Follow me on Twitter @drClaire
Summer is winding down; it’s time to think about school again. As you pick out new clothes and backpacks, here are four back-to-school preparations that can make a real difference in your child’s health and academic success this school year.
- Get your child on a good sleep schedule — with good sleep habits. During the summer, we often let our children stay up late, which is fine if they can sleep late in the morning — but it’s not so fine when school starts. To avoid rude awakenings (so to speak), get your child started on his school sleep schedule at least a week before school starts. Children should get 8-10 hours of sleep every night, so count back from when they need to wake up to find the right bedtime. Switching to an earlier bedtime isn’t easy. You will likely need to wake your child earlier and adjust your family evening schedules to accommodate the change. Remember that screens (TV, phone, computer, tablet) emit a light that can “wake up the brain” and make sleeping harder, so turn them off a good hour before bedtime (phones should be charged outside the bedroom). Get your child — and your family — into habits that will make for healthy sleep all year round.
- Plan healthy lunches and snacks. Use the end of summer to talk with your child about healthy food they can bring to school. Try out some new fruits and vegetables, find yogurts and cheese and nuts (if the school allows nuts) they like, look at recipes together, buy some containers to pack food and drinks to bring with them. If they have some time to plan with you and get excited, you may be able to avoid sending junk food and sweets.
- Make an appealing homework place, and decide on a routine. They should have a quiet, well-lit, pleasant place to do their homework. For younger children, it should be where you can easily supervise, but not necessarily in the middle of family chaos. For all ages, the homework place should involve a desk or table, and should not be near a television. Fix the area up ahead of time, with things like a good lamp, a cup for pencils and pens and a pencil sharpener. Decide together when in the day your child will do homework (right after school, before dinner, after dinner, etc.) You can always change it up later if it doesn’t work out, but having both the space and the time in place on the first day of school gets things started on the right foot.
- Plan activities — and downtime. It’s important that your child be active, so signing up for a team sport or other physical activity (like a martial art or rock-climbing) can be a good idea, and it can be fun to learn to do something like draw or play an instrument. Sit with your child and plan out some after school activities. Be sure that there is enough time for homework and sleep — and be sure that there is downtime every day too, as this is crucial for your child’s mental health. Your child needs time to relax and play no matter what their age. Every day there should be time that is unscheduled that your child can use in whatever way they want. It’s time you need, too!
These four things may seem basic and simple — but they are basic and simple things that not only can get lost in the shuffle (in part because they seem so basic and simple), but that can be very effective when families do them. So give them a try. You’ll be glad you did.