Start the school year off right with brain-based back to school suggestions from iLs to prepare children for the academic year.
Start Adjusting Your Child’s Sleep Clock
It’s inevitable. During summer break, children stay up later and their sleep habits change. The school year will bring another schedule change. In order to help your child get the appropriate amount of sleep for their age, work backwards from when they need to wake up to set a target bedtime and start working slowly toward that bedtime. It takes a week or two to adjust to a change in sleep routines.
Since light is the most important factor driving sleep/wake cycles, start the day with sunshine. Spending some time in the sun each morning helps the biological clock to wake up. Turning down light sources at night helps to trigger melatonin production and induce sleep. Electronic devices emit a stimulating blue light promoting wakefulness, so avoid screens close to bedtime.
Let’s face it. Everyone in the family could probably engage in better sleep hygiene. Insufficient sleep results in moodiness, worse eating and exercise habits and poor learning and memory. The National Sleep Foundation has created a convenient chart detailing sleep duration recommendations for people of all ages. Try using the Dreampad to get the amount of sleep you need.
Address nervousness about starting school before it starts
Many children are not excited about a return to school. Fear of the unknown and worry about new challenges may dominate their thoughts. Set your child up for success by familiarizing them with what is to come. Meet teachers and classmates in these weeks before school starts. Even take their pictures so you can review their names together.
Spend time at the school if possible; play in the playground and even walk the halls if possible to adjust to the new environment and get the lay of the land. Set up school routines before they’re necessary and practice the day’s schedule to get accustomed to the new daily regimen.
Become a Behavioral Detective
To steal a line from Kim Barthel who spoke at our conference in July, “there’s always a reason for the behavior.” You know what sets off your child off; help their teacher understand them before the school year begins. Start documenting the kinds of things that can upset the apple cart.
- Does your child have a sensory issue?
- Would another child kicking their chair bother them excessively?
- Is it difficult for them if their environment gets too loud?
- Is it their physiological state?
- Do they act up when they’re hungry, tired, dehydrated, hot or cold?
Documenting these triggers as well as strategies you’ve found successful in dealing with them will help the teacher help your child and have empathy for their behavior.
And if your child is old enough, encourage them to be aware of their own behavior patterns as a way of controlling their impact.
Create a Plan for Fitting in Exercise
One sure way to improve mental fitness is to move! Exercise stimulates the release of brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) a protein that supports neuron development and helps to sharpen memory. Make a plan before school starts for how you’ll fit exercise into your child’s day.
Drink More Water
Staying properly hydrated should be everyone’s resolution every year. Hydration and brain function are integrally linked since water provides energy to the brain, delivers nutrients and removes toxins. Studies show that even slight dehydration has adverse effects on cognitive function: short-term and long-term memory, attention, focus and reaction time are all impaired without enough water.
And yet, more than half of children and adolescents in the US are under-hydrated according to the Harvard T. H. Chan School of Public Health. A good rule of thumb is to divide your child’s weight in half and encourage them to drink that many ounces of water each day. They should start the day with a glass of water and continue drinking throughout the day (maybe from a new water bottle they like; and maybe with mint or fruit added to make it fancier). When they do, they’ll be able to think faster, be more focused and experience greater creativity and clarity.
Eat a Good Breakfast
It really is the most important meal of the day, at least when it comes to children and academics. Breakfast eaters consistently perform better on tests of mental acuity, but it does matter what is served. Foods with a low gylcemic index (like oatmeal instead of sugary breakfast cereal) sustain blood sugar levels and thus brain power. Avoid processed foods and add in proteins and complex carbohydrates.
Healthy Snacks and Lunches
Reduce the stress and improve the nutritional value of snacks and lunches by planning ahead. Some ideas for stocking your cupboard and refrigerator are:
- Vegetables for slicing and dipping. Peppers, celery, carrots and grape tomatoes are good choices and seem more like a treat when paired with a dip (try hummus or ranch dressing).
- Hard-boiled eggs. Boil them on the weekend and send them to school all week.
- All fruits are better than a candy bar. Citrus fruits contain water to help keep up hydration; berries have antioxidants and are easy to eat; and packing a clean apple requires no extra packaging.
- Yogurt, a healthy fat, can keep energy levels up throughout the day. Try to avoid brands with high added-sugar content.
- Nuts and seeds are another easy-to-pack snack containing healthy proteins. Nut butters on whole grain bread or crackers are another healthy choice. *Check with your school guidelines before sending anything containing nuts.
Positive Mental Attitude
Help send your child off to school with a positive attitude and feeling. More and more research validates the idea that how your body feels affects your mental attitude. Power poses increase your sense of confidence and the Ten Smiles Trick triggers feelings of happiness.
Smiling is a powerful way to lift mood. But when you’re feeling sad or scared, smiling doesn’t feel natural. That’s ok. Challenge your child to give you ten smiles. The first ones will feel forced, but by the fourth or fifth, it seems silly and then funny and the last few smiles are true, genuine ones. Start the day with a happiness advantage!