Term time tips

How to prepare kids for a happy and healthy return to school

As the summer holidays draw to a close, parents and children across the country will start preparing for their first time at school or their return to the classroom. This can be an anxious and uncertain time for mums and dads as well as kids.

“The transition from holiday time to school is a big change -– for children and parents – and many of us struggle with change,” says Jo Wiltshire, parenting expert for Childcare.co.uk.

“A child’s first day at school is such an emotional time for the whole family,” adds Liat Hughes Joshi, a parenting expert with educational toy brand LeapFrog (www.leapfrog.com). “It’s important to remember that in preparing for this day, it’s not about competitive parenting, but more about giving children the skills to make sure they can be confident and happy and ease into this new stage in their lives.”

Here are some tips and advice to help prepare kids for back-to-school success.

Offer them reassurance

“Take time to reassure them of any anxieties, even if you’re feeling worried yourself,” says Liat Hughes Joshi. “Tell them about your own positive school experiences and find out any specific concerns they have about not having mum or dad around. Also, attend settling-in days to help them to feel more relaxed – they’ll be able to meet the teacher and experience the classroom environment. Point out things they will be able to enjoy next time they come to school, such as the playground. Ask among local friends to see who has a child starting the same school and arrange meet-ups if you can, like a picnic or a visit to the local playground.”

Make small changes

“To help the transition from holiday time to school go more smoothly, try making small adjustments during the week before,” says Jo Wiltshire. “Slowly adjust bedtimes back to school bedtimes, if they have slipped a little. Make sure mealtimes are regular, and the evening routine gets back to normal: bath, book, bed or whatever you usually do. Don’t book too many big days out or family arrangements in those last few days – keep things calm, simple and home-based.”

Address their concerns

“Many children may be feeling anxious about the return to education,” says Lorrae Jaderberg, co-founder of education consultancy JK Educate (www.jaderbergkrais.co.uk). “For those making the transition between primary and secondary the anxieties can be even greater and, whilst it is important to reassure children, it is also important that we don’t dismiss their concerns.” Lorrae suggests identifying and discussing your child’s hopes and fears beforehand. Are they nervous about schoolwork or making friends? She adds: “If your child is going to a new school, plan and practise the travel route a few times before the first day. Also, make sure your child knows know where their form room will be.” Lorrae suggests running through some ‘what if’ scenarios so that both you and your child are prepared for any eventuality, such as: What if I lose my diary? What if I leave my PE kit on the bus?

Help them to be independent

If your child is preparing for his or her first time at school, Liat Hughes Joshi recommends spending the summer practising things like undressing and dressing themselves for PE, particularly with clothing that has zips and buttons. She adds: “Also, teach them how to eat independently with cutlery and get them chopping and slicing their food as much as possible. Toilet train them (again!) so they know how and when they can ask to use the toilet, how to wipe up and wash their hands properly.”

Get organised

“Begin to focus on what your child enjoys about school,” says Jo Wiltshire. “Mention how nice it will be for them to see their friends again, or take back that holiday project to show their teacher. If you can, take them shopping for a few new bits of school stationery: some new pencils, maybe a new lunch box, or some folders and pens for older children. Help them organise what they already have, ready for a new start. Being organised will help them face the new routine positively.”

End on a high note

“Finally, prepare yourself!” says Jo Wiltshire. “Get their uniform ready to go, and have their bags ready so that first morning back isn’t stressful and disorganised. And then, when you’re all ready to go, do one last fun thing – a home movie night with popcorn, a family barbecue, a trip to the cinema – to end the holidays having fun together. Even new routines seem much easier when everyone is smiling!”

Brain-boosting foods

“Want to give your child a head start in school? Here are five easy brain-boosting tactics to improve their brain function, memory,” and energy, says Shani Shaker, a registered nutritional therapist (www.superradiance.co.uk)

1. Whole grains: the brain needs a constant supply of glucose. Whole grains contain fibre, which helps regulate the release of glucose into the body and B-vitamins which improve memory function, energy levels and nourish a healthy nervous system. Switch to whole grain bread, tortillas or pasta.

2. Oily fish: salmon and mackerel are excellent sources of the omega-3 fatty acids DHA and EPA – both essential for brain growth and function. Research shows children who get more fatty acids in their diet have sharper minds and do better at mental skills tests. Mix canned salmon or mackerel with reduced-fat mayo, raisins and celery. Serve on whole grain bread.

3.Eggs: eggs are a great protein source, and egg yolks are packed with choline, which helps memory development. Send your child to school with a grab-and-go breakfast burrito: scrambled eggs, black beans, peppers and tomatoes. Or try breakfast for dinner one night a week: scrambled eggs on toast.

4. Eat a rainbow: colourful fruits and vegetables provide healthy minerals and vitamins and encourage brain development. The darker the colour, the better for the brain. Blueberries, red peppers, strawberries or carrots make ideal lunch box snacks.

5. Peanut butter: Peanut butter contains vitamin E, an antioxidant that protects nervous membranes, plus thiamin to help the brain and nervous system use glucose for energy. Give them the classic peanut butter and banana sandwich or dip apple slices in peanut butter.

Support their immunity

“Probiotic colonies in the gut are our first line of defence against ingested bacteria and viruses, and they can also ‘communicate’ with our immune cells,” says Kathy Wheddon a nutritional therapist working with OptiBac Probiotics. “If this protective barrier of friendly bacteria is not strong then we are more susceptible to invading bacteria and viruses. Not all children like the taste of traditional fermented foods such as kefir and sauerkraut! Therefore I recommend looking into a daily, high quality probiotic supplement containing the correct strains of friendly bacteria for an infant gut. Preferably, find a supplement that is clinically trialled for children’s immunity.”

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