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HEALTHWATCH : School Exams Start With Family Physician : In addition to supplies and clothes, parents need to make sure their youngsters have the proper medical tests.


Don't look now, parents, but the new school year is fast approaching for most Ventura County children. And you've got your work cut out for you before that first bell rings.

While little Jimmy and Krissy are preparing for school by selecting lunch boxes, pencils and notebooks, you'll have your hands full preparing Jimmy and Krissy themselves.

There may be inoculations to be administered, hearing and vision to be tested, as well as general development to be evaluated. And there are also likely to be some apprehensions, fears and a few challenges.

But there's not a lot of time to waste.

For medical testing, now is a good time to make an appointment with your child's physician, if you haven't already done so.

"Before entering first grade," said Stewart Brooks, a Simi Valley pediatrician, "they are required by law to have their fifth DPT (diphtheria, tetanus, pertussis) shot, their fourth oral polio, measles, mumps, rubella, and a current TB shot."

Dr. Timothy Hirsch of Los Robles Pediatric Group in Thousand Oaks said he usually sees children before they enter kindergarten. He said his list of vaccinations includes one for hepatitis B.

Hirsch suggested that hearing and vision be tested between kindergarten and first grade, either through school-administered programs or with a physician.

"A lot of us will use an eye chart, which is general vision screening," he said. "If we find abnormalities on that screening, we would refer the child to an ophthalmologist for a complete exam."

Both Hirsch and Brooks also emphasized the importance of testing the language and motor skill development of young children.

"Prior to school entry, a child should have good language skills in terms of word content and sentence structure," Hirsch said. "Are they able to interact socially? Are they able to share? Are they starting to understand concepts of listening and quiet time, versus play time and talking time?"

Brooks said a 5-year-old "should be able to dress himself without supervision," as well as be able to copy a square or be instructed how to make a square.

"Most kids going into kindergarten should be able to understand opposites," Brooks added. "They should be able to define certain words. I would expect at least half of the kids to know what a door is made of, what a spoon is made of."

Not all the back-to-school preparation takes place in a doctor's office.

Local counselors recommend that parents prepare their children emotionally and mentally for the start of school, whether it's the child's first-ever school experience or just the first day of a new academic year.

"Ask kids how they feel about starting school," said Judith Sitko, a marriage, family and child counselor in Ventura. "What are they looking forward to, and is there anything they are not looking forward to."

Helen Litwiler, a marriage, family and child counselor and also a registered nurse in Ventura, said parents should not downplay a child's concerns, no matter what they are.

"Acknowledge them, even if they seem ridiculous," she said. "They might be very real for the child." Litwiler suggested that parents share stories of their own school experiences to ease a child's fears.

For children who are apprehensive about a new school or first school experience, Sitko and Litwiler recommend visiting the school before the first day.

And what if parents, themselves, are uneasy about their children going off to school? Hide those feelings, Sitko advised.

"Don't let the children think you are not open to separation, especially with children just starting school," she said. "It's very important not to let the children know you are going to miss them. If a child thinks the parents are going to be lonely, they may think they should stay home and take care of them."

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