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Back-to-School Health and Safety Tips for Parents


Heading back to school is an exciting time for families of elementary schoolers. Oftentimes, the excitement and anticipation take center stage, but going back to school can also mean stress for children and parents. Once the obligatory first day photos, school shopping, new sneakers, packed lunch boxes, and orientations are handled, the anticipation dwindles, replaced with questions like, “What now?” or “What have we forgotten?” Below are the nuts and bolts of ensuring a healthy and safe start for heading back to elementary school.

1. Avoid skipping breakfast at all costs. Like many kids, your child may not experience hunger immediately upon waking. This can turn breakfast into an afterthought, which can quickly become a major pitfall if children begin skipping breakfast regularly. If your children are not keen on eating right away, see about waking them a little earlier to allow for more time in the morning before school. Even a measly 15 minutes could be enough time to spur a desire for breakfast. The longer he or she is awake before heading off to school, the more likely it is that he/she will want something to eat. If all else fails, consider stashing breakfast bars, fruit, or drinkable yogurts for the car ride so that your child has an option for last-minute nibbling before heading into school.

2. Those back-to-school shoes may be super cute; however, the blisters that accompany their first wear will not be. Encourage your child to put comfort first when picking out school outfits. We all know that even the tiniest blister can produce excruciating pain. This can make recess, walking around the cafeteria, P.E., etc. unbearable. Consider breaking those new shoes in over the weekend and packing a few bandaids in the lunchbox just in case. Similarly, depending on the school, or even from one classroom to another, temperature can vary drastically. With air conditioning, or the lack thereof, children can become uncomfortable and distracted if they are sweating or shivering all day. Encourage layers to ensure comfort throughout the day and from room to room. However, because of the likelihood that that sweater or long sleeve will come off at any given time in the school day, personalized clothing labels or even Sharpie initials can ensure that lost items become found and clothing makes it home.

3. If your child has a food allergy, no matter how severe, be sure that the school knows about the dietary restrictions. Beyond the school nurse, teachers, paraeducators, building staff and cafeteria aids should be aware of any severe food allergies. Anything from treats shared at school, arts and crafts materials, cleaning products, air fresheners, etc., can contain allergens or may be processed and packaged alongside allergens. To avoid the possibility of a reaction, consider sending a “just in case” email to school to ensure that health records are updated and all staff are aware of the food allergy. Some parents find it helpful to send their child to school with fun “about me” cards with their child’s photo and dietary restrictions listed. These “business cards” are especially helpful for young elementary schoolers. They can also contain any information about epipen use, emergency contacts, and the pediatrician or allergist’s phone number.

4. For children who are extremely sensitive to the sun and prone to sunburn, ask the school if it is okay for your child to pack and apply travel sunscreen for recess, physical education, soccer practice, or any other outdoor activities. Outdoor time can amount to an hour or more, depending on the child’s school; this leaves plenty of time for sun exposure and subsequent burn. School policy will likely prohibit teachers or other school staff from applying sunscreen, so consider purchasing an easy-to-apply option for your child to apply it himself. The roll-on, deodorant-looking sticks work great for quick-drying, easy application.

5. Remind your child to drink water throughout the day. This is an obvious tidbit; however, school nurses report dehydration as one of the major catalysts to most school illnesses and nurse visits. Obviously, water fountains are aplenty in schools, but also ask if water bottles are allowed in class. Having water at hand provides a constant reminder to sip throughout the day to stay hydrated, alert, and focused.

Back to School: Combating the Sunday Scaries

Back to school means a resurgence of the feeling that parents, teachers, and elementary schoolers alike all dread—the Sunday scaries. This alliterative term, while somewhat melodramatic, describes the true sensation of angst or nervousness that begins to bubble up around Sunday evening. Whether the Sunday scaries emerge from the nervousness surrounding an impending due date, upcoming quiz, or just the general apprehension about the school week ahead, we all can relate to that sudden foreboding sense that can quickly turn a calm, lazy Sunday into a frenzied mess.

It’s best to be prepared. Here are some strategies for elementary schoolers to combat the “Sunday Scaries”:

Get organized
For the first few years of early elementary school, organization falls mainly on the parents’ shoulders. However, little by little, elementary schoolers will begin to observe how organizational skills help to mediate stress and maintain order for the school week ahead. Depending on grade level, organization could simply mean that children help their parents plan Monday’s outfit, lay out clothes for P.E. or after-school activities, assist with preliminary packing of the lunch box, or place backpacks and other essentials by the front door. As children get older, the responsibility for getting themselves organized for the week ahead can begin to become theirs alone.

