Your child’s health is in your hands when they’re under your roof, but the torch gets passed when they head off to school. For this reason, it’s crucial to make sure your child’s school environment has all the elements needed to help them thrive.
"Children spend a significant part of their day in school, and so the school environment is really important to their overall health," said Dr. Sandra Hassink, medical director of the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) Institute for Healthy Childhood Weight.
To pave the way for learning and growth, every child needs a nutritious diet, enough exercise, sleep, protection from illness, and security in the fact that their environment is a safe place.
You may be confident in your ability to provide these elements at home, but it’s also important to make sure your child’s school is up to the task of creating a healthy, nurturing environment for learning.
Elements to look for
The AAP recommends giving your child’s school a check-up to make sure it has the following elements:
- Healthy food. Kids consume between 35 to 40 percent of their daily calories while at school. And while most schools serve healthy, balanced lunches under the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act passed in 2010, it’s important to make sure your child’s school doesn’t veer into unhealthy territory with regard to informal snacks, beverages, and treats.
- Daily recess. Designated time for unstructured play is fundamental for children’s social, emotional, physical, and cognitive development, says the AAP. Make sure your child’s school allots daily time for play and physical activity.
- Safe routes to school. Your child should be safe whether they travel to school by foot or on wheels. If your child walks to school, make sure the route has crossing guards at every intersection. If they ride the bus, ensure the bus has safety restraints.
- Reasonable start times. A brain that is well-rested will be much better at absorbing new information. To make sure kids (especially teens) are able to get enough sleep, the AAP recommends that middle and high schools start no earlier than 8:30 AM.
- Protection from disease. Ensure your child’s school has achieved “community immunity” by having a high percentage of immunized people. This can help prevent your child from catching a contagious disease like measles, chickenpox, or whooping cough.
- A school nurse. Make sure your child’s school employs a full-time professional school nurse, especially if your child has a chronic health issue like ADHD, allergies, or asthma that requires management.
- Freedom from bullying and teasing. Your child shouldn’t have to fear being bullied or teased when they step onto the school bus or walk through the doors of their school. To make sure your child’s school environment is a safe space, the AAP recommends making sure it has a firm policy against bullying and teasing.