Tips for a Healthy and Safe School Year

Your kids have finally figured out how to keep themselves busy during those long, lazy afternoons and you haven't had enough of those leisurely nights without homework. It seems like just when you've all gotten used to the laid back pace of summer, the hectic school year returns. The end of summer is bittersweet. But not just for kids. Parents, too, can feel anxious. Here, some expert tips to chase those end-of-summer-blues away and help you prepare them for the school year ahead.

Smoothing the Transition/Transition Them Smoothly

Kids spend a lot of time during the summer thinking about the new school year-friendships old and new; what their teachers will be like; how much homework they'll get and the all-important issue of who they will sit with in the lunchroom.

These concerns may be especially stressful for students entering middle school. Help your nervous Nellie cope by understanding what she expects. Discuss her worries and reassure with memories of past school successes both in and out of the classroom.

Point out the fun in reuniting with friends missing in action all summer. Anticipate the possibility of having the teacher who's supposed to be really funny. (It might be fun to help him find a joke he can share with the teacher and classmates on the first day!) Remind her that the new school year offers new after-school opportunities to explore. Many middle schools have clubs. Or, perhaps her schedule can finally accommodate that beginning tumbling class.

If she's worried about using a locker for the first time or getting lost in the new building, most schools allow a walk through before academic year begins. Purchase some inexpensive, magnetic items (a mirror, for instance) to make her new locker more "homey". Get a small stash of a favorite treat to keep in the locker for a between classes pick-me-up.

For younger kids, ask your librarian to recommend books with a back to school theme. You can also visit the American Library Association for their picks at:

Looking at pictures from previous school years can also be a helpful way to highlight the fun aspects of school. Point out how much your child has grown or changed in other ways. Maybe that 2nd grade hair do looks funny now but don't be surprised if it inspires a hair cut! Remind her that growing up has privileges, too.

If she's the crafty type, show her how to put together a scrap book of special summer memories. Include vacation photos or postcards; a picture or drawing of the new friend from summer camp; summer's favorite movie, book, meal or song. Maybe even a birthday party invitation or tickets from the minor-league baseball game you attended.

Journaling about the new school year can be helpful, too. Have him write his new teacher's name, the best (and worst) thing he's heard about his new grade. His thoughts or fears about the coming year and other expectations.

The night before school starts plan a Last Supper of Summer. Serve your kids' favorite meal and say goodbye to summer with home made ice pops (frozen lemonade, orange juice or soda is yummy) or a make-your-own-sundae buffet for dessert. After dinner, wind down with a family game of whiffle ball. Or maybe just relax together on the front lawn and catch fireflies one last time.

Pack It Up

In many families, getting a new back pack is an important back-to-school ritual. But when your child selects a backpack, consider more than the character on the front, since a too-heavy load can cause muscle strain or other injuries.

  • Be sure the backpack has wide, padded straps for comfort and encourage him to wear it across both shoulders to evenly distribute the weight of what he's carrying.
  • Teach your child to pack the compartments so they are properly balanced. Placing bigger books, sneakers and other weighty items in the center is easier on the back.
  • Test the weight of the loaded backpack to be sure it's not more than 10 to 20 percent of your child's weight. A 50 lb. child, for example, shouldn't carry more than 5 to 10 pounds on his back.
  • Invest in a rolling backpack if your child has particularly heavy books to lug around. Keep in mind that having wheels can be more challenging in bad weather or if stairs are involved.

Eat Right and Sleep Well

Part of helping your child stay healthy and primed to do her best is ensuring she gets plenty of sleep and eats a healthy diet. Here, some ideas on how to incorporate a good routine:

  • Serve a healthy breakfast before your child leaves the house. Keeping carbs low and protein high will provide the energy she needs to do her best. A hard-boiled egg and a piece of whole wheat toast is an excellent way to start the day.
  • Send them off with low-sugar, healthful foods to keep blood sugar level throughout the day. Consider choices like fresh fruit, low-fat milk, string cheese, lean turkey and plenty of water. (Adding a special note from mom may also be a welcome surprise for a younger child.)
  • Plan meals and bedtime for the same time every day. Knowing what to expect and when reduces anxiety for many children.
  • Remind your child to wash hands thoroughly before eating to prevent the spread of any illnesses, particularly as flu season rolls around.
  • Getting the rest they need is important. The National Institutes of Health recommends 10 to 11 hours of sleep for children aged 5 to 12 years and 8.5 to 10 hours for preteens and up. Limit television watching and computer games before bedtime since it can make falling to sleep more challenging. Better to decompress with quiet activities like working on a puzzle or reading a book.

Sad as it is to say goodbye to summer, the return of structure has its benefits, too. Getting your child off on the right foot is a great first step toward a healthy and productive school year.



American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP)

Consumer Reports

National Association of School Psychologists

National Jewish Health

Parent Teacher Association