Organization is fundamental for elementary schoolers because it allows them to begin planning ahead, anticipating certain needs, contemplating the order of operations, etc. All of these life skills will become essential as children develop and gain autonomy. For now, parents can begin with something as simple as helping their child check the weather when planning for Monday’s outfit: Might we need an umbrella? Should we pack a light jacket? Will it be too cold for flip flops? These considerations help children feel secure in their planning by showing them what to expect as they head off to school, which certainly helps to ward off the Sunday scaries.

Break out the checklist
Consider the scaries as proportionate to the amount of tasks to be accomplished before bedtime. We all know that feeling—Sunday scaries become increasingly more beastly as the to-do list piles up. To avoid the added stress, families can create a general weekend checklist of items that need to be accomplished during Saturday/Sunday downtime. By creating a checklist, families know exactly what needs to be completed in order to ensure a smooth start to the school week. The checklist also helps elementary schoolers divvy up the tasks throughout the weekend so that Sunday night does not have to turn into the daunting bewitching hour where everything goes off the rails.

Organization comes into play again here with the checklist. Parents can help younger elementary schoolers by helping to prioritize the weekend checklist. For instance, homework or reading assignments should come close to the top of the list, as those items, especially when procrastinated, can become anxiety-producing.

Look ahead
Using a small amount of time on Sunday night to look at the week ahead can help to alleviate the Sunday scaries as well. Oftentimes, stress of the unknown is what creates anxiety for school-aged children. By sitting down and perusing the week’s calendar, families can ensure that a) everyone is on the same page about appointments/events, b) there are no surprises or last-minute to-dos, c) events and tasks are evenly spaced as to not overbook any member of the family.

Laying out the weekly calendar also helps to build independence among school-aged children. They begin to recognize their own important tasks, practices, appointments, etc. This allows them to begin to feel a sense of control over what will go on in the week ahead.

Pre-Back to School Advice: For High Schoolers

The high school years are very influential for teenagers on various levels. Students’ personalities, capabilities, and goals are budding during this time—all in preparation to progress into adulthood. With the coming school year, parents of high schoolers can try a few different strategies to ensure a smooth start to the school year.

  • For parents of juniors (or maybe just very eager sophomores), this school year is essential for making plans about what will come next. These pivotal months, in which college and career readiness become the focus, can be an exceptionally stressful time for high school students and their families. Planning ahead, especially before the chaos of the school year picks up, can make all the difference during the college search. Consider providing your high schooler with literature about universities and colleges—The Princeton Review does a great annual compilation of schools full of details, statistics, and admissions information. Plan as many college visits as possible for your family’s schedule—the more students see, the more clear their decisions will be. Although high school teachers and counsellors are very familiar with the need to schedule college visits, try to limit absences by using weekends or occasions when schools are closed to take college tours.
  • The National Sleep Foundation recommends that teenagers get 8-10 hours of sleep each night. However, recent studies indicate that only 15% of America’s high school students can say they get a full 8 hours of sleep regularly. In addition to getting an adequate amount of sleep, high schoolers need to have restful, uninterrupted sleep. Encourage your teenager to silence or shut down the smartphone to achieve a restful night’s sleep. Snapchat, Instagram, and Twitter are popular culprits when it comes to sleeplessness in teens. If social media is taking away from your teen’s rest, it may be time to have a conversation about the privilege of cellphone use. As much as they’ll fight tooth and nail for the phone, remember this: you are the parent, you likely pay for the phone, and you know what is best for your child.
  • Insist on organization. Gone are the days of micromanaging every aspect of your child’s education. Looking to the future, problem-solving and coping mechanisms will be essential as your child progresses through adulthood and post-secondary education. Organization is key to being on top of your game. Help your high schooler find the best process or method of organization for him or her. For some, an agenda or planner helps with the week’s tasks. For others, a digital reminder, like calendar alerts or phone apps are preferable. Discuss the importance of prioritizing and time management—these will be essential as your child goes through college.
  • Discuss effective study skills. To many of us, studying involved simply rereading material in an attempt to shove facts into our short term memories for long enough to spill it back onto the exam. This is a very ineffective strategy—if we can even call it a strategy. College professors today are shocked by their students’ inability to analyze text for critical information and think critically about a concept. Instead, like many of us, students feel that cramming and memorization will suffice. Teach your teen how to read for vital information—skimming the fluff and honing in on the critical concepts. Anticipating practice questions or essay prompts is another helpful tip. Jot down ideas or concepts that the teacher repeats, goes into detail with, or spends lots of time discussing. If studying seems to be your high schooler’s weak area, consider looking into tutors or classes that specifically target this area of the learning process.

