It’s that time of year again. Children are headed back to school, and anyone who is a parent knows that preparing kids for the classroom entails far more than buying pencils, paper and notebooks.
What is a good bedtime? How can I help my children ease into the routine of school? What kinds of health checkups do they need before the first day of class? These are just some of the questions that cause parents to lose sleep as summer draws to a close.
In this Back to School Edition of News You Can Use, UAB faculty share tips and tricks to help start the year off right and make this season successful for children and their families.
Worry. When you’re a parent, it comes with the territory.
You want your child to be healthy, happy and safe. So you worry that they are watching too much TV, drinking too much juice or that the bug they ate last night will make them sick. And during the school year, you worry if they are learning all they can.
Getting involved is the best way to ensure children reach their potential, says Shirley Ginwright, administrator and program director for the University of Alabama at Birmingham’s Center for Community Outreach Development.
“Regardless how exhausted you may be, you must engage with your child every day,” Ginwright says. “Ask about your child’s day at school. Talk about what they learned, help with their homework, read with them, check on possible projects, question what’s needed, check backpacks and help your child to prepare for the next day.”
U.S. Department of Education research reveals that children whose parents are involved in their education score higher on tests, complete more homework, demonstrate more positive behaviors and are more likely to seek higher education.
“Parents play a key role in their child’s academic success,” says Ginwright, who coordinates K-12 science-education programs. She offers suggestions to help parents keep their child on track during the school year:
Parents and kids are picking out school supplies and new clothes, meeting this year’s teacher and heading to the pediatrician for a checkup. But kids are not fully protected against disease without a dental checkup, too, says Noel Childers, D.D.S., chair of the UAB Department of Pediatric Dentistry.
In fact, tooth decay is the most prevalent childhood disease — five times more common than asthma, seven times more than hay fever — and more than 51 million school hours are lost each year to absences related to dental illnesses, according to a U. S. Surgeon General’s report. By age 17, nearly 80 percent of children in America have had a cavity.
“Preventing tooth decay is our No. 1 objective. And catching other developments early — before they require major work — is the reason children should see a dentist every six months,” Childers says. “Preventing disease is easier and less painful than treating it.”
Childers says there is a connection between oral health and overall health, and dentists can spot some general health problems during patients’ regular checkups.
For most college students, a commute to class means rolling out of bed and walking across the campus green. But for the more than 20,000 U.S. students who will study in countries other than their own this year, their trek to class involves travelling clear across the world.
“Studying abroad is truly transformative,” says Josh Carter, director of the Office for Study Away for the University of Alabama at Birmingham. “It throws students outside of their comfort zone to reflect and bolster what they learned in their comfort zone.”
About 240 UAB students will head off to places like Antarctica, Costa Rica and China this year, all in hopes of learning about different cultures, languages, religions and more. For many students, at UAB and elsewhere, this will be their first international trip, so Carter offers some tips for a successful journey.
Passports, pickpockets and personal data – oh my! “A person without a passport is a person without a country,” Carter says. Make a copy of yours and put it in a separate, safe place. You don’t want to be thousands of miles away from home without proof of where you’re from.
Get a money belt or shoulder pouch in which to keep your passport, credit cards, etc., Carter says. “Make sure it’s not visible and therefore not tempting to pickpockets.”
When people think “thrifty” they often think “cheap, chintzy, scrimpy, stingy and tight.” They need to think “smart” instead.
The current economic climate has parents embracing previously taboo ways to keep their back-to-school budget out of detention.
“Six or seven years ago people would be mortified if you told them you bought used clothes for your child going back to school,” says Stephanie Rauterkus, Ph.D., assistant professor of finance in the School of Business at the University of Alabama at Birmingham. “However, in this tanking economy people are bragging to their friends about the great deals they found no matter where they found them.”
Most people think Wal-Mart or Target when you mention discount shopping. But that mindset is changing rapidly according to recent sales figures. Same-store sales are down 1.1 percent at Wal-Mart, and they are up only 1.8 percent at Target over the past year. Meanwhile, same-store sales at dollar stores are all up big by comparison:
Going back to school should not be just an excuse for kids to get new clothes and school supplies. Instead, say University of Alabama at Birmingham experts, it also should be a time to get them back to healthier sleep schedules.
