It came to my attention a few weeks ago that Emily, who is the Director of Community Outreach for the Mesothelioma Cancer Alliance, is helping to put together a quick reference for Back to School Safety on their blog. Given the discovery of asbestos in a number of brands of children's toys and school supplies they are taking initiative and trying to remind people of ways to stay alert and safe while transitioning back into this busy time of year which is a great idea!
I suppose I should start by mentioning that these are simply things that I, (and my family), do around this time of year. Feel free to use my tips or don't. :) I am also not promoting any specific type of website or product....
"Back to School" is a phrase that means many different things to many different people. As a Mom and a Nurse it means it's time to get to work!
One of the things that the minions love about going back to school are the school supplies. There is so much information out there these days about toxic chemicals in just about everything so I try to do my homework when it comes to choosing things for my minions to use both at school and at home. Am I always as diligent as I should be? No, but I try and that's a start.
Before school starts I usually go through both minions' clothing to see what fits, what doesn't fit, and to make sure everything is in order (e.g., no loose buttons, zippers work, etc.) I also make them try on their Winter gear to make sure we're set there.
I mention this because there are many schools that participate in programs like Shoes that Fit that help to provide clothing and winter gear for students. If your school does not participate in programs like that, just let them know what your needs are and the earlier the better. The school I work for does not participate in an organized donation program so we have "partnered" with a few different churches and other organizations within our community that provide food and clothing for some of our families. If someone gives me specific needs (i.e., items needed and sizes) I can usually come up with something for them as long as I know soon enough in advance :) Also, if you find that your child(ren) have outgrown their coats or boots or other clothing, think about donating them to the schools - I hand a lot of stuff out that way as well!
Now that my Minions are getting a bit older they are wanting more and more independence; they want to do things on their own and it's good for them to do so. It's not always easy for me though so we've struck some compromises. For example, if I am at work and they want to walk home by themselves they have to call me as soon as they get there and they're never on their own for too long. Plus, I also make sure I let my neighbor know if I'm letting the minions stay by themselves while I quickly run to the post office or the grocery store just in case.
The minions and I have gone over stranger safety many many times over but I make them do it every year because I still hear stories about random vehicles/people following other students. In fact, there was an incident where that happened just last week... My minions are smart and I trust them, it's getting them to understand that it's the other people that I don't necessarily trust that is the difficult part. Take a few minutes and discuss travel routes and possible scenarios because you just never know. Whenever possible, make sure your kids know exactly how they are getting home after school to avoid confusion.
As a school nurse, please, please, please send your children to school in tennis shoes. I have lost count of the number of students in and out of my office with injuries caused by flip flops/inappropriate footwear. Yes, those dress shoes look adorable with the sparkly twirly dress your child has chosen to wear to school but she's coming to me crying with blisters every time she wears them. Yes, it's warmer out today so you thought sandals would be fine, but your child came to see me after they were running during recess and tripped causing a large portion of their toenail to rip off or their fall sent them tumbling into the playground equipment so now they have sustained a head injury... Tennis Shoes PLEASE!
Back to School - in the Home
It's not necessarily "back to school" stuff, but once school resumes it's time for me to start thinking about Fall and Winter. This means doing an overhaul on the house - doing a deeper cleaning, washing curtains and vacuuming under beds, wash your carpet... All of the stuff that I never seem to do during the Summer ;) Allergens are everywhere so I try to get everything ship shape before the house is closed up for the colder months. In the Summer I leave windows open more often and shut the AC off whenever possible so I will use cheaper furnace filters but I get the better ones for Autumn/Winter. I also do periodic Radon tests. So far, our levels have been in the "okay" zone but they do fluctuate and are often higher in the Winter months because there is not as much air flow. If you're not familiar with Radon, it is the second leading cause of lung cancer in the US after smoking. Here's a link to more info as well. The radon test kits are cheap and I've never had any trouble getting them.
