After a summer full of camp, vacation and the occasional late night, it’s time to get back into school mode. To help start the new year on the right foot, you’ll want to send your child off to school each morning happy, healthy and ready to learn. To that end, here are a few expert tips, from getting enough sleep to having a nutritious breakfast to wearing the proper gear.
GET ENOUGH SLEEP
It all starts with the night before the school day.
“The most important things that a parent can do to have a successful return to school for children in regards to sleep are the most simple and yet the most often overlooked steps one can take,” says Alfredo Astua, MD, director of the Sleep Medicine Program at Mount Sinai Beth Israel.
To ensure your child is getting enough sleep, Astua recommends these nightly tips:
Avoid caffeine near bedtime: “Caffeine has a half-life of about 6 hours, and so ingesting it near bedtime can lead to increased levels of catecholamines, decreased levels of adenosine and possible night-time awakenings to urinate,” says Astua. This can mean less overall sleep and decreased productivity in school, says the doctor.
Have a pre-bedtime routine: Wind down 30-60 minutes before bed each night with a pre-sleep routine, such as cutting out TV, phone or computer use; reading stories; or taking a bath. This routine “signals to the body that sleep is approaching, allows for hormone levels to normalize and sleep to be perceived as something good,” says Astua, and must be enforced every night to work best.
Get enough sleep: “One of the most important concepts in sleep medicine for children is … proper sleep duration,” says Astua. “Lower total sleep time has been linked to poor school performance in children.” How much is enough? The National Sleep Foundation recommends preschoolers get 11-13 hours of sleep each night, and children ages 5 to 12 need to get 10-11 hours.
EAT A HEALTHY BREAKFAST
It’s no secret that kids — and adults too! — need to start the day on the right foot with a nutritious breakfast. To that end, New York Chef Mark Anthony Bailey recommends these tips to make sure your child is ready for the school day.
Fruit toppings: Adding some fruit to your child’s breakfast can be an easy way to make it fun and tasty, and add some needed nutrients. “Kids love fruit,” says Bailey. “Decorating hot cereal with apple, peach or banana slices is an easy way to get your little ones to eat their breakfast.”
Arts and crafts: Make breakfast fun with the help of a cookie cutter. “Using cookie cutters to turn French toasts into Mickey Mouse, star or alphabet shapes is a sure fire way to get kids to eat their breakfast,” says Bailey.
Finger foods: “Kids love to eat with their hands, so focus on making the meal finger-friendly,” says Bailey. Good items include French toast sticks, bacon strips and hard-boiled eggs, he says.
DIY breakfasts: “Kids will eat anything they create,” says Bailey. For a hands-on breakfast, the chef recommends setting up a “breakfast sundae bar,” featuring granola, yogurt and fruit, which “gives kids the chance to make their own sundae they will enjoy.”
USE THE RIGHT BACKPACK
Not all backpacks are created equal.
“If a kid is carrying the wrong backpack they can get neck pain, mid- and lower-back pain, and they can have poor posture which can cause shoulder issues,” says Manhattan physical therapist Karena Wu, owner of ActiveCare Physical Therapy.
When buying a buying a backpack, Wu offers looking at these features to help avoid pain and discomfort:
Straps: “The type of straps on backpacks are very important,” says Wu, who recommends looking for wide straps that are contoured to the body and well-ventilated. “Additional waist straps are great too because that can help disperse the load,” she adds.
Padding: “A good backpack should have some padding on the back and in the straps as well,” says Wu, so make sure to thoroughly check a potential backpack for this support.
Pockets: Pockets aren’t just good for keeping your kids backpack organized. “Look for backpacks with lots of pockets inside so weight inside the bag can be more evenly distributed,” says Wu.
Weight: Speaking of weight, “Kids should not carry more than 10-15% of their weight in a backpack,” said Wu. So if your child weighs 60 pounds, his or her backpack shouldn’t weigh more than 9 pounds when full.