For the media

Must-haves on your back-to-school checklist

By The Health News Team | August 10, 2023
Parent holding child's hand

For parents and guardians raised during a certain generation, preparing to head back to school meant a quick trip to the local drug store to purchase a Trapper Keeper, rubber pencil grips, yellow PeeChee folders and pencil-top erasers in various colors.

While kids still need school supplies, there are a few other tasks beyond shopping to add to your back-to-school checklist:

Get back on a school year sleep schedule.

Most kids over age 6 can get themselves ready for bed and fall asleep on their own. But summer’s distractions and poor bedtime habits can be hard to leave behind once the school year approaches.

A couple of weeks before summer’s end, start having your student go to bed and wake at the same times they will during the school year. Help them make their room a good setting for sleep by dimming the lights; making sure voices and other sounds in the home are low; and removing anything, such as toys or digital devices, that might be a distraction.

Plan for healthy lunches.

Forget the cafeteria and prepackaged cracker kits. Make sure you have an insulated lunch bag, thermos and a couple of ice packs to keep things cool and start trying out some healthy lunch options before the first day.

Find fun new recipes that are easy to pack and don’t require refrigeration — from pasta and special sandwiches to soups and skewers. And for those mornings when you’re running late, have staples at the ready for easy packing: hard-boiled eggs, fresh chopped veggies, hummus, single-serve guacamole packs, fruit, string cheese, whole-grain crackers, nuts and yogurt.

Schedule well-check visits and sports physicals.

Before they walk through those schoolhouse doors, make sure your child’s vaccinations are up to date. They’ll also need to be cleared by their doctor for the sports and activities they plan to enjoy.

Vaccines available for school-age children include DTaP and Tdap (both prevent diphtheria, tetanus and pertussis — also known as whooping cough), hepatitis B, MMR (measles, mumps and rubella), varicella (chickenpox) and polio. While the influenza (flu), HPV (human papillomavirus) and COVID-19 vaccines are not mandatory to attend school in California, they are recommended by health experts.

Reconnect with school friends.

Heading into a new school year can cause anxiety. From new campuses and classmates to different teachers and class schedules, kids may worry about what’s to come.

Help them connect with friends in the final weeks of summer. Schedule group playdates at area parks, or invite a friend or two over to get reacquainted if summer schedules kept them apart. Knowing they have allies can help make the transition back to school easier — and far more fun.

Read the parent handbook.

Take a moment to read through the school’s handbook, often posted on the school’s website. You can learn about important dates and events (and add them to your calendar); review school rules about attire, tardiness, absences and more; find a school supplies list; and familiarize yourself with guidelines for school drop-off and pickup, as well as walking or biking to school.

Additionally, the handbook should include — or direct you to — the best way to communicate with your child’s teacher to share concerns or information they need to enhance your student’s academic experience. And health and emergency contact forms you need to complete should be included or accessible via a link.

Discuss your family’s rules around screen time and homework.

Create a quiet, well-lit space at home where your student can do their homework without distractions. Share your expectations for when homework will be done and whether digital devices can be used during homework time (other than those devices needed to complete assignments, such as a laptop and calculator).

Define your expectations surrounding how much screen time they can have each day. And discuss what other activities — such as homework, physical activity and chores — must be completed before screen time is allowed; and what the consequences will be if these guidelines aren’t followed.

Change can be hard for people of all ages. However, planning and preparation can make the back-to-school transition less stressful, not only for students, but also for their parents and guardians. Enjoy these last lazy days of summer, but make sure to also take the time to set up your student for success.

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