Shannon Anderson, 7, twisted her long blond hair around her finger, her blue eyes pensive as she spoke. "I didn't know much about first aid before," she confessed.
After four hours of instruction, Shannon, of Santa Monica, had increased her first-aid savvy considerably. She is now, in fact, a graduate of Kid Safe, a child safety program that drew about 500 Los Angeles-area children and their parents to Cedars-Sinai Medical Center on Sunday.
During either morning or afternoon sessions, participants could choose from among half-hour programs in first aid, fire safety, emergency telephone calling, personal safety and baby-sitting safety. Children age 10 or older could also attend an hourlong cardiopulmonary resuscitation class.
By the end of the four-hour session, many children were rattling off their newly acquired knowledge to anyone who would listen. Shannon had learned a lot, she said, about headaches and about the 911 operator, among other things.
Programs such as Kid Safe, which several other Southern California hospitals will also offer this year, are increasing for many reasons, according to Donna Stewart, a nurse who coordinates community and patient education at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center and directed the free Sunday Kid Safe program.
Because of a rising maternal employment rate, growing numbers of children are spending parts of the day alone or with foreign-speaking housekeepers, she said, increasing the likelihood that children will have to cope with an emergency partially or entirely on their own.
The safety programs, Stewart said, are designed to help prevent household and other accidents, child sexual abuse, home fires and kidnaping.
"The goal of Kid Safe is to educate children between ages 4 and 14 on how to keep safe in every way," said Lillian Duran, project manager of the firm marketing the program nationwide.
A Lighthearted Tone
Although the goals of Kid Safe are serious, the tone during the program is often lighthearted. The curriculum is designed with children's interests and attention span in mind.
During Sunday's sessions, the first stop for participants and their parents (who were encouraged by Stewart not just to drop off youngsters, but to stay) was the "This Is Me" area, where hospital staff and volunteers recorded vital statistics and took photos of the youngsters for their safety guides.
Participants could then choose their seminars. In the 911 room, "operators" sat ready to help the children practice their emergency calling know-how--but only after they had learned the basics.
"Remember, 911 is no game," said Nancy Schuetz, the hospital's administrative director for employee health services, emphasizing that the number should be called only when a police officer, fire fighter or ambulance is needed quickly.
Schuetz invited the children to practice on real phones, relaying emergency information to hospital personnel who posed as 911 and fire department operators.
Next door to the 911 room, Engineer Chris Jacobsen of the Los Angeles City Fire Department reinforced the 911 information.
Jacobsen told his listeners what to do if their clothes catch fire--"stop, drop, roll"--and invited them to fill in the blanks on the "fire triangle" he had drawn on the chalkboard. "You have got to have three things for fire to burn," he told the children, and then waited for them to guess--"heat," "oxygen" and "fuel."
Then he asked his audience to join his force. "I'd like you to be an inspector in your own house--to go around and look for hazards." To help them in that task, he passed out a check list to take home and encouraged them to suggest a family meeting about a fire escape plan.
"Be sure to have a meeting place (in case of fire)," he said. "It might be the tree across the street or the vegetable patch in the back yard." A prearranged meeting place, he explained, helps the family account for all members after a fire and reduces the likelihood that a family member will return to a burning house to search for others.
In another room, children aged 10 and older learned when and how to give cardiopulmonary resuscitation and then practiced on manikins.
At the first-aid seminar, children met Jellybean, a careless teddy bear who had forgotten to wear his seat belt and now sat with his head wrapped and one of his limbs in a splint. Jody Peterson, a trauma liaison nurse, ran through some basic first aid, including some do's and don'ts for burns and broken bones.
"Don't ever put butter on burns," she warned. "That will insulate the burn and make heat stay inside. And we don't want to do that.
"Don't try to straighten out a broken bone," she continued. "Let the doctor put it back where it's supposed to be." Youngsters can learn to splint, she added, demonstrating on Jellybean how to use household objects such as books or cardboard as splints.
Encouraged to Get Dirty