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Start the Year off Right with this Back-to-School Health Checklist

School bells are ringing! As students everywhere sharpen their pencils and charge their devices for another year, parents are also hard at work, making sure their kids are prepared to make the grade when it comes to their health. To help guide them, we've created a back-to-school checklist for taking care of mental and physical health needs of school-aged kids as the year begins.

  1. Check off the back-to-school check-up. Make an appointment with your healthcare provider for an annual physical and ensure that your child is up-to-date on all immunizations, including their flu vaccine[1]. If your child will need medication at school, find out your school’s guidelines on how medications are administered and follow those rules. 
  2. Stock up on supplies. Communicate with your school to find out everything your child will need for the year, from markers to masks. Make your purchases as early as you can to ensure you’re ready for the first day.
  3. Ease back into sleep routines. Starting a new schedule can be a shock to the system. In advance of the new school year, set a regular bedtime and wake-up time in your house and get everyone back in the habit of being on a schedule[2]. Elementary-aged kids should get 10 to 12 hours of sleep a night and teens should aim for eight and a half to nine and a half hours[3].
  4. Create a quiet workspace. Before long, your child will be bringing home projects, reading assignments, math problems and homework of all kinds. To help them do their best work, design a serene space just for them that will allow them to focus, free of distractions[4].
  5. Watch the backpack weight. Heavy backpacks can strain a child’s growing body, including the muscles and joints. Keep backpacks light enough that they don’t surpass 10 to 20 percent of the student’s body weight. If they’re carrying a backpack on their back, remind them to use both straps to distribute the weight[5].  
  6. Calm back-to-school jitters. If your child is feeling anxious about going back to school, physical activity may help. Whether they’re running, walking, biking, swimming or playing sports, 60 minutes of exercise a day may improve focus[6]—and it can even decrease the risk of depression and anxiety while improving thinking, judgement and sleep[7].
  7. Keep meals healthy and interesting. It’s up to you—and your kids—to get creative, mixing in seasonal finds from the produce section or farmers market, along with fun finger foods and more. Remember to limit the sugary drinks and encourage drinking plenty of water[9].
  8. Wash your hands. Students, teachers and parents alike should remember the importance of hand washing, both at school, at home and anywhere out in public. Frequent hand washing is the best way to get rid of germs that could make you sick[10].

A new school year means a fresh start. This fall, set the tone when it comes to preventive care, physical activity, meals and more, and make your family’s health and safety a priority.


[1]Back to School Planning: Checklists to Guide Parents, Guardians, and Caregivers, CDC. “Planning for in-person classes,” section, bullet point 6.  

[2]Schools Start Too Early, CDC, “Everyone Can Play an Important Role,” bullet points 1, 2, 3

[3]Countdown to School Success, U.S. Department of Education, September, bullet 2

[4]Countdown to School Success, U.S. Department of Education, September, bullet 2

[5]Countdown to School Success, U.S. Department of Education, September, bullet 4

[7] Benefits of Physical Activity, CDC, “immediate benefits” sections

[8]Countdown to School Success, U.S. Department of Education, October, bullet 1 (breakfast), November, bullet 3 (lunch)

Kate Silver