2010 Back-to-school health checklist
Along with books and bedtimes, it’s time to think about your child’s health — before that school bell rings
By Kathy Sena
Ah, the smell of sunscreen. The joy of homework-free evenings. The less-scheduled family calendar…
How did summer pass so quickly?
Yep, it’s time to get the kids ready to head back to school. Are your child’s immunizations up to date? Does he need new glasses? What time should she go to bed? We’ve rounded up expert advice on all this and more so your kids will be ready for the big day!
1. Schedule a well-child checkup. Most states require only two well-child exams for school enrollment: at the start of kindergarten and high school. Some states vary, so check with your school. An additional exam is often required for participation in a school sport. Check with your child’s doctor regarding how often to schedule additional well-child check-ups.
2. Make sure your child is up-to-date on all immunizations, including seasonal flu/H1N1. Ask your doctor for a copy of your child’s immunization record. You may need it to prove her immunization status for school. Visit the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) Childhood Immunization Support Program website at www.cispimmunize.org for lots of helpful information, including:
- The AAP’s 2010 Childhood Immunization Schedule (for infants through teens) and a catch-up schedule for children who may have missed a scheduled vaccination.
- Updates on vaccine safety and vaccines that are temporarily in short supply.
- Frequently asked questions about childhood immunizations.
- Unlike last fall, this year the seasonal flu vaccine will include protection against the H1N1 virus, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). That means that, barring some unforeseen circumstance, most Americans will be able to return to getting one flu shot to protect against the major flu viruses. (Younger children who have never had a seasonal flu vaccine before will need two doses, says the CDC.)
- All people from 6 months through 24 years of age are a priority group for H1N1 vaccination, says the CDC. Getting your child vaccinated is the best method for protecting him from the flu.
3. Have your child’s vision checked. Basic vision screening should be performed by your child’s doctor at each well-child examination. If a child fails a vision screening, or if there is any concern about a vision problem, she should be referred for a comprehensive professional eye exam, according to the American Academy of Ophthalmology (AAO). For children who wear glasses, the AAO recommends one-piece wrap-around polycarbonate sports frames for contact sports.
4. Schedule a dental check-up. Students in the U.S. miss more than 51 million school hours per year because of dental problems, says the American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry. Teach your child to floss daily and brush twice a day with a fluoride toothpaste. And visit your child’s dentist twice a year for a professional cleaning and check-up.
5. Have your child’s hearing tested. Most states now mandate hearing tests for infants. But many school-age children haven’t been tested. If your child is listening to the television or music at a very loud volume, or tends to favor one ear over the other when listening to you speak, it may be a sign of hearing loss. Talk with your doctor about having your child’s hearing tested.
6. Communicate about medications. Does your child receive medication on a regular basis for
diabetes, asthma or another chronic health problem? School nurses and teachers must be made aware of your child’s needs, especially if they are the ones who will administer the medicine. Speak with them about the prescribed medication schedule, and work out an emergency course of action in case of a problem.
7. Schedule testing if you suspect a learning disability or dyslexia. If you feel your child may not be processing information as she should, speak with her teacher and her doctor as soon as possible. Your child’s doctor can provide a referral for testing.
8. Plan ahead for brain-power breakfasts. Studies show that children who eat breakfast are more alert in class. Try to include protein (peanut butter or low-fat cheese, milk or yogurt are good choices), fruit and whole grains.
9. Talk with your child — and with your school principal — about healthy eating at school. The AAP suggests encouraging your child’s school to stock healthy lunch choices such as fresh fruit, low-fat dairy products, water and 100-percent fruit juice in school vending machines. A 12-ounce soft drink contains approximately 10 teaspoons of sugar and 150 calories. Drinking just one can of soda a day increases a child’s risk of obesity by 60 percent, says the AAP. Restrict your child’s soft-drink consumption to special occasions.
10. Update emergency phone numbers. Are your current emergency phone numbers on file at school? Make sure the school and your child know how to reach you or another caregiver at all times.
11. If your child has a cell phone, talk with him about when and where it can be used safely. Chatting on a cell phone or texting while walking or biking to school can be dangerous. Explain to your child the importance of paying attention to his surroundings and being aware of cars and bikes. Set a good example by not using a cell phone while driving.
12. Choose the right backpack — and use it safely. Look for wide, padded shoulder straps. Narrow straps can dig into shoulders, causing pain and restricting circulation. A padded back increases comfort. The backpack shouldn’t weigh more than 10 to 20 percent of the student’s body weight, according to the AAP. Remind your child to always use both shoulder straps. Slinging a backpack over one shoulder can strain muscles and may increase the chances of developing curvature of the spine. Pack heavier items closest to the center of the back. Even better: Use a rolling backpack.
