Checklist for a Healthy School Year

Get Bedtimes On Track

Summer is synonymous with longer days and, naturally, later bedtimes. But those lazy-day rituals can wreak havoc on school-year sleep habits, says pediatrician Jennifer A. Gardner, M.D. She recommends shifting bedtimes back five minutes every night as the first day of school approaches—so if your child hits the sack an hour later during summer months, you’ll need 12 days to complete the shift. And remember, “if your child is waking up later than she’ll need to for school, get her up five minutes earlier each day, too,” Gardner adds.

Schedule Important Checkups

Before school starts, make appointments for a checkup, dental exam, and vision and hearing screenings. The beginning of the year is also an important time to test for allergies, says pediatric pulmonologist Inderpal Randhawa, M.D., who practices in Long Beach, California. “Children with airborne allergies tend to develop more upper respiratory infections when they go back to school, and if you’re worried your child might have a food allergy, testing can help determine whether precautions need to be taken at school,” says Randhawa.

Discuss Any Health Issues with the School

Whether it’s about asthma that fares up occasionally or medication your child takes, Gardner recommends talking to the principal, assistant principal, school nurse, and all your child’s teachers about any serious medical issues. “Be sure everyone understands the signs and symptoms that require immediate assessment or intervention,” she says.

Stay on Top of Special Needs

Meet with administrators and your child’s teacher before the school year to discuss your child’s condition,” says Gardner. “A handout with information about it, including resources and learning tools, can be useful for faculty.” And if your child has a learning disability, be sure his Individualized Education Program has been evaluated and updated for the new year. Gardner also recommends doing a walk-through of your child’s school before he goes back—this will help prepare him and reassure you.

Pick the Right Backpack

Experts say an ill-fitting book bag can lead to neck, back, and shoulder pain and even affect posture. Michael Perry, M.D., chief medical director of the Laser Spine Institute, recommends opting for a smaller bag (full backpacks should weigh no more than 15 percent of your child’’s weight) with wide, padded straps and plenty of compartments throughout to help distribute weight. Or try a backpack on wheels—it’ll be slightly heavier, but rolling the bag will offer your child’s body some much-needed relief.

Beat Back-to-School Germs

Close quarters, underdeveloped immune systems, and kids’tendency to touch everything make school the perfect breeding ground for sickness. “We see a big increase when school starts in several different illnesses, including colds and strep throat,” says Zak Zarbock, M.D., a pediatrician in Salt Lake City. This year, it’s even more important for your littles to develop healthy hygiene habits due to COVID-19. Make sure they are using hand sanitizer, washing their hands regularly, and wearing their masks around others to protect themselves.