Ask the Pediatrician

Dr. Tanya’s Back-to-School Checklist

As summer draws to a close, it’s time to start prepping your kids to go back to school. Getting ready for a new school year is about more than just new sneakers and school supplies. This checklist will help you keep your kids on track for a healthy and happy school year.

Dr. Tanya’s Seven Back-to-School S’s

1. Sleep
During the summer, kids tend to stay up later. Whether they’re running around the neighborhood or playing Fortnite, it’s now time to start moving that bedtime earlier by 15 minutes every few days until you hit the appropriate bedtime for school. All kids need at least 10 hours of sleep (tweens and teens too!). Sleep is very important for a growing body and learning brain. Three days before school starts, set the morning alarm, wake your kids up lovingly, and practice that morning routine. With a few days of practice, that first morning of school will run smoothly for everyone.

2. Sugar and snacks
During the summer, I often see kids eating more sugary, colorful “fun” foods, but on school mornings, protein is very important. Decrease sugar and artificial colors, especially in the morning, and feed your kids a healthy and protein-rich breakfast of eggs, dairy products, or nut butters on whole-grain bread. Protein-rich foods help your kids focus and concentrate during the school day and keep them full and energized longer. Pack a few healthy snacks and refillable water bottle in your child’s backpack. This is especially important as the heat in Southern California lasts well into late fall.

3. Screens
During the summer months, the amount of screen time kids get usually increases. Maybe it’s because you have limits during the school year and now your kids are binge-watching Netflix or watching viral videos on YouTube. Either way, it’s time to sit down as a family and decide your media-use and screen-time rules for the school year. In my family, we have a rule of no recreational screen time on school nights. That means computer school work and texting friends appropriately is fine. Some of my families use one to two hours a night, which is the official American Academy of Pediatrics maximum recommendation for recreational screen time a day. Most importantly, keep screen-free zones in your house, such as the kitchen table and the bedroom, and have a media curfew, which means an hour before bedtime all screens turn off and charge in a central location, so as not to interfere with sleep.

4. Shots
Every child needs to be up to date on vaccines—it’s a California state law. A lot of parents are emailing me to get shot records for school or to get caught up on needed vaccines, so be sure to check with your doctor to see if anything is recommended for your child or teen. Now is also the time to have a full physical exam from head to toe, including vision, hearing, depression, concussion, nutrition, sleep, and exercise evaluations. There’s a reason why a full physical takes so long and often needs to be scheduled ahead of time.

5. Supplies
Be sure to pick a backpack that isn’t going to be too heavy when it’s full of books. The rule of thumb is that children’s backpacks should not be more than a quarter of their body weight. You also want to make sure that backpacks have padded straps, and really encourage your kids to wear their backpacks using both straps. Some prefer rolling backpacks, but they don’t always fit in lockers and can be very heavy to carry up stairs.

6. Stress
Back to school can be a stressful time for both kids and adults. Talk to your kids about any concerns they may have and run through the school-day routine. Re-introduce them to old friends they may not have seen over the summer and encourage them to make new friends, too. A few days before school starts, go to the school together, walk around, and get a “lay of the land” so your children are more comfortable on that first day back.

7. Study
Start working on the “brain drain” of summer and have your kids read a book or study up on something fun, like the history of their favorite sports team. Get their brains back to thinking and learning before that first day of school. It’s also a good idea to take a day to clean, declutter, and organize so your kids have a set space to do their homework and study in quiet, without distractions.

Enjoy the last few days of summer and start putting your family’s back-to-school plan in motion now to ensure a smooth transition for all this fall.

Tanya Altmann, MD, FAAP, is the founder of Calabasas Pediatrics. She’s also a best-selling parenting book author and assistant clinical professor at UCLA Mattel Children’s Hospital.