Giving Kids a Head Start at Getting Back to School Ready

Author: Leslie Toldo

School is the last thing kids typically want to think about in the middle of summer break, but a Mid-Michigan doctor says it is the perfect time to prepare them for the inevitable.  

Here are three factors to consider as the first day draws near:

Sleep schedule changes

Ah, summer. It’s like a three-month long weekend for most school-aged kids, especially regarding their sleep schedules. Kids tend to stay up later at night and wake up later in the morning during the summer months. Dr. Uzma Khan of McLaren Flint’s Family Medicine Residency Group says the change is not necessarily a bad thing. 

“Just keep the bedtime routine consistent during the summer, whatever that may be,” Dr. Khan said. 

The trick is ensuring kids get enough sleep; how much they need depends on age and activity level. According to the American Academy of Sleep Medicine’s guidelines:

  • Preschoolers (ages 3-5) need 10-13 hours. 
  • School-age children (ages 6-12) need 9-12 hours. 
  • Teenagers (ages 13-18) need 8-10 hours. 

While kids tend to dive into summer sleep routines, shifting back to school hours can be challenging. It helps to start easing children back into a school sleep schedule about a week or two before school starts. 

“The process of adjusting sleep should be incremental,” Dr. Khan said, “In the weeks leading up to going back to school, have your child wake up 15 minutes earlier and go to sleep 15 minutes earlier than they have been during their break. Continue making 15-minute shifts every few days until your child sleeps and wakes at the desired times for school.”

Kids can also benefit from good sleep hygiene or habits that will help ensure quality sleep:

  • Keep all electronic devices out of children’s bedrooms and stop screen time at least an hour before bedtime.
  • Keep the lights in your home dim toward bedtime.
  • Keep bedroom temperatures cooler. 
  • Make sure your child gets plenty of physical activity during the day.

Keeping health in check

During the pandemic, many children missed recommended check-ups and vaccinations. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommend getting children caught up on routine vaccinations before returning to school. 

“Before entering school, young children can be exposed to vaccine-preventable diseases. Children under age 5 are especially susceptible to diseases because their immune systems have not built up the necessary defenses to fight infection,” Dr. Khan said. 

While many vaccine-preventable diseases are no longer common in the United States, Dr. Khan said parents should not assume kids are protected from getting infected unless they’re vaccinated. 

“Some uncommon diseases in the United States are common in other parts of the world. Your family does not have to travel internationally for your child to come in contact with them,” Dr. Khan said. “If we stopped vaccinating, the few cases in the United States could quickly become tens or hundreds of thousands. “

Kids should also stay up to date on flu and COVID-19 vaccines since back to school coincides with cold and flu season. That means this is also an excellent time to remind kids about one of our best defenses against disease spread, regular handwashing. 

Protection on the field

If your child is an athlete, now is the time to schedule a sports physical. These are typically good for one year. 

“A sports physical can help find out about and deal with health problems that might interfere with your sports performance or increase the chance of getting hurt,” Dr. Khan said. “For example, if you have frequent asthma attacks, the doctor can adjust your medicines so you can breathe more easily when you run.” 

During a sports physical, a doctor will want to learn whether your child has the following:

  • medical problems that run in the family
  • existing medical problems
  • allergies
  • past injuries
  • ever experienced dizziness, chest pain, or trouble breathing during exercise.  

Getting ready to head back to class may not be your child’s idea of summer fun, but the good news is it will not make summer end any sooner.  

If you are in need of a family medicine provider accepting new patients, you can find them at or at this link.