Back to School Time is Here!

This time of year brings mixed feelings for parents and kids. Parents like the slower pace and relaxed schedules of summer, but they’re also happy when the kids are back in school, out of the house, away from screens and constant sibling bickering. Kids moan and groan about the end of summer, but are secretly excited to get back in touch with friends.

Like it or dread it, back to school time is here.

So here are some things to keep in mind as those summer days draw to a close:

Schedules

Schedule schmedule! Who needs it over the summer? But back to school means lots of time constraints - time to go to school, time to go to practice, time to do homework, time to go to bed.

And sleeping is probably the most important schedule in need of refinement at the end of the summer. Kids are staying up later and sleeping later over the summer. A regimented school routine can hit kids hard when they aren’t used to getting up early. If you don’t ease into it, those first few mornings are going to be tough.

Younger children may need 10-12 hours a night, while adolescents can get by on 8-9 hours. “I usually advise parents to return to their strict sleep and wake times 1-2 weeks before school starts,” suggests Vhada Sharma, MD, of St. Luke's Anderson Pediatrics. “This helps their circadian clocks reset. If they don’t ease into this process, students can get tired, easily fatigued and have difficulty paying attention the first couple of days of school.”

Following a bedtime routine, especially in advance of and during the school year, is helpful. Set a time for hitting the sack, and include some winding-down time. Limit the use of screens before turning in; they interfere with the routine and with sleep itself.

Staying Healthy in Close Quarters

Summer has its own set of viruses and first aid hazards, but once school gets going, the weather turns colder and kids are in close quarters, it’s inevitable that kids will get sick. “Good hand washing is key - teach kids to keep their hands from touching their faces (ears, eyes, nose, mouth) and don’t share lunches and utensils,” cautions pediatrician Samone Nore, MD, St. Luke's Anderson Pediatrics. “And get plenty of sleep, stay hydrated and make time for exercise - all these things can boost the immune system.” Most importantly, stay home if you’re sick so you don’t share germs with others.

Eating/Nutrition

Eating healthy meals can also be compromised during the lazy days of summer, but Dr. Sharma explains that as we get the kids ready to start school, it’s important to remember that nutrition is a major contribution to children’s ability to learn and pay attention in class. “Children's brains are still developing and need healthy fats and nutrition to continue that development,” explains Dr. Sharma. “Breakfast definitely is the most important meal of the day and foods such as eggs, oatmeal, avocados, potatoes and whole wheat toast are superior to sugar-glazed cereals, yogurts and pastries.” Healthy breakfast foods will provide long lasting energy to fuel mind and body compared to the high and then the crash that sugar gives kids.

When school year schedules do get hectic, try to make family meal time a priority. That shared time as a family can strengthen the bond between parents and kids and make kids feel happy and secure which sets them up for success at school and in all aspects of life.

Back to Learning 

Ideally, kids should be doing reading and math all summer long (at least occasionally) but even for the kids who kept up with educational activity all summer, back to school learning and paying attention can be difficult “It’s been shown that it can take the first few months of school to get children back to where they were at the end of the school year,” explains Dr. Nore.  “So parents definitely need to keep in mind that it’s important to continue practicing skills all summer. Even if it’s a fun game that involves memory and question/answer skills, it’s something to keep the brain challenged.”

And just because school is back in session, doesn’t mean parents can take a passive role in education. Parents can and should find ways to supplement learning throughout the school year. “I find it even more important to do things as a family that are educational in ways that can’t be taught in school,” says Dr. Nore. “Allow them to be creative and practice what they learn at school in everyday life (like counting money or telling time). Exposing kids to new experiences can help them learn emotionally, mentally and physically.”