Summer weather has FINALLY arrived in Central New York! And with it, of course, the threat of ticks and other disease-carrying critters. Staying safe and healthy while playing and learning outside can be as simple and straightforward as adopting a couple extra “grooming” habits and incorporating them into our daily routines.
Much has been written and shared in the virtual stratosphere about what and how and when to do stuff to stave off ticks. Some of it good but hard to follow. Some of it, inaccurate. Some of it clinically on target but boring as all get out to read. The most concise and straight-forward advice I have found is condensed in a letter written to the parents of children enrolled in Lime Hollow Forest Preschool/Forest School, Cortland, NY. The director, Maryfaith Decker Miller, graciously gave us permission to share and spread the word. Hopefully our readers also find this advice refreshingly helpful and easy to implement:
Dear Forest Families,
The news is full of alarming stories about the increase in tick populations and disease incidence. At Lime Hollow, we track tick encounters and the numbers do indicate an increase. So should we stop playing in the forest? Stop hiking and birding? Unfortunately, avoiding the forest would not keep us safe from ticks. Ticks live in our yards, parks, farms and fields, they get carried inside by our pets and outerwear. The last attached tick I had, got me on a day I was running errands in town. I believe it was in my car, coming in with some equipment I had used outside and tossed into my car. The tick was on me for longer than 24 hours because I hadn’t done a tick check, because I hadn’t been outside. That left me vulnerable to tick borne disease since the amount of time the tick is attached matters.
What is a parent to do? If ticks can get you anytime, anywhere…how does a parent keep their kids safe? The good news is that the sooner a tick is removed, the lower the chance of disease transmission. The Center for Disease Control website indicates that a tick must be attached for 36-48 hours for Lyme disease to be transmitted. I would rather get them off sooner than that. An engorged tick is harder to remove than one that has just begun to dig in. I believe knowledge is power, and I know that quick removal is key to safety. I think we need a policy that is strong and proactive to keep our families safe, but I also want worry-free play in nature. The way to have both is by adopting a routine of tick awareness, being smartly dressed, using repellent and doing tick checks every twelve-hours.
The simplest way to keep ticks off your body is to tuck pants into socks, and shirts into pants. This way, a tick has to climb a long way up to make it to exposed skin and you have a lot of time to notice it, and brush it off your clothing. Wearing light colored, pattern-less clothing makes a huge difference in tick visibility. Channel your inner primate and practice ‘social grooming,’ as well as visual checks throughout the day of play. If you are sending a child out to play and you choose not to tuck, use repellent on all exposed skin, and do an extra careful check of toes, groin, knee-pits, and belly button at the evening check.
If you find a tick that is attached, remove it using tweezers, or a tick-pulling apparatus like the tick-spoon. Do not use oils, Vaseline, fire, or any other kind of irritant. Swab the area with an alcohol prep, and apply some triple antibiotic ointment. Kill the tick by flushing it down the toilet, or placing it in a jar of alcohol. For the next 30 days, keep watch for a rash or any flu-like symptoms. Note if the tick was engorged. It should not be engorged if you are doing tick checks every twelve hours, keeping yourself and your family out of the disease transmission window of time.
By instituting this every twelve hour tick check routine in my house, I feel safe sending my child out into the world to play. He feels free to engage in the woods in any way he chooses, without fear of ‘tick areas’, since we know that all areas, are ‘tick areas.’ The tick check happens at tooth brushing time and has become part of the routine. I recommend teaching your children to identify ticks so they can brush them off themselves or others before they bite, or to ask an adult about any bug they find on them. At Forest Preschool, we do visual checks of ankles, legs, waistline, neck and hairline throughout our day. We sing a song to make it fun, and the children pair up to check each other’s hair. They are matter-of-fact when they find one, because knowledge is power and they know what to do. Then they get back to the serious business of play.
I believe that by taking these steps, and making them part of the daily care routine, we can mitigate tick risk and have the best of both worlds. Nature play is the natural born right of a child, and I like to sleep worry-free at night. I hope by sharing these routines, you can also share my peace of mind.
Maryfaith Decker Miller
Lime Hollow Forest Preschool/Forest School
If we want children to flourish, to become truly empowered, then let us allow them to love the earth before we ask them to save it.
— David Sobel
Another great summary can be found here: http://forestschoolforall.com/blog/2016/03/28/lets-talk-ticks-forest-play/
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And, in closing, a summary of the summary:
DO NOT REFRAIN FROM GOING OUTSIDE out of fear. Knowledge is power. Power up!
HAVE FUN outside and enjoy Nature
Wear appropriate clothing coverage and spray all exposed skin with insect repellent
Spray your gear and clothing as you would yourself (Do not spray your food or water bottles)
While out and about, hang your gear off the ground (on a tree branch, etc).
Do a tick check every 12 hours, even though you didn’t go out that day. Check for ticks while you brush your teeth!
If you do find a tick, DO NOT CRUSH IT with your bare hands, as disease can spread fantastically well that way, through the tick’s saliva. Instead, place tick in a baggie, and save for later testing (if needed), or flush down the toilet.
If you did spend time in nature, be super-methodical about how you get back into your car and into your home:
Do a tick check of body parts and clothing before getting in car
Examine gear, backpacks, etc for ticks before tossing them into the car
Strip as soon as you get home, toss clothes into washer on super/hot
Toss yourself and your kids into the shower for a good scrub-down and another tick check
Do it all over again tomorrow. Don't worry, we all get the hang of it, just as we do dressing in 3+ layers during winter.
Enjoy this season! It is simply magical. Especially if you can enjoy it with your loved ones.