Health & Fitness

Child Health Notebook: Cooler temps and cool activities for kids’ well-being

Hien Ho holds his invention, an artful backpack called ChalkWild, in Modesto,Calif., in September 2019.
Hien Ho holds his invention, an artful backpack called ChalkWild, in Modesto,Calif., in September 2019.

Fall brought cooler weather and very cool activities for Modesto kids, from toddlers to teens, to nurture their well-being.

Toddlers got to wiggle, read and learn with the First 5 California Express Truck at the Stanislaus County Library in downtown Modesto.

A local teen presented his invention of artful backpacks to the Stanislaus County Office of Education Board of Trustees.

The California State University, Stanislaus, Child Development Center received funding to expand, a big help for student parents.

And area high school and college students had an opportunity to discuss their concerns with Rep. Josh Harder.

First 5 California Express Truck: The Stanislaus County Library has something going on almost every day for kids, from story time for toddlers to crazy science days. On Oct. 7, the Modesto branch was host to the First 5 California Express Truck, which brought along fun activities and free books for children.

The children’s area was deluged with toddlers and their parents, after completing “Wiggle Worm” story time, led by librarian Amber O’Brien-VerHulst.

“We work closely with libraries because we have the same goal — to get kids reading,” said Elizabeth Roessler, the self-described First 5 “edu-tainer.” First 5 California was funded with Proposition 10 money and works to improve the lives of children and families across the state. Roessler said the truck travels to all 58 California counties.

She was giving out information to parents about “Talk, Read, Sing,” the slogan for First 5 California to promote early literacy, and free books with the Brainy Birds, the mascots for the First 5 slogan. Roessler also had fun activities for the kids, including decorating crowns, reading stickers and maracas. Music and rhyming help promote language development.

“I like to read Pete the Cat (books),” said 4-year-old Claire Castro of Modesto, “I read in the morning and sometimes at bedtime.” Valerie Castro, Claire’s mother, said she brings Claire to story time every week and she is already starting to read simple words.

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For a schedule of events at the county libraries, visit:

For free resources from First 5 California, visit:

Youth Town Hall at MJC: On Oct. 1, Harder, D-Turlock, hosted a Youth Town Hall at Modesto Junior College. The attendees included area high school and college students, and the exchange was moderated by high school students from Stanislaus and San Joaquin counties.

The students were asked to participate in a real-time, online survey about the issues most important to them. Paying for college was their No. 1 concern (19%), followed closely by climate change (18%), and then gun safety and immigration, both at 15%. During the Q&A, Harder fielded several questions about the lack of mental health resources in the area, the threats to feeling safe at school, and gun safety, including protection from 3-D printed guns.

“Mental health is a very serious problem,” said Pablo Flores, a student at Valley Charter High School in Modesto, “I see people around me struggling and they can’t get help.”

Harder’s response cited his plans to increase medical resources in the Central Valley, including introducing a bipartisan bill that would help doctors with school loan repayments. This bill could make it easier to recruit doctors to nonprofit health care facilities in the Central Valley.

“I think most high school kids are concerned with things that affect their daily lives, like climate change, gun violence and reducing the stigma of mental health,” Harder said. “It was a very poignant discussion.”

Stan State receives child care funding: California State University, Stanislaus, received a grant of more than $273,000 to increase the capacity of its on-campus Child Development Center from serving 30 to 120 children. The increased capacity should make it easier for more students who are parents to complete their studies.

“Child care costs about as much as going to UC or CSU every year — and we need to do more to make sure student parents have a safe and enriching place for their kids to go so they can get to class and study,” Harder said in a news release. His office reported it informed Stanislaus State of the grant from the U.S. Department of Education, helped the university apply and wrote a letter of support.

“This grant will provide much-needed support to help those students (who are parents) persist and graduate while launching their own children on a path to college,” said said Dr. Ellen Junn, president of Stan State, in the press announcement. She said one in six students at the university are parents.

Stan State’s child center offers educational day care services to children ranging from 2 months to 5 years old, as well as parenting classes and support services for the student parents.

For more information about Stan State’s Child Development Center, visit:

ChalkWild backpacks presented at SCOE: Last Tuesday, 14-year-old Hien Ho presented his creation of artful backpacks, named ChalkWild, to the Stanislaus County Office of Education Board of Trustees.

He discussed the benefits of art therapy for autistic children and for children with a history of psychological trauma. Hien said the ChalkWild backpacks can be a canvas and a mobile display for children’s art.

The backpacks come with a set of erasable liquid chalk markers and have a clear PVC sheath that allows kids to draw their own unique designs. The art can be erased and replaced with new designs.

“We distribute the backpacks to graduates of our programs because we use a lot of art as a method for children to process trauma,” said Hollie Grace Currie, manager of youth services at Haven Women’s Center in Modesto. “It’s art and it conveniently stores art — seems like a natural connection.”

Hien and his father, AhnViet “Charlie” Nguyen, first came to the public’s attention in 2016 for the invention of the backpacks, when they were semifinalists in the San Joaquin Entrepreneur Challenge.

The father-and-son pair sell the backpacks on their website,, and a percentage of sales goes toward charity.

This story was produced with financial support from The Stanislaus County Office of Education and the Stanislaus Community Foundation, along with the GroundTruth Project’s Report for America initiative. The Modesto Bee maintains full editorial control of this work.

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