TORONTO — There’s the back-to-school shopping, lunch and snack preparation and getting used to a new school bus schedule. The end of August and the start of September is a hectic time for kids as they reunite with their alarm clocks, textbooks and their friends.
Global News asked experts for their tips on what parents need to make sure they cover before their kids head back-to-school.
Get your kids onto a regular sleep schedule: Staying up all night at summer camp with friends and sleeping in until noon will be a thing of the past for your kids come September. But getting back into the swing of things with a concrete routine won’t happen overnight.
Dr. Colleen Carney, a Ryerson University professor who specializes in studying sleep, says parents ought to start early.
“It becomes tricky to start just days before school to get someone to just shift sleeping patterns. It could be like taking a trip to Vancouver from Toronto in terms of jet lag,” she explained.
While it may be hard to wean your kids away from their late-night activities, set their curfew back gradually with half hour increments, for example.
Their bedrooms should have good blinds or curtains to keep the sunlight from seeping in — the brightness will only make it harder to get to sleep. Get your kids to relax before bedtime, too. They shouldn’t be doing anything that’ll keep them excited and distracted just hours before going to sleep.
Establishing a sleep schedule will help with alertness, focus and even sets the tone for when your kids get hungry throughout the day once they’re in the classroom, Carney notes.
Make sure your child’s vaccination records are up to date: Chicken pox, mumps, measles and whooping cough outbreaks have been reported across North America in the past few years. Remember, these are all childhood diseases that are preventable with vaccines that are typically administered during preschool-to-grade school years.
Head to your pediatrician or family doctor’s office to make sure your child has his or her MMVR vaccines — measles, mumps, varicella, rubella — along with HPV and tuberculosis vaccines.
“If your records aren’t up to date, the school’s going to come after you and can make your life challenging,” Dr. David Greenberg warned. He’s a Toronto-based family physician specializing in children’s health.
Your child’s school could suspend your child until you return with the proper documentation that he or she received the required shots. You could also provide a medical or religious exemption in some cases.
“Your records should be up to date as long as you have a regular family doctor. Things do fall through the cracks so parents need to be aware of that and double check that their child’s vaccines are up to date,” Greenberg said.
Some schools provide clinics so kids can be vaccinated, but if your child was sick or away from class that day, he or she could have missed the shot.
Hang onto all of your child’s paperwork for vaccinations, Greenberg advises.
Choose the right backpack: They’re filled with textbooks, gym clothes, lunch and snacks — backpacks are worn daily and can get pretty heavy for your child. Chiropractors warn that a heavy load that’s unevenly or improperly distributed could result in poor posture or distort the spinal column, throwing it out of alignment. Kids could feel muscle strain, headaches, and neck pain in the fallout.
Dr. Katherine Tibor, an Ontario Chiropractic Association spokesperson, suggests that parents look for a lightweight fabric, such as vinyl or canvas when backpack shopping. The strap also needs to be wide with padding to support your child’s shoulders. High school-aged kids may need backpacks with waist belts if they’re carrying equipment or instruments along with textbooks in their backpacks.
Make sure your child isn’t wearing their backpack too low, that they aren’t slinging it over only one shoulder and that its size doesn’t overwhelm your child’s body frame.
Backpacks should only carry about 10 to 15 per cent of your child’s body weight. Read more about backpacks and back pain here.
Practice a safe commute to school: If your kids are heading into kindergarten or high school, new surroundings can be daunting. Kids across the board — even if they’re taking the same route to school that they’ve taken for years — need a refresher on safety, the experts say.
Go over outdoor safety rules, from looking both ways before crossing the street, familiarizing yourself with the crosswalk and being wary of talking to strangers.
“You might want to do a dry run with your kids, walking to the bus stop, walking to school, explaining to them what might happen and what you should do, yelling for help, running, don’t take a short cut through the woods,” Dr. Richard So, of Cleveland Clinic Children’s Hospital, said.
If your kids are starting at a new school, help them get acquainted with the building.
“Look for a copy of your school’s floor plan on the school website. And don’t be afraid to ask for directions when you get to school,” parenting author Ann Douglas said.
Keep in mind, there will be teachers, guidance counsellors and other staff on hand during the busy first week.