Make Sure Your Child's School is Healthy With This Checklist

Health Writer
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Make Sure Your Child’s School is Healthy With This Checklist

Child-rearing practices may differ but every parent wants the best school environment for their kids. Children spend the better part of their waking hours in school. Parents dictate TV and technology time, sleep schedules, and dinner, but schools are tasked with educating and nurturing children. Many kids eat two meals prepared and provided by the school and depend on school policies for protection in a safe, healthy learning environment. Is your school meeting these health and safety priorities?



Your child may eat one or two meals provided by your school. Lunches served under the U.S. Department of Agriculture Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act, passed in 2010, should meet certain nutrition standards. Parents can impact school nutrition by demanding healthy meals. Sending healthy snacks and healthy foods for after-school sports supports a high nutrition standard. Meet with other parents to establish healthy practices, since even if you send a packed healthy lunch, your kid may be “trading foods” with others. Work with your school.


Recess and physical activity

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends daily physical activity and unstructured play time, which helps with kids’ emotional, physical, and cognitive development. Some schools sacrifice this time in order to get in more structured education time. Make sure your school values recess. Another plus is when teachers allow quick “physical breaks” during class time which has been shown to support better learning. Jumping jacks help restless kids to release nervous energy. Standing desks have been shown to enhance learning.


Healthy and safe travel to school

If kids can walk or bike to school then they get the bonus of extra physical activity. This perk can help kids to energize before and after a long school day. Some schools organize a “walking school bus,” allowing groups of kids to walk to school safely with parent volunteers. If your child takes a school bus, inquire about the driver’s safety record and personality. You want your child safe and happy as they arrive to school. The bus should also have safety restraints. Buses should be no-bullying zones.


Wake-up times

Kids need to get adequate sleep in order to perform well at school. Kids are better at absorbing information when they’ve slept the recommended number of hours for their age group. Recent research suggests that middle school kids, and especially teens, benefit from later school start times. Teens tend to stay up late using tech devices with exposure to artificial light. This often leads to shorter sleep times. New recommendations suggest a start time no earlier than 8:30 a.m.


Immunizations and sickness protocols

Depending on the age of your child, there may still be some booster shots due. That means your child is vulnerable to a number of communicable disease. It’s important to know school policy on immunization and statistics on the “community immunity.” The higher the number of immunized children, the less likely your school is at risk for a measles, chicken pox, or whooping cough outbreak. Know your school’s policies and guidelines on illnesses and hygiene protocols to limit flu and communicable diseases.


On-site nurse

A full-time nurse can evaluate illness or trauma quickly and offer health education and support. The school nurse is in charge of assessing fever, pain complaints, sports injuries, and she or he often does triage, deciding if a child should be sent home, to a hospital, or back to class. The nurse often provides sex education sessions and, depending on the school, may also help with psychological support. Nurses dispense medications to treat chronic conditions like allergies, asthma, and diabetes.


Bullying guidelines

Your school should have solid policies on bullying. There should be zero tolerance for aggressive bullying behavior. School is hard enough without adding unpleasant, upsetting interactions. Teachers, the nurse, administrators, even lunch room staff should be on the lookout for signs of bullying and teasing. Parents should feel comfortable raising these issues to the school and have the expectations of serious and quick interventions. There should be social media guidelines as well.


Environmental safety review

The classroom environment should offer adequate cooling in warm months, and adequate heating in colder months. All furniture should be regularly disinfected with simple, safe, bleach-based cleansers. Discuss potential allergen exposures with the nurse if your child is vulnerable. Air vents should be cleaned and water fountains should be available. Food handlers should wear gloves and caps and be aware of children with food allergies. Bathrooms should be regularly cleaned and well stocked.


Parents unite

Parents can play a crucial role in helping to determine standards at their child’s school. Getting involved through volunteerism, cultivating communication with all school departments, attending meetings, and spearheading changes are all within the reach of parents. If you find your school lacking in one of these areas, join with other parents to push change. Parents with a background in nutrition, health, environmental issues, or sports can lend their support and expertise to improve the school.