Body Wise

Back-to-School
Health Checklist

by Rebecca Friedman

To get ready for school, kids need more than clothes and supplies.

Even healthy kids should have medical checkups and sleep habit tune-ups before classes begin. This checklist covers what your child needs for a healthy start to the school year.

Doctor Visit
Most adults have an annual physical exam. For kids, a “well exam” before the start of school is a good idea too, and sometimes, a requirement.

Your child’s doctor will check hearing vision, height, weight, pulse and other functions. Parents can help. “Let us know if you have any concerns or questions, so we can focus on specific areas,” says Charles A. Scott, MD, a Virtua Health System pediatrician and past president of the New Jersey chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics.

For example, says Dr. Scott, it’s important to tell the doctor if your child keeps the TV turned up too loud or sits too close to it, or sometimes does not respond to requests, all possible signs of hearing issues.

Required

Checkups

& Shots

Delaware, New Jersey and Pennsylvania require proof of a checkup when a child first enters public school. Pennsylvania requires additional proof at the start of 6th and 11th grades. (The Philadelphia School District requires proof of examination at the start of 9th grade instead of 11th.)

All area school districts require proof of a checkup before a student can take part in school sports.

In all area school districts, parents must provide proof of immunization when a child first enters public school. New Jersey requires additional proof at the start of 6th grade and Pennsylvania at the start of 7th grade. Each state allows students to skip immunizations for religious or medical reasons.

Before visiting the doctor, check with your school district to obtain proof of checkup and immunization forms.

Dental Exam
Individual school districts may require proof of a dental exam, so check. For example, the Philadelphia School District requires dental checkups before the start of kindergarten and grades 3 and 7. Required or not, medical organizations recommend that kids have an annual dental checkup. The American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry suggests kids get a checkup and cleaning twice each year
Backpack
An overloaded, improperly designed or used backpack can injure your child’s muscles or joints. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), a school backpack should be lightweight and have two wide, padded shoulder straps; a padded back; and a waist strap. Make sure the straps are tightened to keep the pack close to your child’s body.

Robin Cogan, a school nurse at Cooper’s Pynt Elementary School in Camden, NJ, says backpacks such as messenger bags with straps that cross a child’s chest tend to “distribute weight unevenly.” So avoid that style.

Teach your child to use both shoulder straps and to stop often at his locker to avoid unnecessarily carrying books or materials. Once school begins, weigh your child with and without a full backpack, which should never add more than 15 percent to your child’s weight (for example, 7½ pounds for a 50-pound child).

Sleep Schedule
As the start of school approaches, kids should get used to their school sleep schedule.

Avoid weekend sleep-ins and use of phones, video games, computers and electronic media in the hour before bedtime. Wind down consumption of soda and other beverages that contain caffeine, especially at night.

The National Sleep Foundation recommends:
Ages 5-12: 10-11 hours sleep
Teens: 8½-9 hours sleep.
For More Info

American Academy of Pediatrics, www.aap.org (click here for back-to-school tips)

Centers for Disease Control, www.cdc.gov (click here for recommended immunizations)

National Sleep Foundation, www.sleepfoundation.org (click here for Children and Sleep)

Communication
Make sure the school has emergency phone numbers and contacts on file.

If your child takes medication for a condition such as asthma or diabetes, inform the school nurse, especially if medicine must be administered during the school day. The school will need an emergency action plan in case problems arise.

If you allow your child to carry a cell phone, make sure you — and your child — know the school’s phone rules.

Rebecca Friedman is a MetroKids editorial assistant.