Going back to school doesn't have to bel a last-minute panic. With our back-to-school tips, parents can plan weekly tasks for a healthy, eco-friendly return to the books.
If the morning of the first day of the school year finds you trying desperately to pull together a full set of pencil crayons from last year’s remains, microwaving frozen pastries for breakfast, and gathering change for your child’s lunch at the cafeteria, try our weekly back-to-school tips.
Take a deep breath
It’s normal: the start of September means excitement for kids, but it can also mean stress—for parents and kids. Unfortunately, that can mean healthy habits fall by the wayside. Make this year different.
These simple steps combine the best pointers for a healthy lifestyle and the latest environmental tips with kid-approved trends that are sure to delight. Tear out this countdown and stick it on your fridge or bulletin board where you can refer to it during the weeks leading up to the big day.
On your mark, get set, go!
5 weeks before: July 29 to August 4
According to the Public Health Agency of Canada, children and youth aged five to 17 need at least an hour of moderate- to vigorous-intensity physical activity per day, every day. Children under five need even more— 180 minutes of physical activity a day, according to new guidelines. But the sad truth is that less than 7 percent of Canadian children meet these recommendations.
What to do:
Sit down with your children and discuss what activities they’re interested in; now is the time registration begins. Don’t limit yourself to ball sports—consider fun and unique ideas such as swimming, dance, fencing, speed skating, or even yoga (which may promote psychosocial well-being in high-schoolers, according to a recent preliminary study). Low-cost options are available through school teams and at community centres.
4 weeks before: August 5 to 11
Moving up to a higher grade often means more homework, and therefore more (and heavier!) books. When worn incorrectly, such as over only one shoulder, backpacks can cause neck and back problems, including muscle and joint strain.
What to do:
Revisit your child’s backpack to make sure it fits properly. The best backpacks are lightweight but durable with wide straps, multiple compartments, a padded back, and a waist belt. Even still, experts agree that backpacks should weigh no more than 10 to 20 percent of a child’s weight, so it may be useful to get out the scale and see how many books can be safely packed.
Be an eco-fashionista
Now is the time to raid your child’s closet and donate clothing she’s outgrown to thrift stores or charitable organizations in your community. If your child is a trendsetter, shopping for new clothes may be fun, but don’t overlook the environmental aspects of new clothing purchases. Synthetic fabrics are energy-intensive and can release harmful chemicals, and nonorganic cotton production is responsible for a whopping 18 percent of the world’s pesticide use.
What to do:
Consider purchasing second-hand clothing, or hosting a clothing swap with other families. If you’re buying new clothing, choose eco-friendly brands that produce clothing made from sustainable fibres such as bamboo, wool, hemp, or certified organic cotton.
3 weeks before: August 12 to 18
Between work, housework, and being your child’s personal chauffeur, getting a healthy dinner on the table may seem like an impossible task. However, planning in advance will make things easier.
What to do:
Try these tips to get a healthy dinner on the table.
- Develop a rotating series of meals and post it on the fridge.
- Write grocery lists for the week ahead.
- Cook family-size meals on the weekend and freeze them for easy reheating.
- Store cut veggies in the fridge for stir-fries or salads.
- Delegate—can your spouse or older child cook at least one night per week?
- Stock up on basics, including dried lentils and beans, quick-cooking grains such as quinoa, eggs, and plenty of herbs and spices, so you aren’t tempted to order takeout.
Wave goodbye to stained plastic containers and water bottles made from mystery materials; purchase an eco-friendly, toxic-free lunch kit and water bottle for your child.
What to do:
There are plenty of lunch kits available, including bento box-style containers with individual compartments for sandwiches, fruit and veggie pieces, and even dressings or dips. Natural food wraps are also a unique option.
To steer clear of bisphenol A (BPA) and aluminum (which may contain a BPA-leaching liner), choose stainless steel or glass. Keep in mind that stainless steel may be a bit lighter, and therefore easier for young children to carry. And don’t forget about cutlery: stainless steel utensils and bamboo chopsticks are widely available.
Your child may claim he can focus on his science report with the TV blaring in the background, but you know otherwise.
What to do:
Make the switch easy by creating a distraction-free study area. It can be a desk in your child’s bedroom or a nook in the kitchen, as long as it’s quiet, clutter free, and designated solely to homework. After deciding on a space and setting up a desk (or table) and chair, ensure sufficient lighting and keep the area well stocked with supplies.