Pre-Back to School Advice: For Middle Schoolers

Middle school may be referred to as the awkward or “lost years” for the majority of people. I not-so-fondly remember my own middle school years as confusing, intimidating, and all-around stressful. Good, bad, or ugly, these mystifying years are truly transformative for young people, which could be why I’ve ended up working in the middle school classroom as an adult. In addition to the physiological and hormonal changes going on for this age group, middle school itself is a transition socially, academically, and emotionally.

Middle school, for most students, means leaving the elementary school nest and entering an entirely new school day model. Not only are the peers new, but the entire concept of the school day is much different from elementary school—lockers, subject-area teachers, different classrooms for each content, an increase in homework—all of these things make for an exciting and anxious transition. Since the start of a new school year can bring stress in addition to the excitement, middle school parents can put a few practices into place towards the end of the summer to allay the nerves and ensure a smooth start.

  • During the final two weeks of summer, parents should begin to set up a more consistent sleep schedule for their middle schoolers. This schedule should fall closely in line with the school year sleep and wake time. Some families may wait to readjust the sleep schedule until the week before; however, that may not be enough time for children to fully adapt to the new sleep/wake time. 
  • In addition to getting an adequate amount of sleep, middle schoolers need to have restful, uninterrupted sleep. A tough, but very effective way to ensure that your preteen is getting quality sleep is to remove the standard distractions. Your child may be vehemently opposed to this at first, but consider making phones and other screens off limits during sleep time. This is a great way to ensure that late night scrolling, texting, or gaming does not interfere with the rest that is essential for middle schoolers.
  • The agenda book is a little-known life saver when it comes to tracking assignments, due dates, and other obligations. Many schools issue agendas free of charge, but if not, definitely purchase a weekly planner for your child. Nowadays, there are online homework forums like Edline, Google classroom, and Blackboard; however, the agenda book is the surefire way to ensure that homework is accounted for and completed. Teachers are not always capable of posting or attaching digital documents or reminders for homework on a daily basis. For this reason, the agenda is your best option. This practice also promotes self-advocacy and responsibility; students that write down each assignment are engaged and aware of the tasks. The agenda also helps middle schoolers to begin prioritizing based on how their week at school is looking. Talk with your child about the importance of writing down ALL assignments with details about deadlines and any other vital information. It may also help to arrange a homework buddy system with peers in the neighborhood—stress from forgotten assignments or absences can be alleviated by a simple text or visit from a homework buddy.
  • Discuss the importance of eating a healthy breakfast and a substantial lunch during the school day. Because of growth spurts, hormonal changes, busy schedules, etc., preteens and teens need to maintain nutritious eating habits to keep up with their bodies’ needs. Hunger can increase fatigue and irritability while decreasing motivation and concentration—not ideal for student success. Plan easy, nutritious snacks that your middle schooler can store in his locker for between classes. A water bottle can also come in handy to keep children hydrated throughout the long school day.
  • Since most schools are handling lunch funds through online accounts, it doesn’t hurt to plan to put a little money in your middle schooler’s cafeteria account as a backup plan, even if she is a preferred packer. We all know that the mornings can be hectic—kids oversleep, someone is sick, lunches get left in the car/bus/refrigerator—you get the picture. A little back-up lunch money can ease the stress of forgetting to pack lunch for both you and your child. Visit your school’s website to find more information for loading and account or prepaying for the beginning of the school year.
  • Encourage small literacy practices in the evening hours to get a jumpstart on the larger reading assignments that your middle schooler will have. Begin with 30 minutes of silent reading or journaling and build from there. The intent is to acclimate your middle schooler to the idea of downtime so that they aren’t jarred from the three months of summer freedom. Even a small amount of time can prepare students for the structure of nightly homework. Help encourage this practice by doing your own silent reading or journaling while your child is reading. Unless typing or research is involved, limit your middle schooler’s use of technology or screen time to promote good study habits.

Pre-Back to School Advice: For Elementary Schoolers

The jittery, somewhat anxious feeling that accompanies the start of a new school year is known to all. Even on the educator’s end, we are brought right back to the nerves and excitement of our childhood school days when that first day rolls around. To be truthful, the back-to-school dreams start happening for me weeks prior to the first day. For elementary schoolers, the start of a new school year can bring stress in addition to the excitement. Parents can put a few practices into place towards the end of the summer to allay the nerves and ensure a smooth start.

