Back-to-School: How To Plan For an A+ Start to This School Year

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By Dr. Nina Radcliff


It is that time of the year where back-to-school beckons to millions of families nationwide, raising stress levels with increased activities and jitters as schools and colleges welcome record numbers of students this fall.

For both parents and kids, there are commitments with end-of-summer events, last minute getaways, shopping for “the right” supplies and clothes, start-up of extracurricular activities,  and too the emotional anxiety that often comes with changes with sleep times, getting up earlier, homework, new teachers and friends.

What You Need To Know About Reducing the Stress and Planning a Healthy Back-To-School Transition

Communication, communication, communication…and planning

First off, schedule a family meeting this week where everyone has the opportunity to participate by sharing their thoughts and concerns on the upcoming transition. Make it a team effort! And, parents, try keeping the tone fun to facilitate (lively) interaction. Whether entering kindergarten or K through college, by listening, we can pick-up cues of any related worries or activities that need to be addressed ahead of time.

Also, consider utilizing a written calendar that will not only mark back-to-school and related activities, but also pleasurable events—school dances, the upcoming breaks for Thanksgiving and Christmas. And make sure to schedule follow-up discussions to address, and check-off, items: school supplies; school clothing or uniforms; backpacks; upcoming appointments (e.g., doctors, back-to-school night, parent teacher meetings, shopping); extra-curricular activities, and safety; and planning healthy routines (e.g., eating balanced meals, daily physical activities, and a sound sleep schedule). Hang this calendar in a well-visited location such as the refrigerator so it stays “relevant” and items are not forgotten. 

Health checkups and Immunizations

Oftentimes, the school’s or the school district’s website will provide good insight about health policies and procedures. Also, state laws establish vaccination requirements for school children and, too, mechanisms for enforcement–so make sure to know what they are and also speak with your child’s physician to ensure that they are current.

Healthy vision is important to all aspects of students’ lives: schoolwork, extra-curricular activities, confidence, and safety. And, according to the American Optometric Association, up to 10% of preschoolers and 25% of school age children have vision problems. The good news is that eye exams allow for early identification and treatment of a child’s vision problem. For that reason, some physicians recommend yearly eye exams, whereas others feel that every other year is adequate if no vision correction is required (but, yearly exams in those with eyeglasses or contact lenses).

Meet the new teacher(s)
Open house or back-to-school night, phone calls, or email are a great opportunity to meet the “new teacher” before the first day of school. And if personal contact with the teacher is not possible, try finding the teacher on the school’s website so that your child can become familiar with the face. And, too, touring the school—including the lunch area, playground, desk, or locker–can ease angst on the first day.

Healthy Eat/ Sleep/Exercise Routines: For Stronger Immune Systems & Overall Balance

Each day, at least an hour of activity, a balanced diet, and adequate sleep will go a long way in supporting our overall well-being. So let’s start thinking about good back-to-school habits and how we can have a smooth transition.

  • Science confirms that physical activity is associated with numerous health benefits in school-aged children and our youth. The Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans recommend that children and adolescents should do 60 minutes or more of physical activity each day. As parents, we can set a positive example by leading an active lifestyle. And with our hectic lives, consider making physical activity part of your family’s daily routine by taking family walks or playing active games together (e.g., after dinner instead of sitting down to watch television).
  • Start every day with a healthy breakfast. When our children eat a healthy breakfast, they perform better in the classroom because they have better concentration, problem-solving skills, endurance, hand-eye coordination and increased strength for tasks.
  • Lunchtime requires some planning and creativity to ensure balanced meals that include more fruit, more veggies and proteins. Keep students actively involved in the selection process (grocery store visits and in the kitchen)–it is an investment that reaps profitable dividends while learning about wise choices in the process.
  • Re-sync sleep times a week or two before school starts to avoid mayhem on the first day. The American Academy of Sleep Medicine has published the following guidelines for recommended sleep hours in kids: 3-5 year olds need 10-13 hours; 6-12 year olds need 9-12 hours; and teens 8-10 hours. Once school starts, and throughout the school year, the flurry of fun activities–and homework–can impinge into necessary sleep time. As parents, we must help our kids schedule and manage these and create healthy sleep hygiene habits that will hopefully last them a lifetime. 

Safety: At School, in Neighborhoods and at Home

The Academy of American Pediatrics website is a good safety resource addressing each of the following in great detail for back-to-school. Here is a quick list for review while gathering more specific information:

  • Backpacks should have wide, padded shoulder straps and a padded back. And, too, make sure to limit its weight to no more than 10 to 20 percent of your child’s body weight—and that it is carried with both shoulder straps.   
  • Younger children should always walk to school with an adult – as they get older, it may be acceptable to walk by themselves, but a buddy system is always preferable.
  • Identify a safe route with intersections that have safety guards even if it means a slightly longer walk. And, too, provide a reminder to never push, shove, or chase near the street.
  • While it has been said before, it bears repeating: never take rides (gifts or food) from strangers or anyone not on the approved list that has been discussed at home
  • When riding a bus, review the need to arrive early, stay out of the street, take a seat, and always stay seated quietly (with arms and hands inside the bus) until the bus comes to a safe stop
  • For students that ride bikes to school, ensure they wear a helmet and other appropriate gear that meets safety standards. Research indicates that a helmet can reduce the risk of head injury by up to 85 percent!
  • Review understandings about bullying including what it is, what to do (including saying stop and walking away) and that if it does not stop, report it to a school teacher or administrator as well as always share bullying incidents with mom and dad (that day).

Whether students are starting kindergarten or entering college – communication is vital in the transition and planning. Shifting from summer to school is a time of jitters with anticipation of what is ahead.  Refresh positive memories on the way for everyone involved and take time in this transition to enjoy new adventures and maintain a healthy balance amongst all the activities.

Dr. Nina Radcliff is dedicated to her profession, her patients and her community, at large. She is passionate about sharing truths for healthy, balanced living as well as wise preventive health measures. 

She completed medical school and residency training at UCLA and has served on the medical faculty at The University of Pennsylvania. She is a Board Certified Anesthesiologist and a member of the American Society of Anesthesiologists where she serves on committees for Young Physicians and Communications. Author of more than 200 textbook chapters, research articles, medical opinions and reviews; she is often called upon by media to speak on medical, fitness, nutrition, and healthy lifestyle topics impacting our lives, today.