13. Review school-bus safety rules. Designate a safe place for your child to wait for the bus, away from traffic and the street. And review these safety rules, from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, with your child:
When getting on the bus, wait for the driver’s signal. Board the bus one at a time.
- When getting off the bus, look before stepping off the bus to be sure no cars are passing on the right. (It’s illegal, but it happens.) Move away from the bus.
- Before crossing the street, take five “giant steps” out from the front of the bus, or until the driver’s face can be seen. Wait for the driver to signal that it’s safe to cross.
- Look left-right-left when coming to the edge of the bus to make sure traffic is stopped. Keep watching traffic when crossing.
- Ask the driver for help if you drops something near the bus. If you bend down to pick up something, the driver cannot see you and you may be hit by the bus. Use a backpack to keep loose items together.
14. Create a healthy sleep schedule. The National Sleep Foundation says school-age kids need the following amounts of sleep,
depending on age:
- Preschoolers: 11 to 13 hours
- Ages 5 to 10: 10 to 11 hours
- Ages 10 to 17: 8.5 to 9.25 hours
That can be a tough prescription to follow, with the increasing demands on kids’ time from homework, sports and other extracurricular activities. As they get older, school-aged children become more interested in TV, video games and the Web (as well as caffeinated beverages). This can lead to difficulty falling asleep and sleep disruptions. Poor sleep can lead to mood swings, behavioral problems and cognitive problems that affect a child’s ability to learn. To help your child get a good night’s sleep, teach healthy sleep habits, emphasize the need for a consistent sleep schedule and bedtime routine, create a good environment for sleep (dark, cool and quiet) and keep TV and computers out of the bedroom.
Sources: U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, New York Presbyterian Hospital, American Academy of Pediatrics, Texas Children’s Hospital, Mayo Clinic, National Sleep Foundation, National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, American Academy of Ophthalmology
Kathy Sena is a freelance journalist who frequently covers children’s-health issues. Her son is not pleased that she knows the National Sleep Foundation’s sleep recommendation for 14-year-olds. Visit her blog at www.parenttalktoday.com.
Preparing your child for preschool
By Denise Yearian
When my son started preschool several years ago, he was in for a big adjustment. Up to that point, he had stayed home with his baby sister and me. Suddenly he was plopped into a new environment, with a new person in charge, and lots of children all vying for the teacher’s attention. The tears that followed that day told me one thing: I had not properly prepared my son for preschool. By the time my second and third children came along, I knew how to prepare them for the experience, and it was smooth sailing.
Preschool is a wonderful time for growth in a young child’s life. If prepared for properly, it can be an enjoyable experience. Following are a few tips to help your child prepared for preschool and ease into the routine.
Talk it up. Weeks before preschool begins, start preparing your child by using positive and encouraging words. If you drive by the building where your child’s school will be say, “Oh, look! There’s your new school. You are going to have so much fun there!” Tell your child that he is growing up and this means he gets to spend more time learning and playing with other children his age. If you, as a parent, are ambivalent about your child going, choose your words carefully. Even from a young age, children can pick up on what their parents are and are not saying!
Visit the school. Several weeks before school begins, take your child to the preschool facility so he can familiarize himself with his new surroundings. Go as many times as your child needs to feel comfortable. If you know which classroom your child will be in, visit it. If possible, let him meet the teacher and play with some of the toys in the room. Before leaving, take him to the playground and let him spend a few minutes swinging, going down the slide and sifting sand in the sandbox.
Invite others to play. If up to this point your child has had little interaction with those his own age, invite several children over to your house to play. It doesn’t have to be a day-long event; one or two hours is a sufficient amount of time for children to begin learning skills such as toy sharing and peer politeness. A general rule of thumb is this: schedule a time when the children will be well-rested—early morning or after naptime. Also plan a few activities, but allow the children some free play time. You might also include a snack for those hungry tummies.
Introduce school materials. Long before formal education begins your child should become familiar with books, puzzles, games, crayons, scissors, glue and clay. To ease into a structured environment, set aside time each day for you and your child to work on puzzles together, play games, color, cut and glue various items and mold things out of clay. Start with just a few minutes each day and gradually increase the amount of time you spend doing it. While you are participating in an activity together, tell your child that this is just one of many fun things he will be doing in preschool. Be alert for signs that your child is getting bored with a given activity, and stop before he gets too restless.
