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 Self-Care: Teaching Medicine to Kids 
 

The Kids—What They Wanted to Know

They were fascinated by the doctor tools in my black bag. They also loved doing body exercises, relaxation exercises, yoga, and in learning parts of the physical examination.

We found that an informal period right after a structured activity was a good time for questions. We'd all be, say, sitting around on the floor after learning to take our pulses, and somebody would ask about what a pulse was, anyway. Before long we'd be off onto arteries and veins and red and white blood cells and the heart as a big, muscular pump.

As often as not, the questions would lead off into areas of personal fear and concerns—"When my sister had appendicitis the doctor measured the white cells in her blood. What did he do that for?"—and we had to be sure to respond both to the technical question and to the feeling/concern behind it. (Could that happen to me?)

But for all the interests the kids shared, there were many that followed lines of their own individual curiosity. It became clear that they each needed time to pursue their own interests.

We ended up breaking our class period into three parts:

    (1) Organized group activity

    (2) Informal question period

    (3) Time for independent work on individual projects

Organized Group Activities (Examples)

Learning to take your pulse. Demonstration of radial pulse (in the wrist) and carotid pulse (under the angle of the jaw). The neck pulse was easier for most of the children to find. We then had them count their pulses for fifteen seconds. (We'd call "Start" and ''Stop.'') We wrote the totals on the blackboard.

Next, we asked everyone to walk outside and run as fast as they could—once around the school. Then we had them count their pulses for another fifteen seconds. Again we recorded the results.

We asked what things besides exercise makes your pulse increase (fear, excitement, fever).

We talked about the effect of prolonged exercise training on pulse rate. (People in better physical condition have stronger hearts, and slower pulses.)

We talked about how the pulse can be used as a guide to exercise training. (Maintaining a target pulse for a prolonged period—twenty minutes to an hour— maximizes training effect while minimizing stress in such activities as jogging.)

Using the Stethoscope. One stethoscope and eight kids equalled chaos. We ended up getting an inexpensive stethoscope for each of them (two to five dollars from your local medical or hospital supply house).

We found it best to hand over the stethoscopes and ask them to listen to as many things as they could in (1) the room and (2) their bodies. They found things we'd never have thought of ("My toes wiggling inside my shoes," "the radiator making hot water," "my hair").

Afterward, we'd go through the body together listening, in turn, to the vocal chords while talking, the heart, the stomach and intestines (especially just after a meal), and the lungs while taking a deep breath.

The kids discovered that your heart sounds a lot different (not only faster) after you've been outside running around.

Doing Yoga. There were several questions about this and we had a friend who taught yoga, so we had him come in for a session. The kids loved it. He wisely emphasized the animal poses—the cobra, the elephant, the lion. He recommended an excellent book, Yoga for Children, by Eve Diskin, Independent News Co., 75 Rockefeller Plaza, New York, NY 10019.

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 About The Author
Tom Ferguson MDTom Ferguson, M.D. (1943-2006), was a pioneering physician, author, and researcher who virtually led the movement to advocate informed self-care as the starting point for good health. Dr. Ferguson studied and wrote......more
 
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