  • During the final two weeks of summer, parents should begin to set up a more consistent sleep schedule for their elementary schoolers. This schedule should fall closely in line with the school year sleep and wake time. Some families may wait to readjust the sleep schedule until the week before; however, that may not be enough time for children to fully adapt to the new sleep/wake time.
  • Begin to embed small chunks of downtime for literacy in the evening hours. This should be used to read or write—focus on any topic that interests your child, so long as the content is grade-level appropriate and accessible. Consider starting with 20-minute intervals each afternoon, then build in more time from there. The intent is to acclimate children to the idea of downtime so that they are prepared for the structure of nightly homework and/or weekly reading assignments. Help encourage this practice by doing your own silent reading or journaling while your child is reading. Limit your use of technology or screen time to promote good study habits.
  • Since most schools are handling lunch funds through online accounts, it doesn’t hurt to plan to put a little money in your child’s cafeteria account as a backup plan, even if your child is a preferred packer. We all know that the mornings can be hectic—kids oversleep, someone is sick, lunches get left in the car/bus/refrigerator—you get the picture. A little back-up lunch money can ease the stress of forgetting to pack lunch for both you and your child. Visit your school’s website to find more information for loading and account or prepaying for the beginning of the school year.
  • Get a head start on pencil pouch essentials so that your child is guaranteed to go into their new elementary classroom feeling prepared and stress-free. Depending on your child’s personality, it could be a full day before a young student builds up the courage to raise his hand to ask for a pencil. Having those items at hand and organized alleviates any worry when it comes to classroom materials. Besides the typical pencils, erasers and highlighters, consider other daily conveniences like travel-sized tissue pouches, miniature hand sanitizer, chapstick, and a sticky note with important information on it, like your child’s bus number and any important contact numbers.
  • If your child wears glasses, be sure to provide a sturdy case, but one that can also small enough for your child to carry. Be sure to seek an eye appointment if you notice any squinting, straining, or sitting noticeably close to screens or reading material. **After the first week of school or so, you may want to contact your child’s teacher to ensure that your son or daughter is wearing his or her glasses during class.

Back To School Tips

Without fail, the summer always seems to end the same way—abruptly. While families have been soaking up the sun with days filled with themed camps, pool time, beach vacations and fireflies, classrooms have been prepped for a new surge of activity. For most of us, the backpacks are buried in the closet and homework has long been forgotten. However, all of that is about to change. Signs that school is just around the corner are everywhere—the stores are stocked with school clothes, while ads are displaying the hottest new school supplies. One thing is for sure, it’s time to get in gear for the school year ahead.

  • Set a schedule. Start a school schedule at least a week prior to school. Include bedtime, morning wake-up and routine, and lunch preparation.
  • Gauge feelings. Talk to your children about their feelings and concerns.  Ask questions that prompt conversation and help them feel in control. What subjects interest them most? What friends are they excited to see? What new challenges await them?
  • Aim high. Talk to your children about the expectations for the different parts of their day. Consider creating a visual “to do” list that includes a morning routine, homework, and other responsibilities. Encourage students to check off listed items prior to leisure or screen time.
  • Drive by. Drive or walk by the school, take a tour of the classrooms, visit the website, and visualize the school day from start to finish. What will the bus ride be like? What will lunchtime entail? Where are the gym, art room, music room and restrooms?
  • Phone a friend. Reconnect with friends from last year. Schedule a play date or meet for ice cream. If your child is shy or new to the school, this is a great way to have a friend waiting on the first day of school.
  • Give control. Students often have mixed feelings about going back to school. Shop for supplies early and allow them to make selections. This decreases their anxiety, limits pressure on you, and avoids the last-minute crowds.
  • Strike a pose. Take your child shopping at his or her favorite store to pick out new school clothes. Your child’s style may not be your style, but here’s a chance to encourage positive self-image and expression.
  • Ease into it. Don’t suddenly stop summer fun, but slowly infuse learning opportunities. Take a trip to a museum, paint pottery, or visit the library.
  • Be available. As your child eases into a new school routine, regularly make time to listen to your child’s first impressions, new discoveries and fresh challenges. Be proactive in helping your child adjust and advance, and you will stay informed as new challenges arise.
  • Be an advocate. Before school starts, schedule a meeting with the school nurse, teacher, or guidance counselor to discuss significant changes, learning concerns, or summer progress. Remember to initiate a follow-up chat once school gets underway to ensure any issues were addressed.