Healthy choices for schoolkids

Preparing kids for school isn't just buying pencils and notebooks

There is no question that a new school year is approaching. Store bins are full of every conceivable kind of school supply, and stacks of multicoloured binders and paper crowd the aisles. As you think about the material things your children need to start the school year well, here are some health-related matters to consider.

First, sleep is an essential part of your child’s health and growth. Children who go to school with enough sleep are more likely to function better, less likely to experience behavioral problems and have a happier, more productive day. Summer “holiday hours” often disrupt normal sleeping patterns. Now is the time to start making daily gradual adjustments so that by the end of August, your child will be back to a regular and consistent sleep schedule. Children from the ages of 5-12 need 10-11 hours of sleep. An hour’s “quiet time” reading is an excellent way to relax the child in preparedness for sleep.

Second, if your child is starting kindergarten, check that his/her immunizations are up-to-date. Vaccines are a healthy choice for your child.  They provide immunity and prevent disease. School entry vaccines are available and publicly funded at the local public health unit.

Third, if your child has allergies (e.g., requiring an inhaler or an EPI pen) or has been prescribed certain medications, please advise the school about relevant specifics of his/her medical condition. If you require special information from your family doctor (e.g., a note or letter), this is the time to obtain it.

Fourth, to mature emotionally and socially, children must learn to interact with people outside the home. By coping with the minor stresses and conflicts inherent in these interactions, children gradually acquire the skills to handle more significant stressors. However, certain major events, such as a family member’s illness may challenge a child’s abilities to cope and impair performance in school. When such an event occurs, it is helpful to inform the school so that it can support the child.

Finally, after a couple months’ reprieve, it will soon be time to think about school lunches. Kids who eat a healthy lunch are ready to learn. A well balanced lunch includes at least one food from every food group of Canada’s Food Guide. Leftover pasta, pita pizzas, sandwiches and wraps are all quick and delicious kid approved meals and they all have ingredients from at least two food groups. Add cute containers of cut-up veggie sticks and cheese cubes or fruit chunks and yogurt, and you’ve got lunch. The Internet is an excellent resource of ideas for planning and preparing healthy lunches.

Your child’s health includes physical, mental and social well-being. Most parents know the basics of keeping children healthy, like offering them healthy foods, making sure they get enough sleep and exercise and insuring their safety. It is also important for children to get regular checkups with their health care provider. These visits are a chance to check your child’s development. They are also a good time to catch or prevent problems.

Parents, caregivers, and health professionals are essential decision-makers when it comes to the nutrition, physical activity and health needs of their children. Help your child develop healthy habits early in life that will bring lifelong benefits.

Contributed by Agassiz Community Health Centre