As the first day of school draws near and summer fun starts to fade, a renewed focus on routine and healthy habits come to the forefront. This year, Dean Clinic Pediatrician Dr. Michael Trias hopes a little early preparation will help you start the school year off on a healthy foot.
Rest up for better learning
Studies continue to show that good sleep is important for learning.
“All kids need ample sleep. I think we often underestimate how much sleep kids need,” says Dr. Trias. “If a child is sleep deprived they are more likely to feel overwhelmed, scared and anxious at the start of the school year – in addition to not being able to learn efficiently.”
For grade school students, experts recommend an average of 10 to 11 hours of sleep each night. It’s easy to let bedtimes slide during the summer months, so to ease the transition back to a normal bedtime, Dr. Trias recommends inching your routine back by 15-30 minutes each night over the course of seven to 10days. By keeping a regular bedtime – even on weekends – your child will be less likely to slip into sleep deprivation.
Dr. Trias also recommends keeping electronics including video games, televisions, computers and cell phones out of the bedroom. Using electronics before bed leads to poor quality sleep as well as less sleep. A relaxing, age appropriate bedtime routine can help your child wind down. Doing the same routine every night helps their body and mind associate each step with sleep. Your family bedtime routine should eliminate exposure to electronics at least within an hour before bed.
Easing back-to-school anxiety
• Ask the school if it’s possible to tour the building, classroom(s) and meet your student’s teacher(s) before the first day of school. Sometimes orientation days for middle and high school students are offered by the district, but this can also help younger students or students who are changing schools between grades. Briefly introducing the teacher, letting them play on the playground and letting them see the library or other areas of the school can go a long way to ease anxiety.
• Ease your child’s social anxiety at home. Talk about or work to anticipate situations that could cause stress like homework, making friends, encountering older kids and encounters with strangers.
• Use books to start conversations. Head to the library and find back-to-school stories. There are many books about back-to-school available for different age levels.
• Remind your child they’re not alone. A lot of students are uneasy about the first day of school. Teachers know students are nervous and make an extra effort to make sure everyone feels as comfortable as possible
• Remember to point out positive aspects of the new school year. They’ll see old friends, meet new ones and can experience great new things throughout the year. Remind them of positive memories from previous school years.
Returning to the homework routine
Once the first few days of the school year have passed, nightly homework will begin to be routine. Sometimes it can be tough to add homework back into your nightly routine, but it can be accomplished.
Start with consistency in your schedule and your routine. By doing homework earlier in the evening, your child will have a better chance at remembering the lessons of the day and won’t be as mentally and physically tired.
Next, create an environment conducive to doing homework.
“Children need a consistent work space in their bedroom or another part of the home that is quiet and without distractions,” says Dr. Trias. “Establish a household rule that the TV and other electronic distractions stay off during homework time.”
If your student has trouble remembering to turn in their homework the next morning, work with them to develop organizational routines as well. Sometimes it helps to offer reminders to always return books and assignments to their backpack as soon as they finish each assignment. Ideas for older students include working out a system where they write down each assignment and its due date in a planner.
As technology becomes a larger part of the learning world, tech-based applications and devices can help with organization. Some writing assignments can be done in Google Docs and, if allowed during class time, your child can take photos of the assignments written on the board and worksheets that are handed out in class to use as a reference later in the day.
Many great organizational ideas for students and families can be found online. Psychology Today offers great tips for keeping middle school students organized as their workload increases.
Avoiding back-to-school illness
Despite our greatest efforts, it’s not uncommon for kids to get sick at the start of a new school year. Sometimes it’s as simple as a cold, but as more families opt out of or choose to delay routine vaccinations, preventable diseases like the measles and pertussis (also called whooping cough) are turning into epidemics in our schools.
“What parents often don’t realize is that their child will be at risk of getting a vaccine-preventable disease during the period of delay and putting other children around them at risk as well,” says Dr. Trias.
Wisconsin does have a vaccine requirement for children attending daycares and school, which can be found on the Wisconsin Department of Health website for easy reference.
“Back-to-school time is an excellent time for parents to make sure their children have had an annual physical and are up to date on vaccines,” says Dr. Trias.
Aside from making sure your child is up to date on vaccinations, the next most important way to prevent illness is to teach your child to wash their hands regularly. That means more than just a quick splash of water and soap. The Centers for Disease Control recommends the following hand washing steps:
• Wet your child’s hands.
• Apply bar soap or liquid soap to the hands.
• Rub the hands vigorously together, scrubbing every surface completely: front and back, under the fingernails and between the fingers.
• Rub and scrub for 10 to 15 seconds – long enough to sing the ABCs or another short song – then rinse thoroughly.
• Dry hands with a clean towel.
Of course, water and soap are not always available or convenient. When washing with soap and water won’t work, hand sanitizer with at least 62 percent alcohol content is a good alternative.
Armed with a good routine, adequate sleep and illness prevention, your child will head back to school ready to learn.