9 Tips for a Healthy Back-to-School Start

9 Tips for a Healthy Back-to-School Start

The back to school season always feels like a new year to me. Sure it’s a new school year, but it also means buying new school supplies and outfits, and heading back to a hectic routine after a carefree summer. And by ‘routine’, I mean early wake-up times, over-scheduling, new academic challenges and trying to keep track of all things school-related. Back-to-school can be stressful and affect kids’ physical and mental health, so consider incorporating these tips to help them face the school year in tip-top shape!

Return to routines. This one’s tough, but you’ll be happy you stuck with it to avoid overtired and grumpy kids the first week back. At least a week before school starts, have your kids return to a normal bedtime. Also, encourage reading and even some free learning activities you can find online. This can help mentally prepare them for getting back into school work.

Get enough zzz’s. It’s a fact — kids today aren’t getting enough sleep, according to ParticipACTION and the Canadian 24-hour Movement Guidelines for Children and Youth. This can lead to hyperactivity, impulsiveness and a short attention span. So, follow these recommended guidelines for children and teens:

  • 5 to 13 years – 9 to 11 hours of sleep per night
  • 14 to 17 years – 8 to 10 hours of sleep per night

And don’t forget to remove screens and media devices (computers, TVs and cellphones) from bedrooms.

school lunch box for kids with food in the form of funny faces.

Food, glorious ‘healthy’ food. It’s easy to fall into the trap of, “I don’t have time, so I’ll just grab some take-out” trap. But proper nutrition is important for the healthy development of children. Poor eating habits can lead to obesity and emotional health concerns, according to Health Canada. Here’s how you can help:

  • Check out Canada’s Food Guide which shows how many servings your child needs each day from each of the four food groups.
  • Never skip breakfast! Children need a nutritious breakfast to stay focused and alert.
  • Pack a nutritious, well-balanced lunch and snacks to power your little ones throughout the day.
  • Remind your kids to stay hydrated and skip sugary beverages like pop and juice/sports drinks.
  • Need some menu ideas? Check out these options from the Heart and Stroke Foundation and Cooking Light.

Get moving. According to Health Canada, childhood obesity rates among children and teens have nearly tripled in the last 30 years! This puts kids at risk for both physical (type-2 diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease, bone and joint problems, etc.) and mental (depression, being teased, low self-esteem) problems. Children and teens aged five to 17 should get at least 60 minutes of physical activity a day. Here are some tips to get them (and you!) moving:

  • Participate in family exercise time like going for walks, hiking or biking.
  • Promote vigorous activities like soccer, gymnastics, skiing, basketball, swimming, or martial arts.
  • Encourage your child to use recess to play sports and keep active.
  • Have fun – play hopscotch, go bowling, jump rope or create an obstacle course in the backyard.

Schedule a physical. Before heading back to school, make sure your child has their annual physical to ensure they’re healthy. Don’t forget to make sure they’re up-to-date with their vaccinations and have their eyes examined. Also, inform teachers and administrative staff about any allergies or medical conditions that may need to be managed during the day.

a child's soapy hands washing under running water in a sink

Keep it clean. Back-to-school means back to germs (and the spread of them!). To help your kids avoid getting sick, remind them about basic hygiene like proper hand washing with soap and water and the use of hand sanitizer. This is important to help prevent the spread of germs. Also remind kids to cough or sneeze into the inside part of their arm (opposite their elbow). And if your child is ill, keep them at home.

Don’t stress out. The start of a new grade and an increased workload can be stressful, not to mention the anxiety of navigating social circles at school. So, make sure you talk to your kids regularly to see how they’re coping, if anything’s troubling them, if they’re being bullied, and if they have healthy friendships. It’s also a good idea to go with the “less is more” attitude when thinking of ways to fill their after-school schedules. Over-programming after-school activities can make it difficult to find time to balance homework and downtime. Children need to be ‘kids’ and play, unwind, and spend time with friends and family.

Create a healthy homework environment. If possible, make sure your child has a quiet work place at home to do homework, preferably a desk of their own. Make sure they don’t use electronic devices or watch TV while doing homework — you want them to stay focused! Encourage them to take breaks and stretch to avoid fatigue. Use agendas or planners to jot down test dates, activities and when assignments are due.

Maintain happy feet. Think of the amount of time your kids spend in their shoes — walking, playing at recess, and running around during gym class. Make sure they have shoes that fit properly and are comfortable. In terms of running shoes, avoid soles that are too hard and stiff, and make sure the shoe flexes in the toe area.

Do you have any healthy back-to-school tips to add? Let us know in the comments below.