Long summer days lend themselves to later nights and fewer hours of restorative slumber, something pediatricians say is especially necessary for kids to have to succeed upon their return to the classroom.
“From memory to judgment, attention span, emotional stability and even immunity, sleep deprivation negatively affects school-age children,” explains Kristin Avis, M.D., UAB assistant professor of pediatrics and a sleep specialist.
If you think your child is different and does not need the required amount of sleep, think again. Of children under the age of 18, 60 percent polled by the National Sleep Foundation complained of being tired during the day, and 15 percent reported they fell asleep at school. To curb the feeling, doctors say, get kids to bed early, starting before the bell rings on the first day back.
“About a week ahead of school starting, begin to back up their bed-time and wake-up times. This incremental change may start off rough, but it will get easier and ensure they are not miserable on their first day at school,” says Stephenie Wallace, M.D., UAB assistant professor of pediatrics.
The NSF has guidelines for how much sleep children of various ages require. Three to 5-year-olds need 11 to 13 hours per night, while 5 to 12 year-olds need 10 to 11 hours each night.
She has enough to keep her busy: Full-time college studies in the School of Business at the University of Alabama at Birmingham and its Experiential Learning Scholars Program. Resident assistant. Part-time job. And now Lauren Beauchamp is a blogger.
Like most bloggers, Beauchamp has an agenda: To help fellow college students sort through the sometimes confusing, but potentially rewarding world of couponing.
Blogs, websites, even TV shows are devoted to the fine art of couponing, but they speak primarily to families with children. Beauchamp, on the other hand, writes College Couponer for her peers. Her posts at couponing4college.blogspot.com are chock full of tricks and tips, links to couponing websites, online coupons and more. She even suggests places to find the free stuff always dear to a college student’s heart.
“Couponing for a college student living in a dorm or apartment is different than for the mom with two kids and a four-bedroom house,” she says.
School looms on the horizon just like the sun. It is a warm, familiar sunset to ride into for some children. For others, especially children starting a new school or transitioning to a higher grade, it’s a desert sun bringing sweat and a dry mouth.
“Even though most children are anxious during a time of change, they can be quite happy and adjust to the new school within two weeks. But if a child does not adjust, there are issues beyond the transition,” says child-adolescent psychologist Vivian Friedman, Ph.D., professor in the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Neurobiology at the University of Alabama at Birmingham.
Friedman suggests these actions to ease your child’s transition:
Schedule a play date with a child from the new school
Visit the playground during summer
Take a tour of the school
The most important thing not to do is add to your child’s stress, Friedman says. Stay positive. Drop off and pick up on time. Do not cry when you leave. And do not compare them to other children. Remember, deep down, this behavior is who your child is.
The stores are peppered with back-to-school signs advertising the latest deals for kids returning to the classroom, but one University of Alabama at Birmingham associate professor says this may not be enough to move you and your children out of the summertime groove.
“Returning to the routine of the school year can be overwhelming for adults and students,” says Josh Klapow, Ph.D, a clinical psychologist who teaches in the UAB School of Public Health. “During the school year there’s a sleep schedule, a tighter timeframe for performing household chores and the sense of fewer hours in the day. Altogether, this can lead to debilitating anxiety.”
Students in the South return to school in early August, when there are still many hours of daylight, and others after Labor Day. Regardless of the date, preparation is key to success.
“Throughout the summer months, you and your children have developed new habits and routines. Breaking those is extremely difficult to accomplish in a day,” says Klapow. But if you don’t try to go cold turkey, the transition should remain pain-free.
“This means adjusting bed times and morning alarms starting now. If they already haven’t been reading through the summer, have the children pick up a book for at least 20 minutes a day, to mimic homework time. This helps everybody in the household re-adapt,” Klapow explains.
More important, Klapow says stay calm and composed through this transition.