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Make a healthy transition back to school

Wow! Where did the summer go? It seems that each year May rolls around, school is out and our schedules go by the wayside. Then all of a sudden (much too fast for many and not fast enough for others), we turn around and it is time to go back to school and attempt to get the kids back on schedule.

The laid-back, less scheduled and structured time of summer is quickly over and we need to readjust our schedules and routines for the school year. I have to disclose that this is the first year that my family will have to undertake this monumental task. My oldest children (twin boys) are entering pre-K , which means we need to be up, dressed, fed and out the door at a specific time (not determined by the kids). Like many other families, this will certainly be an adjustment. How can this transition be accomplished in a healthy and minimally resistant way?

The first thing that I would like to address is a sleep schedule. Kids tend to go to bed later in the summer months and, in turn, get up later. Back to school means kids will need to adjust this sleep pattern and get to bed at an earlier time. It is recommended by many reputable researchers and websites, such as yahoo.com to start a week or two before the first day of school and gradually push bedtime up.

If your child has been going to bed at 9 but during the school year needs to be in bed by 8, move bedtime up by 10-15 minutes a night until you reach 8 p.m. This new bedtime will allow kids to get the adequate amount of sleep needed to have a productive day at school. This adjustment will hopefully allow more time to get up, dressed and have a healthy breakfast in the morning before the kids are off to school.

Once your kids are on the way to a good night’s sleep, making sure they have a healthy breakfast is very important. Breakfast should never be skipped and provides kids with the energy and nutrients to perform better in school. Numerous research studies have linked academic success with an adequate nutritional intake and healthy breakfast. Many schools offer breakfast and if possible kids should take advantage of this.

However if this is not an option, breakfast can be as simple as a bowl of cereal with milk, a bagel with peanut butter or whole grain frozen waffles. Breakfast doesn’t have to be a big sit-down meal. The important thing is to have something to eat before the start of school. If time is short in the morning, a healthy cereal or granola bar or piece of fruit can be eaten in the car or the school bus on the way to school

Physical activity/exercise is another important aspect to a child’s academic success. With more schools eliminating or reducing physical education classes, you need to ensure there is time after school and on the weekends for exercise. Adults need to emphasize the importance of being active and provide kids with opportunities (riding bikes, taking walks, and playing sports) to engage in activities.

There are numerous after-school programs that can assist with this endeavor, such as the YMCA after-school programs, Boys and Girls Clubs, and organized sports offered through local organizations. Kids need to understand how important physical activity is not only their bodies but their minds as well. Physical activity along with a healthy nutritional intake will provide kids with a solid foundation for academic success. In addition, a healthy breakfast (lunch and dinner) along with daily physical activity can assist kids in getting an adequate amount of sleep and maintain a schedule that will contribute to the potential for academic success. Like many parents, I know the benefits my kids will reap from getting an adequate amount of sleep, eating a healthy breakfast and getting daily physical activity, will not only help them today but in the future.

Dr. Kirsten Lupinski is an assistant professor at Albany State University in the Health, Physical Education and Recreation Department. She has a B.S. in Nutrition from the University of North Carolina, an M.S. in Health Education from the University of Kentucky and a doctorate in Education from the University of Cincinnati. She has worked in the health education field in various capacities (corporate health, community health, college health and wellness and university education) for more than 15 years. She and her husband have three young children (5-year-old twin sons and a 2-year-old daughter).