Although it may feel like the summer break just started, it won't be long before the yellow buses will be rolling again, and colorful lunch boxes and school supplies sprout in stores. All parents want their kids to get a great and healthy start to the new school year. It's not too early to start making it happen; here are a few health-related tips for your back-to-school checklist.
Get to the doctor early
Doctor's offices get extremely busy in the weeks leading up to the start of the new year. Early in the summer, things are a little more quiet. Get a jump on the crowds and save your energy for the school supply aisle.
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 vary by state. Parents generally must provide up-to-date immunization records to the school upon enrollment. A list of immunization requirements, FAQs and other information for Texas is available online.
Hearing and vision tests
Hearing and vision tests are a good idea for any child who has never been tested. 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.
Sports Physicals and Checkups
The state and school districts mandate that school athletes and participants in many other extracurricular have sports physicals to ensure their health and safety. A sports physical usually involves a review of the child's medical history, a physical exam including cardiac examination and blood pressure check, vision check, and an orthopedic screening.
If your child is in grades 7 – 12, or is younger but needs medical clearance for scouting or other activities, bring your athletic forms or related paperwork to his/her wellness exam. UTMB physicians can complete it at the same time immunizations are given. If you don’t yet have your child’s school sports participation form, they are usually available online from school web sites. Or, please ask clinic staff for one of ours; many local school districts will accept it.
If your child plans to participate in school athletics, it is very important for them to remain active and stay in shape over the summer. Aerobic activities such as brisk walking, biking and/or swimming should be part of their daily routine. It is most beneficial if they sustain these activities for thirty minutes daily, without interruption, so as to keep the heart rate consistently around the 140 to 150 beats-per-minute range.
Keep their diet healthy and be sure that they drink at least five ounces of water every twenty minutes while exercising. They should keep up their water intake throughout the day (especially in our hot and humid climate), and eat more carbohydrates the night prior to anticipated high energy activity. Remember: for good general hydration, water makes a better choice than sports drinks.
Special Health Concerns
If your child has any special medical needs (such as required medication or physical limitations), these should be addressed with the school in advance. Visit the school (or district) web site for information and contacts. The school nurse or your child's teacher should be given information and instructions for any condition that might require special care for your child (asthma, allergies, etc.).You may need documentation from your child's physician and forms from the school.
Ease back into sleep
For many kids, summer means staying up late and sleeping in. Hence, going back to school means reestablishing a pattern of earlier bedtimes and earlier mornings. Even though this transition may not happen easily, it's an important one. Sleep is critical for optimal health and learning, as well as the regulation of mood and attention. Start gradually easing into an earlier bed time a few weeks before school starts, to have kids rested and ready to go on the first school morning. Avoid sugar- and caffeine-laden snacks prior to bedtime, and limit late-afternoon naps.
The most important meal of the day
A healthy breakfast is an important start to a day of learning. Keep quick and 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 ability to concentrate – high throughout the afternoon.
Weigh the backpack
Our experts recommend that a child's backpack weigh no more than 10-15% of his or her body weight, in order to reduce the chance of back pain or injury. Overloaded backpacks can cause back, shoulder, and neck pain when they're too heavy and worn 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. Check with your school to see what is allowed, and what options your child might have to reduce an overly heavy pack.
Reducing the first-day jitters
Many kids, especially those entering school for the first time (or 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 are on file and up-to-date at school.