Head Start Teaches Healthy Habits To Pre-Ks

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At Payson Head Start children ages 3 to 5 learned more about healthy habits last Tuesday.

Healthy eating habits and dental hygiene are an important component of early childhood development, said teacher AnnMaree Thompson and local dentist William Blackmore.

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Children in the Head Start program practice brushing their teeth, up and down and around in circles. They have learned to brush their teeth for two minutes each morning and again before bedtime.

"We brush our teeth after breakfast every day at school," Thompson said. "It teaches them good hygiene. We also teach them to wash their hands and rinse their toothbrush out. We don't serve snacks, we serve breakfast and lunch. We teach the children to eat good nutritious food. We talk about it at the table."

Blackmore sent Melissa Wood, hygiene coordinator, and Denae Balke, dental hygienist, to reinforce the lessons of brushing teeth.

For Thompson, introducing Wood and Balke is another opportunity to teach her students about strangers.

"If strangers come with a parent or we introduce them it is okay," she said.

After the students had gathered on the bright carpet, Balke began.

Has anybody ever been to the dentist office?" she asked the students. A few raised their hands. She told the ones who hadn't that they would probably get to go soon.

"Melissa and I work in the dentist office, and when you come to the dentist office, we get to look at your teeth and count them and find out how strong they are. We check your teeth to see how clean they are and if you are doing a really good job brushing them."

"My teeth are sharp," one little boy called out.

"They're good for chewing, aren't they," Balke responded. "You get to chew those healthy vegetables like carrots."

She asked the students if they knew why they should brush their teeth.

"Because they're dirty," said one student while making a face.

"We don't want cavities," she said, putting emphasis on the last word.

Several children admitted to having cavities.

"We have to brush our teeth really, really good two times a day, every single day, to get rid of those sugar bugs so we don't get any more cavities," Balke said.

"If you don't, your teeth will fall out," a little girl said.

They might, Balke admitted, reiterating the importance of brushing.

Next, the children watched a video.

Gina the Giraffe had a tooth adventure running from King Cavity (an ape). In the cartoon, Gina had to make healthy eating choices for her permanent teeth. She had to choose between unhealthy sugary snacks like donuts and candy and healthy snack like fresh vegetables and fruits. In the end, she convinces King Cavity to go to the dentist with her. The King gets his cavities filled and comes out with a mouthful of sparkling white teeth.

Balke and Wood left goodie bags for the students.

Thompson said they did not open the bags in class so that parents could reinforce the learning experience at home if they so choose.

Students received a new toothbrush and toothpaste, along with a coloring sheet that went with the video. The bag included a sticker book, where a sticker can be placed for each day the child brushes their teeth twice.

A booklet put out by Crest informed parents about tooth development and care, fluoride and nutrition.

"The biggest enemies to young teeth are constant exposure to sweets," Blackmore said. Sugarless gum can be a replacement for sweetened soda and candy.

"It tastes pretty good now, if you haven't tried it," he said. "Not like when we were young and said, ‘ew, why would anyone want to chew that?'"

What is Head Start?

The Payson Head Start program serves low-income families and children with disabilities. It is open to 20 students, ages 3 to 5, but site manager Lynne Winans said she likes to have applications on file because she must fill vacancies within five days.

"We try to work with the entire family," Winans said. Head Start offers health and developmental screenings, then assists the family to get follow-up care if necessary.

Contact Winans at (928) 474-2738 for more information.

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