Back to School: More Than Pencils and Books

Ah, August. Vacation’s in the rearview mirror, and up ahead is the return to the classroom for your child. And in between? Getting ready to go back to school.

And while shopping for school clothes (seriously, how do they shoot up so fast between June and August?) and school supplies is something all parents know should be on their to-do lists, what’s often not on the list are things like physicals, dentist visits and immunizations.

But Amy Severson, a Dallas mom whose children are now grown, said two things always topped her summer list of back-to-school readiness: “Doctor and dentist visits.” And Candice Kuzov, whose daughter will be heading to kindergarten, added, “I would also say vaccines.”

These moms are right. Both the American Academy of Pediatrics and the American Dental Association recommend visits to the pediatrician and dentist before school starts.

“A dental examination is as important as booster shots and should be a regular part of back-to-school preparations,” the ADA recommends, adding that dental problems can cause children to appear anxious, depressed or tired, and can affect their ability to concentrate, eat and speak.

“While it may not seem as urgent, a yearly physical exam by your family’s pediatrician is an important part of your child’s health care,” the AAP said. “The back-to-school season is a convenient time for putting the exam on your family’s schedule.”

Making sure your child is up-to-date on any vaccines is also important, as many states require them before a child can enroll in school. For a list of vaccine schedules for every age, click here.

But while you’re making appointments, also consider making one for your child to see an eye doctor. The American Optometric Association said its 2015 American Eye-Q survey found that while most people believe the vision screenings given at school or their pediatrician’s office are sufficient to find vision problems that can affect learning, “many school vision screenings only test for distance visual acuity, and the vision skills needed for successful reading and learning are much more complex.”

And if your child is going to be engaging in school sports, a sports physical may also need to be scheduled.

“The purpose of the pre-participation physical is to identify any health concerns that could put the athlete at risk for injury or illness and rule out the presence of life-threatening or disabling conditions that can occur as a result of playing sports,” says Damond Blueitt, M.D.; sports medicine physician at Orthopedic Specialty Associates, a Texas Health Physicians Group practice; and medical staff member at Texas Health Harris Methodist Hospital Fort Worth. “In addition, if an athlete has had an injury, we want to be sure it’s healed properly and assess his or her risk of re-injury.”

After all those appointments have been made, the family can turn its attention to getting organized for the new routine and creating new healthy sleep habits for the rigors of the school day.

Amanda Johnson, a Dallas mom, says as the summer winds to a close, she starts looking at routines and some academic enrichment. “We start getting back into the school routine (early to bed/early to rise) and increase academics (reading and writing),” she said.

Denton mom Kara Klement said that her toddler son, Sam, “is clearly too little to do this.” She also said, “My mom would start scaling back our bedtimes and begin waking us up incrementally earlier to get ready for the school year schedule.”

And that’s a good idea. The National Sleep Foundation recommends 11 to 13 hours for preschoolers and nine to 11 hours for children ages 6 to 13. The AAP says teens and adolescents need about 8.5 to 9.5 hours of sleep per night. If your child has been going to bed later and sleeping in over the summer, making bedtime 15 minutes earlier each night and wake-up time 15 minutes earlier every morning until you’ve reached the school bedtime and wake-up time is a good way to ease into the routine.

Richardson mom Elizabeth Philyaw says with four kids she has found that organization and early preparation are key. “Make doctor and dentist appointments, start thinking about holidays, like taking time off, scheduling family photos, buy symphony/ballet tickets, etc.,” she said. “That sounds crazy but if I don’t start in September things snowball to disaster.”

Jennifer Robinson, a Farmers Branch mom and stepmom of six children, said, “I take both school calendars (yay blended families!) and enter them into my big one to see which days they have early release and days off, teacher conferences, dances, concerts, school trips, mostly hoping they align so we can take a long weekend trip as a family,”

“Try to get ahead of the paper monster with some sort of organizational system … that typically lasts until October, then it’s bust,” Dallas dad Cooper Koch said, only half-joking.

And as long as everyone is being honest: “Freak out that I have a kindergartener,” Joanna England said of her back-to-school preparations.

If you are looking for a pediatrician or sports medicine practitioner, it’s as easy as going to Texas Health Resources’ physician finder or calling 1-877-THR-WELL.

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