Getting A Healthy Start on the School Year

Nurse Practitioner Scott Schuldes Says Getting Enough Sleep, Eating Right Are Key  

Don’t tell the kids, but a new school year is right around the corner. Besides buying the pencils, markers, glue sticks and other supplies, you also need to make sure they are ready health-wise for school. I know changing sleeping patterns or making sure vaccinations are up-to-date are not as fun as buying school supplies, but they are still necessary to help your children get ready for the upcoming school year.  

Here are some healthy steps to take to ensure your children start the school year out right:  

Getting enough sleep: It is no secret that bedtimes and schedules begin to slide during the summer. Begin preparing your children for their regular school year bedtime at least one week before the first day of school. Start moving up their bedtime and wake-up time about 10 minutes a day until reaching the right time. Then, have the kids stay on that schedule for a couple of days. (If things have been really lax, you may need more than a week.) This gradual change will help the children’s bodies adjust more easily. Children need enough sleep so they can perform their best at school. It is more difficult for tired children to learn. As for how much sleep a child needs, preschoolers need 10 to 13 hours; kids 6 to 13 need 9 to 11 hours; and teens should get at least 8 to 10 hours each night.  

Vaccinations up-to-date: We are all familiar with the vaccines infants and toddlers need, but immunizations do not end there. At ages 5 and 12, children need to receive a couple of booster shots. Teens also should be vaccinated for meningitis and whooping cough before they head to college. Everyone should also receive the flu vaccine when it becomes available mid-fall. Influenza can cause people to miss up to a week or more of school or work and can lead to serious complications that require hospitalization. Getting vaccinated also helps prevent the spread of the disease in the community, protecting those who cannot receive it because of a compromised immune system.  

Eating right: If your children’s eating habits have been less than stellar this summer, there is still time to turn them around before school starts. Eating lots of fruits and vegetables, lean proteins, and whole wheat carbohydrates and drinking milk will fuel your children’s bodies for the mental and physical work their bodies need to do in school (and their after-school activities too). Make sure your children start off each day with a healthy breakfast. Studies have shown it is harder for children to learn when they are hungry. If your children bring a lunch to school, teach them how to pack a healthy lunch with all the necessary nutrients. Thanks to improved federal guidelines, school lunches are also healthier. After school, give them a healthy snack and then serve a well-balanced meal.  

Be ready to listen: This tip is more for parents than kids. Ask your children if they have any questions or concerns about the upcoming school year, especially if they are moving to a new school or other changes are happening. Sometimes, kids have questions, but are afraid to ask so they silently worry. By bringing those concerns to light, you can answer questions or talk over possible solutions, such as “what if I forget my locker combination?” If your children do not have any worries now, remind them you are always available to talk and answer any questions they may have. That should help everyone feel better.  

Planning ahead and starting on a healthy note will help your children have a great school year.  

Scott Schuldes is a certified family nurse practitioner and associate medical director at ThedaCare Physicians-Hilbert. He can be reached at