw prickly pears (I believe they are called sabras in Israel) for sale. I was wondering whether this fruit is good for health or has a lot of fruit sugar. B.T., Denver, Colorado, USA
Dr. Olga Raz, a senior nutritionist at Ariel University in Samaria, ISRAEL, answers:
The nutritional value of 100 grams of sabra fruit (prickly pear cactus) is about 40 calories and thus is not full of sugar. It can’t be called a superfood, but it can be part of a healthful diet. Indeed, prickly pear cactus is popular in many areas of the world, particularly Latin America and the Middle East, because it’s rich in fiber, antioxidants and carotenoids. It doesn’t have many vitamins or minerals, but it does have vitamin C and magnesium and different phytochemicals such as polyphenols and betalains in variable quantities. But don’t exaggerate. Some people react to eating a lot of sabras by suffering side effects such as abdominal fullness, mild diarrhea, nausea, and increased stool volume and stool frequency.
I am a 58-year-old man. I have had type-2 diabetes for five years and am taking medications (Glucophage, Januvia, Januet) and a bit of insulin that have stabilized my blood sugar. I have suffered for years from toenail fungus (onychomychosis) and have not found anything effective to get rid of it. I heard that oregano oil, taking orally as capsules or rubbed into the nails, is very effective. I was wondering whether oregano oil, especially if ingested, would interfere with what I am taking for my diabetes condition. Thanks. P.T., Rehovot, ISRAEL
Howard Rice, a veteran Israeli consultant pharmacist and pharmaceutical expert, says:
Oregano oil and leaves are used extensively for many medical problems, and they are generally useful when applied locally. There is really insufficient evidence to show that they have therapeutic effects if taken orally. The oil contains carvacrol, thymol and cymene – all well-known antifungals. The phenols in the oil affect the fungus cell membranes –We know that the oil or leaves can lower blood sugar levels, so I would advise against taking it orally since you could become “hypo” (have a too-low glucose level).
If you use it directly on your nails, you must still check your blood Hba1C level at your doctor’s clinic and daily glucose level at home to ensure that you do not become “hypo”. I think there are sufficient preparations on the market to use instead. I would recommend rubbing under the nails a 20% urea cream along with an anti-fungal cream such as terbinafine, using a short-headed old toothbrush (you can cut off the tip). This softens the hard nail and allows the cream to be better absorbed. Do this morning and night for at least a month (nails grown slowly!). For more information, see https://medlineplus.gov/druginfo/natural/644.html.
To ask a medical question for an expert to answer, email Judy Siegel-Itzkovich at firstname.lastname@example.org, giving your initials, gender, age and place of residence.