CORVALLIS, Ore. - A record number of American kids are being expelled from preschool, limiting their chances of success when they enter a full-day classroom.

According to Oregon State University's Megan McClelland, a leading researcher in the field of early childhood development and an associate professor of human development and family sciences, parents can prepare their kids now by playing games that help their children develop better self-regulation skills.

"It is a much more structured situation than many children have had before," she said. "The key is to get them into a routine and to start setting a schedule."

Parents can try and make sure their children are off to a healthy start at school by following these few simple tips from the experts on getting proper nutrition, exercise, and learning how to better regulate their behavior.

School readiness

Parents can start preparing their kids right now by playing games that help their children develop better self-regulation skills. Self-regulation, or the ability to control one's behavior and to follow directions, is increasingly being seen as a key indicator of academic success in later years. McClelland's own research shows that a child's ability to self-regulate as early as preschool can predict academic achievements in math and language in much later years.

The best games for a parent to practice with their child are ones where they have to stop, think, and act, McClelland said.

Here are some games McClelland recommends for parents and educations to try with children:

  • Red Light, Green Light: One child is the stoplight; the others are the cars. When the stoplight says "Green light," the children run toward the streetlight. When the stoplight says, "Red light," the children must stop.
  • Dance: Start by having children dance slowly to slow music. Then have them dance fast to fast music. Then tell them to "stop." Then tell them to dance slowly to fast music, and vice versa.
  • Simon Says and Hide and Seek

Nutrition Tips

Ingrid Skoog is a faculty member in nutrition and exercise sciences and is the director of OSU's Accredited Didactic Program in Dietetics.

Skoog said while backpacks, books, calculators and notebooks are on student's school supply lists, it is important for parents not to forget about another important way to set up kids for success - good nutrition.

"Getting enough of good quality foods is proven to help kids stay focused and learn, avoid early fatigue and getting frustrated," Skoog said.

Here are some ideas for what kids will both like and need to eat.

  • Breakfast: Don't get in the habit of providing sweet breakfast foods. Your kids will be tired in an hour, grumpy and want to eat more in the evening after dinner. Some quick and easy breakfast ideas include: milk, a banana and a peanut butter and jelly sandwich; a bagel with low-fat cream cheese and fruit; oatmeal with added raisins, nuts or other fruit; low-sugar yogurt with cereal mixed in; and a smoothie made with yogurt and whole fruit.
  • Lunch: Think fun, finger foods that are nutrient-dense and fast to eat.  Don't send sweets unless they regularly eat their whole lunch. Add variety by varying size of cut foods, shape of breads. Tuck in a note that reminds them their bodies need fuel. Ideas include: Sandwich on whole wheat bread; tortilla wraps; homemade pizza rolls; and pasta salad with protein, beans, cheese, grated carrot and peas (have your kids help design the colorful salad, which Skoog says is a good way to get them involved with food preparation).
  • Snacks: High-fiber crackers (3-4 grams fiber per serving), high protein pretzels, apple wedges and carrot sticks or a baggie of granola or raisins and other dried fruits are ideal.

Send along a water bottle that is not too big (2-3 cups) and has a straw built in (prevents spills and is easier to drink from).

Exercise tips

Graduate student Kelly Rice is passionate about physical activity and healthy nutrition for kids and offers these creative ideas for parents and caregivers.

At OSU, Rice works with kids on a study to determine energy expenditure in various activities. She's earning her Ph.D. in Exercise and Sport Science with a focus on physical activity promotion. Some of her suggestions:

  • Design an obstacle course (inside or outside, depending on weather) using the portable play equipment you have around your house like jump ropes, cones, hula hoops, balls, and bats.
  • Invent new games to play instead of watching TV - play board games, act out stories from books, movies, or video games, play hide and seek.
  • Identify one 30-minute sedentary activity on your schedule each week and replace it with something active - take a walk, plant a vegetable garden, pack a healthy picnic and walk to a park.
  • Put music on for 15 minutes each day and ask kids to move as much as they can while the music is playing.
  • Add activity to story time by having children act out the story.
  • Develop weekly themes around outdoor activities, like hiking, camping or sports.

Megan McClelland, 541-737-9225

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