Back to School: Your Healthy Kid Toolkit

back to school season 2020-2021

Verywell / Alex Dos Diaz

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The phrase “back to school” will have a very different meaning for many families for the 2020-2021 school year. For some kids, a hybrid approach of in-person and at-home education will be their new style of learning, while others will take classes solely online.

And while the exact plan may differ depending on where you live, one thing is for sure: We can still help our children develop a foundation for academic success, find greater confidence, teach them healthy habits, and celebrate what makes them unique.

With that in mind, here are some things to consider as you move forward with back-to-school planning and preparations.

Getting Organized

The end of the summer is always a good time for your child to set new goals, create a routine, and establish healthy habits that can serve as the foundation for a successful academic year.

Before school starts, set aside a few hours to work on goal setting. Ask your child to identify one or two areas to work on this year. Then, have them create a visual reminder (worksheet, poster board, journal, etc.) that includes the long-term goals with actionable steps and targets to track their progress.

And don’t forget to go shopping! From notebooks and pencils to clothes, shoes, and backpacks, back to school shopping is a top priority when getting organized—even if the classroom is also your kitchen table.

This is also an excellent time to establish a routine and practice it before the alarm clock rings on the first day of school. Together, choose a “get up” time and write a morning to-do list. This may include eating breakfast, making the bed, getting dressed, taking care of hygiene (hair and teeth), and placing a backpack or other school supplies by the door. If possible, make lunches and packs backpacks the night before. Remember, your child can do these tasks on their own!

You can also use this time to teach them about staying healthy. Proper handwashing, what to do when sick, getting enough sleep, eating and snacking healthily, and talking about anxiety and stress levels are all important healthy habits to teach at home. 

The after school and evening hours give your child another opportunity to stick to a schedule. Homework, chores, activity time, free time, and family time are areas to consider when making a schedule. The key to fitting everything in—without getting overwhelmed—is to establish a daily plan and stick to it!

When it comes to homework, the first step is to work with your child to determine when they will work on it, where it will take place, and how much time to carve out. Once you have a homework plan, it’s time to get to work. Give your child at least three weeks to make this a habit. If they are struggling or need extra help, reach out to their teacher. 

Eating Healthy

Being successful in school starts with a healthy diet. And eating breakfast before heading out the door or to a homework station at home will help your kids get started on the right foot. One way to make the morning meal less stressful is to prep breakfast the night before.

Together, make a list of quick and healthy options that include whole grains, protein, and fruit. Some simple, but tasty, ideas to try are low-fat Greek yogurt with fruit and nuts, a whole-wheat bagel with nut butter and a banana, cereal with low-fat milk and a piece of fruit, or an egg burrito with a side of berries. 

You can also be efficient and pack a healthy lunch while prepping breakfast. Most kids can help with this task, so make sure to include them. Brainstorm meal ideas and get creative with what you pack.

Like breakfast, try to balance this meal with whole grains, protein, fruit and veggies. Consider using a bento box that divides food into sections. Add leftovers to a glass container and toss some chopped fruit and vegetables into a reusable bag. And don’t forget the water. Buy a sturdy water bottle during your school shopping trip and make sure your child uses it daily! 

Snack-time is another opportunity to recruit your child’s help and get them involved in the kitchen. Ask them to choose and prep several on-the-go snack packs such as veggies and dip, homemade trail mix, yogurt parfaits, and sliced fruit. 

You can also involve them in the kitchen by cooking dinner together. Choose two nights for them to help with the menu, prep work, cooking, serving, and cleaning. If you have more than one child, give each of them their own task, and have them swap roles the next time you cook as a family. 

Staying Active

Staying active as a family is one of the easiest ways to teach your children about the importance of physical activity. With younger kids, consider setting up fun fitness challenges like obstacle courses. With older kids and teens, choose a 5k to run and train as a family—even if it's a virtual event. Regardless of the activity, make sure to include a reward at the end to celebrate together.

Plus, if your kids are active at home, it’s a lot easier to encourage them to stay active at school. If you live close enough to school, walk there together. With younger kids, help them come up with recess games and activities to play with classmates. Teens can take a fitness-based PE class like weight training or team sports and participate in an after-school sport or activity. 

Once your children develop a love for fitness, they can use exercise and physical activity as a tool when taking a brain break. Performing short bursts of activity like sprinting, jumping rope, or yoga poses can help kids refocus and reset their brains for learning. 

Conquering Transitions

We are all facing challenges right now and learning a new way of life. Part of helping your child get ready for school is showing them how to conquer these new transitions.

One thing you can do immediately? Teach them life skills. For preschool-age, this might be learning how to clean up, picking their own clothes, and knowing their emergency contact information. Little kids can help with laundry, make their bed, help in the kitchen, load the dishwasher, and work in the garden. Tweens and teens can learn about money, household maintenance, and personal responsibility. 

When it gets closer to the first day of school, watch for signs of anxiety. Do a practice run of a school day. You may be able to take them to visit the school. If possible (and safe), let them get together with classmates or friends and remind them that feeling nervous about starting school is normal.

If you suspect their worries are more than first-day jitters, you may want to talk to their doctor. Identifying and addressing mental health issues is a critical step in keeping your child physically and emotionally healthy. 

With that in mind, you’ll also want to address any behavioral issues that may occur once school starts. To get in front of this, establish regular communication with the teacher. At home, work with your child to problem-solve problematic behavior. And don’t forget to reward them when they demonstrate the right behavior.

Being consistent and following through can help build self-esteem and confidence in your child, which is a key ingredient for good mental and physical health. Now more than ever, we should be celebrating our kids—especially their most unique qualities.

The bottom line is this: We are all facing uncertainty together. When kids watch adults be positive and optimistic while they process so many unknowns, it can give them hope about the future, and help them feel safe and secure.

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