7 Health Tips From the Teacher

There's no disputing the importance of a good education. What often gets overlooked, however, is what parents can do at home to help their children succeed in the classroom.

School-aged children spend nearly as much time in the classroom as they do in their homes. By granting your student with a great start at home, you give her a leg up in terms of social skills, intellect, and overall energy and brain function.

To provide you with expert advice, we went right to the source. Veterans in the classroom and parents of school-aged children themselves, Kathleen Clark, M.Ed, and Kristen Turner of Algonquin Regional High School in Massachusetts (ranked among the top ten in the state) know what it takes to prepare a student for the day ahead.

1. Eat breakfast

"Make sure [your children] have breakfast every day. It doesn't have to be the 'perfect' breakfast. But it's certainly difficult to concentrate on learning when your stomach is growling like a tiger," Clark says.

Research corroborates Clark's belief that a balanced breakfast can help a child in school. Glucose, or blood sugar, is essential to brain function. Without breakfast, the body's blood sugar level lowers, resulting in lowered brain function. On an empty stomach, students may experience mild disorientation, difficulty comprehending directions, and trouble understanding new information.

That said, not all morning fare will help your child fare well in the classroom. As Turner states, "Fill [him] up with sugar, caffeine, and processed foods and he won't be able to sit still or concentrate."

2. Eat well all day

Breakfast isn't the only meal that can benefit your child's abilities in school. Packing a healthy snack and lunch will keep a growing body working at its highest level. Researchers from the Medical University of South Carolina (MUSC) have linked memory loss to a diet high in saturated fat and cholesterol. According to researchers, instead of aiding brain function, saturated fats and cholesterol inflame brain cell membranes resulting in an impaired memory.

Are your kids adverse to the idea of a snack? Pack it anyway, Clark suggests. "Even middle and high school students need snacks. They'll say they don't, but if you just stick one in their backpack, they almost always disappear."

3. Extracurricular activities

Education is not simply a matter of reading a textbook. Students can learn an incredible amount from their peers through extracurricular activities. Building and honing social skills is essential to a student's productivity in and out of the classroom.

Extracurricular activities allow students to meet and interact with students that may not be within their close group of friends. In addition, extracurricular activities help to enhance these social skills and teach lessons not learned in a classroom.

But as Clark advises, one needs to be careful about over-scheduling. "School and maybe one or two other activities a week is plenty. Let them have time to play outside and just be a kid. Stress is poison to the body and mind."

4. Quality sleep

According to a study published in the Spanish journal Cultura y Educación, students who lose hours of sleep or stay up late experience a drop in academic skills and memory. The study assessed the sleep habits of 142 6- and 7-year-old children attending different schools. The study found that students who slept nine to eleven hours performed better in school than those who slept eight to nine hours.

To ensure your student gets a quality night's sleep, try the following:

  • Establish an earlier bedtime
  • Keep a consistent bedtime routine
  • Limit exciting activities (sports, video games, movies) after 8:00 p.m.
  • Limit sugary or caffeinated foods and beverages after 8:00 p.m.

Turner suggests limiting electronics in the bedroom. "These technologies, such as computers, cellphones, and TVs, don't allow for the uninterrupted rest kids need."

5. Exercise

Exercise can take many forms, and it doesn't have to be through sports necessarily. In fact, an evening bike ride, a weekend hike, or an afternoon swim with the family not only provides quality time but it will teach your child the joys and importance of remaining active. Moreover, many gaming systems, such as the Wii or Xbox, offer games that require movement—both strenuous and mild. Consider a weekly game night during which the family takes part together.

6. Read, read, read

Reading to your kids is personally and intellectually beneficial no matter the age. Sitting down diving into a good book will create emotional closeness, develop vocabulary and imagination, and aide abstract thinking.

Creating a family tradition that values new ideas and thought will help facilitate openness and depth of thought within the household. Honing these skills at a young age will only benefit your child in the long run.

7. Success and failure

We all want our children to succeed both in school and out. And while we may provide lessons on how to achieve, not everyone prepares their children for failure. As Clark suggests, "If you want your kids to succeed, they're going to need to experience and deal with failure in a way that's constructive."

"Try to avoid constantly rescuing them," she says. Instead, help them learn why they failed so that next time around, they can prevent it from happening again.




University of Barcelona, news release, Sept. 15, 2011