Read all about it. One of the best ways to prepare your child for preschool is to read juvenile materials about first-day jitters. Library shelves and bookstores are stacked high with stories of children and/or animals that were afraid to go to school. Through books like these, your child will learn that he isn’t the only one with fears and worries about attending school. Most important, he will be able to see the characters to the end of the story where they meet new friends, have lots of fun and learn that their fears and worries were in vain.
Establish a routine. If you haven’t already, be sure your child has a daily routine. While it need not be as rigid as a day of preschool, structured play time in the morning (see “Introduce school materials”), story time after lunch and outdoor play at the same time every day will help your child establish a routine. The key here is consistency.
Go shopping. Nothing builds excitement quicker than taking your child out to buy a new lunchbox, backpack, school clothes or other needed school items. Make a day of it by first stopping by the school, shopping a little and then enjoying a fun lunch together.
Take a dry run. The day before school begins, get your child up and out the door at the time he will need to be ready for school. If he is attending a morning program, take him for a donut after you have made the dry run at school. If he is attending an afternoon program, stop by for a special ice cream cone to celebrate his upcoming day.
Watch and wait…if necessary. On the first day, if your child eagerly welcomes his new environment, give him a hug and tell you will be back in a little while. If, however, your child seems uncertain about the experience, tell him you will stay, but only for a few minutes. During this time, introduce him to other children, show him some of the toys and pictures around the room and help him get settled. When the time limit is up, give him a hug, reassure him of your love and leave quickly. Although there may be tears, your child will more than likely stop crying and start enjoying himself soon.
Above all, remember that preschool is a time of growth—a time for your child to broaden his horizons, develop social skills and begin a love of learning. Keep the experience positive and your child will have fun and eventually adjust to his new environment.
Denise Yearian is the former editor of two parenting magazines and the mother of three children.
Ten homework tips for maximizing academic success
By Denise Yearian
Homework is an important component of a child’s educational experience. To help families make the most of homework time, local educators offer these tips.
1. Time it Right. To find the best time to do homework, consider your schedule and your child’s temperament and personality. Some kids need a break when they get home. Others lose steam if they don’t do their assignments right away. Try doing homework at different times to see where you have the greatest success. Then create a consistent routine based on what works best for your child.
2. My Space. Children need an undistracted desk-like area for doing homework. And for some, that may not be a bedroom where familiar toys could divert their attention, or a kitchen table situated around household hubbub. Find a consistent place away from distractions but still central to a parent so the child can be monitored if he has questions or needs help staying on task.
3. Tuned in or Turned off? Some children enjoy listening to music while studying, but parents need to consider their child’s learning style and the type of media he’s tuning in to. While a small percentage of children do better with a little background noise, the majority need it quiet. If your child insists on having something on, refrain from TV or familiar tunes that might distract his thinking. Choose instead unfamiliar songs without words such as soothing, classical music.
4. Aid and Ally. Parents should be there to lend support and provide guidance when needed. Read together, help with directions and spec out the first few problems to make sure your child understands the concepts. Then let him work independently while remaining available for questions. Follow up by checking for quality. If you see several mistakes, encourage your child to make corrections. But don’t fix it for him. Teachers would prefer the work come back wrong rather than having the parent make needed corrections. If the work is replete with errors, let it go and send a note to the teacher saying your child didn’t understand the work. Another thing that may help is a homework buddy. Encourage your child to partner with a classmate so they can be in contact with one another if either has trouble while completing an assignment.
5. Rapid Review. Reviewing previous lessons is beneficial in refreshing a student’s memory, particularly with subjects like math where one concept builds upon another. Look at a couple of past lessons and have your child briefly explain the concepts to you. But keep it short so he’s still alert for the current day’s assignment.
6. Tarry and Toil. If your child is working for an extended period of time, consider the cause. Is he tired? Unfocused? Doddling? Not understanding the material? If he’s procrastinating, set a timer or offer an incentive for completing the assignment on time. If, however, your child is diligent and still not finishing in a reasonable amount of time, have him stop. Then let the teacher know how long he worked.
7. Pay Attention to Patterns. If you find your child frequently saying he doesn't understand the work, it may be a clue he needs extra school support or a tutor. Likewise, if he effortless whips through his assignments day after day it may be an indications he's not being challenged. Homework isn't supposed to be overly difficult but students should have to put some time and thought into it. Look for patterns that something is happening, either good or bad. Then communicate with the teacher and ask for her suggestions.
8. Relegate Responsibility. Encourage your child to take on the responsibilty of stating and finishing homework by creating a system such as a check-off list. When he starts to recieve long-term projects, help him map out the work by using a calendar so he learns good time management and organizational skills. Break down large projects into thier smallest components of what needs to be done each day —reading "X" number of pages, for example. Then check with your child periodically to make sure he's staying on task.
