Event focuses on healthy kids

As soon as Taylor Bartko Johnson walked through the Health Unit's doors, she was plunked down into one of the brightly coloured chairs, handed a toy fishing rod and marked with a badge, soon to be populated by colourful stickers.

The six-year-old is just one of more than 1,000 children in the district who come for the annual screening by Northern Health for its annual kindergarten health circuit.

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"It's very kid friendly," said Shelley Kilburn, a public health nurse, adding early intervention is important for public health. Many of the kids wouldn't have been to child health clinics since they were 18 months old, she said.

"It's a good opportunity to catch a lot of people at once," she said. Each school is given similar time slots to minimize classroom disruptions and so children have familiar faces and it's a more social experience.

The idea is to teach kids and their parents about health and also screen for any early warning signs. It's one-stop shop for hearing, vision, dental checkups and the dreaded immunizations.

"The kids are really frightened," said Kilburn, which is one of the reasons why it's the last step in a process that makes the student the star and gets them to have fun with their health.

That really helped, said mother Treena Bartko, noting her daughter was nervous about the shots.

"It's the convenience of having it in one spot," she added.

Bartko also learned that many optometrists offer free eye check-ups for youth until they turn 18, while her daughter picked out shapes on a page while wearing bright blue "magic glasses," as the volunteers called them.

"And you thought this wasn't going to be fun," said Bartko to her daughter, laughing.

At the teeth station, a wide-eyed Taylor examined plastic gums while the dental assistant showed it's better to brush in circles and not to forget the tongue. Children should have help brushing their teeth until they're eight years old, given the complex wrist motions.

She passed the hearing test too, and was awarded a sticker of Snoopy lifting a weight high above his head. At the end of the circuit, Taylor, like the rest of the kids, got a medal for her efforts.

All the little prizes try to reinforce active, healthy living, said Kilburn.

"We try to make it a really pleasant experience," she said.

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