The countdown is on, and parents and kids alike are feeling the pressure to get ready for school. There are school supplies to be bought, first-day outfits to be chosen and anxieties to be calmed. But that's not the end of the list. A great start to the school year also means the healthiest start possible. Here are a few health-related tips to keep in mind:
The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends that all children entering public school have their immunizations up to date, although immunization laws, school requirements and permitted exemptions can vary from state to state. A list of immunization requirements organized by state can be found on the AAP website. Parents generally must provide up-to-date immunization records to the school upon enrollment.
Hearing and Vision Tests
Some states include hearing and vision testing as a public service for all children as part of a standardized pre-K childhood screening. In other states, these tests are recommended but not required. Whether required or not, they may be a good idea for any child whose parent has concerns about these areas. Impaired vision or hearing can adversely affect learning, and young children often don't know or can't articulate that they can't see or hear properly. Some school districts also require a basic physical exam before school entry.
Special Health Concerns
If your child has any special medical needs, these also need to be addressed with the school. Cheryl Smoot, school health consultant at the Minnesota Department of Health, suggests parents consider the following questions: If your child is on medications, does he or she need them at school? Do you have an order from the medical care provider? What information and forms do you have to provide to the school? Is the medication in a clearly labeled bottle? Smoot also adds, "If the child has or needs a health and/or an emergency care plan at school, this should be in place before the school year begins, or discussions should begin before school starts."
Ease Back Into Sleep
For most parents and their kids, going back to school also means earlier bedtimes and earlier mornings. Even though this transition may not happen easily, it's an important one. Daniel S. Lewin, Ph.D., D.ABSM, director of pediatric behavioral sleep medicine at the Children's National Medical Center, says "Sleep is critical for optimal health and learning, as well as the regulation of mood and attention. In making the transition back to school at a time when kids tend to be energized and nervous, going back rested is really critical for function across all domains." Start gradually easing into an earlier bed time and an earlier wake-up time—even just 5 to 10 minutes earlier each night—a few weeks before school starts to have kids rested and ready to go on the first school morning. Cutting out sugar- and caffeine-laden snacks prior to bedtime can also help, as well as limiting late-afternoon naps.
Good Fuel for a Healthy Body
A healthy breakfast is an important start to a day of learning. Keep quick, healthy options on hand—whole-grain breads and cold cereals, quick oatmeal and hot cereals, yogurt, cottage cheese, fruit etc. to ensure breakfast time goes smoothly. And don't forget lunch—easy-to-carry veggies, fruits, dairy products, lean meats, whole grains and wholesome snacks will help keep the energy, and attention, high through the afternoon.
Weigh the Backpack
Experts recommend that a child's backpack weigh no more than 10 to 15 percent of his body weight, to reduce the chance of back pain or injury. Kids' backpacks can cause back, shoulder and neck pain when they're too heavy and worn for numerous hours throughout the day. The American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons recommends choosing a lightweight or rolling backpack that has two wide, padded shoulder straps and a padded back, as well as a waist strap.
Reduce First-day Anxiety
Many kids, especially those entering school for the first time and those switching schools, experience some anxiety about the first day of school. Parents can help ease this by talking about what to expect on the first day, choosing a special outfit to wear, and packing lunch and the backpack with all necessary supplies the evening before.
Parents should also make sure that emergency phone numbers on file at school are up-to-date, and that the school nurse or your child's teacher has the necessary instructions for any condition that your child might need special care for (asthma, allergies, etc.).