In just a few weeks, young people all across Kentucky will be heading back to the classroom. Regardless of whether it’s their first day of kindergarten, high school or college, there is one fundamental truth about academic success that every parent should know:
Healthy students are better learners.
The research is clear: healthy students perform better at all levels of academic achievement; are better able to understand the information presented to them and solve problems; and are more alert and focused. Students who are physically active exhibit better behavior; miss less school; drop-out less often; and have fewer disciplinary problems.
The benefits of health last far beyond graduation: Students who learn and practice healthy lifestyles as teens and young adults are overall healthier later in life; they are often more successful; and enjoy a higher quality of life all the way around.
In the spirit of back-to-school readiness, the pediatricians at Lexington Clinic offer the following tips to help your child achieve academic success:
Diet and nutrition
As the old saying goes, breakfast is the most important meal of the day. That’s especially true for students. Children who go without breakfast have more difficulty solving problems, don’t recall and use new facts as readily, have difficulty expressing themselves and have trouble paying attention. This is true whether the child is otherwise well-nourished, or undernourished.
What the child eats is just as important as the fact that they eat: breakfast should set the tone for the rest of the day, providing protein and energy for the mental challenges ahead. If your child’s school offers a breakfast program, take advantage of it. If not, here are ideas for breakfast at home:
• Instant oatmeal made with low-fat milk. Add raisins, dried cranberries and chopped walnuts. Or, try ¼ cup applesauce with cinnamon or apple pie spice.
• A breakfast smoothie with low-fat milk, frozen strawberries and a banana
• Low-fat yogurt layered with crunchy cereal, blueberries and strawberries.
• A whole-wheat pita stuffed with a sliced, hard-boiled egg and low-fat shredded cheese
• Peanut butter spread on a whole-wheat tortilla wrapped around a peeled banana
For more ideas on children and nutrition, visit healthychildren.org, a website of the American Academy of Pediatrics.
Kids need to move their bodies to support muscle development, bone strength, flexibility, mental health and even brain power! School-age children need at least 60 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic activity daily. This can include things like hiking, skateboarding, rollerblading, bicycling or even walking to school. Baseball, softball, basketball and volleyball also count.
In addition, kids should get 60 minutes of vigorous-intensity activity three days a week. This includes things like playing tag, jumping rope, running and participating in sports like field hockey, basketball or swimming.
Activities that build muscle and strengthen bones include tug of war, rope/tree climbing, sit-ups, push-ups, gymnastics, hopscotch and so on!
The importance of sleep
Every living thing requires sleep in order to survive and thrive … even teenagers! Bedtime is always a flashpoint for kids and parents … especially older kids. It can be difficult to set a bedtime and enforce it, but sleep is absolutely essential.
When setting bedtimes, keep in mind children age 6 to 13 generally need nine to 11 hours of sleep every night; teens need eight to 10; and young adults 18 to 25, need seven to nine hours.
It can be hard getting kids back into a regular sleep schedule after a busy summer. It’s a process best done gradually. If your 8-year-old needs 10 hours of sleep a night and has to get up at 6:30 a.m bedtime should be 8:30 p.m. To get there, move bedtime up five to 10 minutes every night until you reach 8:30.
If your child is sleeping excessively, or very little, or seems fatigued most of the time, be sure to talk to your pediatrician.
School can be one of the most rewarding experiences in life. It can also be bewildering, isolating and traumatic, especially for students who stand out from the crowd. As a parent, you may not always recognize when your child is struggling. The best advice is to listen to what your student is saying, both verbally and non-verbally. Do they have friends? Are they reluctant to go to school? Have their grades slipped? Do they seem anxious or nervous? Has their behavior changed significantly? Even if it just seems like it’s a “phase” they’re going through… take these changes seriously and schedule a visit with the pediatrician.
Regardless of where your child is in her educational journey, be sure to always be optimistic, encouraging and supportive. Demonstrate your love for and belief in them in the words you use and in the things you do.
The pediatricians at Lexington Clinic welcome new patients, from newborn through college-
age. For more information, please call the clinic at (859) 258-4362. Lexington Clinic is Central Kentucky’s largest and oldest medical group, with more than 200 providers in 30 specialties caring for 600,000+ patients every year.