While we're on the subject, don't forget to keep an eye out for asbestos! Asbestos is one of those things that people don't always think about but please keep it in mind if you are doing any renovations in your home or if you think you might have been exposed elsewhere.
This is a good time to check the detectors in your house and make sure everything is in good working order. It's also one of the times per year that I go through cupboards and closets and the refrigerator and get rid of anything that's expired. It also helps to get your fireplace checked out/cleaned before their busy season starts.
In case anyone is looking for a fun pattern for creating your own cleaning cloth, these are awesome. I make them for family members each year as well as for myself. I even know people who have colored ones for their kitchens and white ones for their bathroom so they can use them with their cleaning solutions and not have to worry about colors fading.... There are patterns out there for crochet mop cloths, Swiffer sweepers, and I have even taking to sewing my own Swiffer duster refills using leftover fleece!
As I have gotten older my lungs seem to get angry when I exercise in colder weather or if I inhale certain fumes so whenever possible I go for the dye-free, fragrance-free cleaning products. Fortunately there are various household cleaners that people can buy at the store and I have even taken to making some of my own cleaning products. There are so many different homemade recipes out there (for soaps and scrubs and cleaning products, etc) that I wont provide a link but a quick Google search will give you more than you probably want! Ooh, I almost forgot - dryer balls! I have taken to making my own dryer balls to use in place of fabric softener/dryer sheets. There are no chemicals involved, my clothes come out lovely and dry and static-free and I don't have to spend $ buying more and more dryer sheets :D If you don't want to make your own, you can find dryer balls just about anywhere now - check your local Target or Walmart or if you want handmade you can find them on Etsy.com as well for varying prices.
Cold and Flu Season
Cold and Flu Season - the gift that keeps on giving... We've all seen those individuals out and about coughing and hacking all over everything in sight. I cannot control what other people do but I can sure control what I do and I urge anyone that is not feeling well to PLEASE STAY HOME!!! I work in Western Medicine but I prefer to practice Eastern whenever possible so I make sure I have the teas and tinctures and things we normally use because there is nothing worse than coming down with something and not having what you need at home.
Another way I try to help my family stay as healthy as possible during these upcoming months is to limit our outings, thus limiting contact to the germs that others seem to want to give so freely. I start looking at coupons and sales and start stocking up on things that I know we'll use - toilet paper, soap, Tylenol, Ibuprofen, herbals, teas, baggies, garbage bags, Qtips... you get the idea. I have also found it helps to map out the week's menu in advance so I only have to make 1 trip (or maybe 2) to the grocery store. Plus, doing that helps me save money!
As a school nurse, I see kids all the time that told their parents in the am that they were sick so they pumped them full of meds that they know will wear off around lunchtime so now the fever is back and Mom and Dad can't come to get them until the end of school. Meanwhile, they have now passed their germs on to the rest of their classmates which really makes my Principal happy because instead of one student absence we've now magnified it how many times over and it's not just in one class, it's in all of them thanks to siblings and public restrooms and public lunchrooms, etc. I get that taking time off work can be difficult but if at all possible, keep them home. Sick children do not want to be at school, they want to be at home and home is where they should be until they're able to come back. And yes, if my minions are sick, they are at home.
I touched on winter gear a bit earlier in the post so I thought I would take a moment to get on my Wool Soapbox. Wool (and other natural fiber) is awesome. Not only does it keep you warm even if it is dripping wet (I can personally attest to this), it is naturally fire resistant. My minions wear wool. Basically I am planning on swaddling all of my family completely in wool once I find the time. There is a place for acrylic yarns - this isn't a bash acrylic post - but it's not on the bodies of my minions. If you turn your nose up at "wool" because it's "itchy", look around for different types of wool because some of it is pretty darn soft... If you are planning on doing any sort of outdoor activities in the Winter time (e.g., sledding, camping, hiking, snowboarding...) look for wool products or products containing wool - it makes a HUGE difference.
I'm sure I am forgetting things so if you have any ideas or questions please feel free to leave a comment!