Back-to-school checklist: 6 tips to get in the groove
The first day of a new school year is full of promise, and you can help make the transition from summer vacation back to the classroom easier with these tips from a pediatrician who has raised three children of his own.
“Sleep is the top priority,” said Kenneth P. Colmer, MD, of Bass River Pediatric Associates in South Yarmouth.
“Most kids have gotten into a routine of staying up later over the summer months, so start getting them used to an earlier bedtime. Elementary school children need nine to ten hours of sleep a night, and that’s attainable because they typically start school at 8:30 am. High school youth need about eight to nine hours of sleep each night, and that’s not as easy to achieve because of common distractions and homework that keeps them up late and start-times of about 7:20 a.m.”
Good physical and mental health, including improved attention, behavior, memory and learning, hinge on getting adequate sleep, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics. Not getting enough sleep each night is associated with an increase in injuries, hypertension, obesity and depression, especially for teens.
“I realize that getting enough sleep is a challenge, but it is important to make it a priority,” said Dr. Colmer.
“My daughter, Keagan, teaches fourth and fifth grade special education in Barnstable, and she will be starting to go to bed earlier as the school year approaches. It is important for everyone to adjust to healthy routines,” he said.
Dr. Colmer’s Back-to-School Health Tips:
- Power off devices and get bedtimes back to a school routine so everyone (moms, dads and kids) get healthy amounts of sleep each night. Consider darkening shades because it is probably still light outside, even though it’s bedtime.
- Get athletic physicals sooner than later. If everyone waits till the last weeks before school starts, it can be impossible to get an appointment and fall sports participation can be delayed, Dr. Colmer pointed out.
“When they come in for school physicals, I like to talk with my patients about eating healthy diets,” he said. “I remind them to drink lots of water and milk and to avoid the snack bar, which is typically full of foods with added sugars. Young athletes should remember that water is the best liquid to stay hydrated; avoid Gatorade, unless you’re running long distances and need to replace electrolytes."
- Check your young student’s eyesight. Don’t expect children to say they need glasses. Symptoms of poor eyesight include squinting, sitting too close to the TV, and headaches when using cell phones and tablets.
- Don’t take ‘fine’ for an answer. Depression, anxiety and stress are big health risks for teens and younger kids. Stay in tune with your child’s mood and seek help without hesitation, even at the slightest sign of emotional upset.
“I want to assure you that teachers, school nurses and therapists, and your child’s pediatrician or nurse practitioner will work together, providing the network you and your children need to support their emotional health,” said Dr. Colmer.
- Make sure backpacks fit well, have padded shoulder straps, and follow school policy.
- Vaccinations are essential, especially for kindergarten students.
“I believe vaccinations are the number one way to prevent illnesses,” said Dr. Colmer.
Children starting kindergarten need to have their vaccinations up-to-date before entering school.
After that, middle-school students and high school students need to check with their doctors about keeping up-to-date with vaccines for tetanus, meningitis and human papillomavirus (HPV, the virus that can lead to six types of cancers later in life).
Easy-to-read information, videos, and even podcasts and posters about childhood, pre-teen, teen and adult immunizations are available on the Centers for Disease Control website. Another resource, BAM! Body and Mind, makes healthcare learning fun for teachers and kids ages 9–12 through games, quizzes, the Dining Decisions mobile app and other interactive activities.
“Let’s make this a great school year for students, parents and teachers!” said Dr. Colmer. “Making smart, healthy choices begin before school starts.”