9. Scope Out Sick Days. If your child is going to be out for more than a few days, contact the teacher and let her know. If he has to stay home due to a minor illness, the teacher may want to send a few things your way. But if your child is truely sick and needs to rest, she'll probably suggest letting him recover and catching him up on the work when he returns.
10. Constanly Communicate. Find out early on the best way to contact your child's teacher—either my phone, email, note or other. Then if an issue arises, don't wait to discuss it. Small problems can escalate if not addressed right away. Even if things are going well, occastionally touch base to make sure you're both pleased with your child's progress.
Keep on reading together
School success and a lifelong love of learning are only a book away!
By Kim Seidel
A self-proclaimed book lover, Chris Kubal naturally strives to instill a passion for reading in her children. So, this mother of three often feels perplexed by their various levels of interest in books.
Nicole, a college student, is an avid reader like her mother. Meanwhile, Zachary, a teen in high school, won’t even read notes unless his mom tapes them to his backpack. He subscribes to a few sports magazines, but mainly looks at the cool photos. Gabrielle, an elementary student, takes her enthusiasm for reading beyond her older siblings.
Though her family’s reading habits vary, Chris consistently creates a home where books are central to their lives. Reading is part of their daily routine.
Her tactics can be easy for any parent to follow.
Create a home library. “We have a lot of books around here in our home,” Chris says. Books are stacked high on shelves in the kids’ bedrooms, including series of books.
Subscribe to magazines. Each family member subscribes to several magazines geared toward their interests. This keeps everyone reading for pleasure and for learning.
Visit the library. Keep in mind that magazines, as well as books, can be checked out at your local library to stay on your budget. Every summer, Chris has taken her children to participate in the local library’s summer reading activities. Library programs for all ages typically continue throughout the school year. Check out whether your area book stores hold special story times and programs as well.
Reading for school success
Studies show that kids who read four or more chapter books over the summer go back to school better prepared for the fall, says Francie Alexander, Chief Academic Officer of Scholastic, based in New York, N.Y.
Take note—reading 20 minutes a day is a key to success for kids of all ages. Following are some great ideas to help your children meet that 20-minute goal and then some.
Help kids discover books to enjoy. “According to ‘The Kids and Family Reading Report,’ we know that kids’ reading frequency has a tendency to drop off after age 8,” Alexander says. “The number one reason kids give as to why they don’t read more is that they can’t find books they like to read. Parents should take an active role in helping kids find the books they’ll want to read.”
Never leave home without a book. Whether you’re traveling for the holidays or just to the grocery store, always take a book with you. “Books keep kids from getting restless in traffic,” Alexander says. “There’s never a reason for a child to say, ‘I’m bored’ when there’s a book around.”
Have your child start a
series. Kids love to find characters that they adore and can relate to. There are many series out there that fit many ages and interests to engage imaginations and to keep them reading. Have fun helping your child discover a series he can enjoy for several years.
Let them pick their own book. “Guide your child to books that fit his or her interests, but ultimately let them pick their own book,” she says. The report states that 89 percent of kids say the book they loved the most is one they personally selected.
The kid who refuses to read
For parents who have a child refusing to read, be creative and think outside of the box. Try these tips to engage them in a great book after all.
Enhance their reading online. Allow your child to go online to complement their reading. The report shows that 64 percent of kids actually use the Internet to extend their reading experience, whether they’re going on author fan sites or social networking on book-related sites to buzz about their favorite titles.
“The report showed that kids who go online more frequently are more likely to read a book for fun every day. They just don’t want to let that book experience go, so parents should let kids ‘tech it up’ and extend that reading experience,” Alexander says.
How to compete with
The National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) reports children today are reading less often for shorter time periods. Their time is filled with other activities, including sports, video games, and television, according to the NEA study, “To Read or Not to Read.”
Try these ideas to keep reading in the game.
Continue reading to your older kids. No matter the age, you can continue reading aloud to your kids.
“It is the parents’ responsibility to read and/or continue to read to their children—even after they’ve learned to read for themselves,” says Bruce Johnson, founder of ReadingPlace.org. “This by itself—reading to a child 20 minutes per day—can significantly enhance his or her reading skills.”
Reading together is one of the most important things you can do to help your child become a successful and happy reader, Johnson says. When your child can read himself, you can take turns reading and devour longer, chapter books together.
Reap those reading benefits. It can be easy to keep motivated when you realize the vast advantages to your children when they spend time reading with you.
At all ages, the benefits for reading together aloud are impressive. It improves language development, vocabulary, and fluency, Johnson says. It also models good reading habits and shows that reading is a fun activity. As you listen to your child read, you can interact and support him.