Many parents are keenly interested in the basic academic education of their youngsters—reading, writing, and arithmetic—but are not nearly as conscientious in finding out about the other learning that goes on in the classroom. A comprehensive health education program is an important part of the curriculum in most school districts. Starting in kindergarten and continuing through high school, it provides an introduction to the human body and to factors that prevent illness and promote or damage health.
The middle years of childhood are extremely sensitive times for a number of health issues, especially when it comes to adopting health behavior that can have lifelong consequences. Your youngster might be exposed to a variety of health themes in school: nutrition, disease prevention, physical growth and development, reproduction, mental health, drug and alcohol abuse prevention, consumer health, and safety (crossing streets, riding bikes, first aid, the Heimlich maneuver). The goal of this education is not only to increase your child’s health knowledge and to create positive attitudes toward his own well-being but also to promote healthy behavior. By going beyond simply increasing knowledge, schools are asking for more involvement on the part of students than in many other subject areas. Children are being taught life skills, not merely academic skills.
It is easy to underestimate the importance of this health education for your child. Before long he will be approaching puberty and adolescence and facing many choices about his behavior that, if he chooses inappropriately, could impair his health and even lead to his death. These choices revolve around alcohol, tobacco, and other drug use; sexual behavior (abstinence, prevention of pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases); driving; risk-taking behavior; and stress management. Most experts concur that education about issues like alcohol abuse is most effective if it begins at least two years before the behavior is likely to start. This means that children seven and eight years old are not too young to learn about the dangers of tobacco, alcohol, and other drugs, and that sexuality education also needs to be part of the experience of elementary-school-age children. At the same time, positive health behavior can also be learned during the middle years of childhood. Your child’s well-being as an adult can be influenced by the lifelong exercise and nutrition habits that he adopts now.
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