2 weeks before: August 19 to 25
Being driven to school in the gas-guzzling family SUV is so 1990s. While biking and skateboarding remain popular, a walking group (sometimes called a “walking school bus”) to and from the neighbourhood school—is a trend that’s receiving applause from health and environmental groups alike. According to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, when properly implemented, walking to school can have many benefits, including
- encouraging physical activity for children
- mobilizing communities to improve pedestrian safety and increase walkability
- decreasing the number of cars on the roads
What to do:
- Talk to other parents in your community and plan a walking group. Consider the following points when planning.
- Choose one or more daily chaperones to accompany the group.
- Ensure all children understand the rules of the road and basic safety information.
- Talk to your school and local law enforcement to see if they can offer support, such as a crossing guard or rewards for children who participate.
- Practise the walk with your child a few times beforehand.
- Share interesting points of interest along the way (the tallest tree, coolest car, etc.)
- Check out saferoutestoschool.ca for more information.
Stock up on supplements
Even with healthy eating and an active lifestyle, kids—just like the rest of us—need a little extra boost sometimes in the form of supplements.
What to do:
Drop by your local health food store to learn about the best supplements to support your child’s growth, development, and learning. Don’t attempt this mission solo—having your child speak directly to the store’s in-house supplement expert may drive home the importance of good nutrition and supplements. An added bonus: many stores offer samples that your child can try right then and there, saving you precious time (and money) if your child doesn’t like a certain flavour.
Make sure to ask about these top supplements for kids.
Multivitamins and multiminerals: since not all nutrients can be made by the body (some need to be obtained from dietary sources), a daily multivitamin can be a great way to fill the gaps in a picky eater’s diet. Chewable supplements remain the go-to choice for many; look for a supplement that contains a broad spectrum of vitamins and minerals without any artificial flavours, sweeteners, preservatives, or colours.
Essential fatty acids: omega-3, an essential fatty acid that we often do not consume in sufficient quantities, may be helpful in improving symptoms of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) in children. They can be found in liquid and chewable forms for children.
Probiotics: “friendly bacteria” found naturally in the digestive system can also be taken in supplement form. In recent research probiotics have been shown to reduce cold and flu symptoms, as well as reduce the number of days absent from school due to illness.
Certain demographics may need more nutrients than others, so keep in mind that these are general suggestions. And, as with all supplement use, consult a health care practitioner for advice.
Green your school supplies
According to the Paper Industry Association Council, “every ton of paper recycled saves more than 3.3 cubic yards of landfill space.” That’s just one way choosing eco-friendly school supplies (such as post-consumer recycled paper) makes a difference.
What to do:
Visit your local health food store or office supply store and look for these trendy but socially conscious versions of the basics.
- binders, paper, and notebooks made from Forestry Stewardship Council certified, Sustainable Forestry Initiative, or post-consumer recycled paper (printed with vegetable-based nontoxic ink)
- water-based paints
- soy crayons
- refillable ink cartridges and pens
- pencils and pencil crayons made from recycled newsprint
- erasers made from recycled rubber
1 week before: August 26 to September 1
Hit up the health food store
A recent pilot study suggested that picky eaters may be willing to eat more veggies when they’re familiar with the types of vegetables.
What to do:No more hiding veggies in your child’s food! Instead, go shopping with your child for healthy foods for breakfasts, lunches, and dinners. Spend time in the produce section of your health food store or talk to growers at your local farmers’ market, and ask your children what types of fruits and veggies they would like to try.
Establish bedtime schedules
Daily routines, including set bedtimes, often fall by the wayside in the summer, but getting on track before school starts up again eliminates groggy (and cranky!) kids.
What to do:
Decide on a consistent bedtime and wake-time for your child depending on their age before school begins. Also consider establishing a quiet time before bed, where the use of electronics such as computers or TVs (which may interfere with sleep) is not allowed.
1 day before: September 3
With meals planned, backpacks packed, and clothes laid out and ready to go, the only thing left to do this Labour Day is pat yourself on the back and enjoy your day.
Tip: host a family meeting
Young children can find the beginning of the school year intimidating. Older children, too, can face anxieties, whether or not they choose to voice them.
What to do: whip up some healthy snacks and call everyone to the kitchen table. Ask what everyone is looking forward to (to get them pumped up for the year ahead), as well as any possible worries (to console them and offer advice). Discuss everything from classes and teachers to friends and after-school activities.