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Happy, Healthy and Schoolyard Ready: Keeping Young Learners Healthy So They Can Thrive in the Classroom

Happy, Healthy and Schoolyard Ready: Keeping Young Learners Healthy So They Can Thrive in the Classroom

By: Christina Miller  

President; Millhopper Montessori School, Inc.  


The best six doctors anywhere
And no one can deny it
Are sunshine, water, rest, and air
Exercise and diet.
These six will gladly you attend
If only you are willing
Your mind they’ll ease
Your will they’ll mend
And charge you not a shilling.
~Nursery rhyme quoted by Wayne Fields, What the River Knows, 1990  


It is that time when the children have settled into the school year and are actively learning, growing and sharing experiences. Along with the gathering of students into classrooms comes the sharing of germs.   


While perfect attendance is a wonderful goal, it is very important to keep your child home from school if he or she is sick. Some viral spread likely occurs even before a child’s symptoms appear, but it is important to remember that germs can still be spread throughout the course of an illness.   


It is equally important that sick children need time to rest and recover. It can be difficult to know how long to keep them home, especially if they are jumping on the couch and appear to feel better. Remember that school is different from the living room and children can become overly exhausted as they are healing from an illness while attempting the routine of a school day. 

The well-known but often neglected formula for having a healthy child is a simple one. All they require is a good diet and enough sleep.  


Your child arrives at school each day needing their tank filled with fuel. Breakfast is the first meal of the day and breaks the fast of the longest stretch without food. For your child to be able to stay focused throughout the morning, all the way until lunch, they need to have a breakfast that includes complex carbohydrates, protein and fat.  


This could be accomplished with eggs and whole grain toast, yogurt with fruit or nuts, or even a granola bar with a piece of fruit when pressed for time.  


Pressed for time is usually the norm in the morning and the quick and easy sugary choice is usually selected. Keep in mind that your child’s blood sugar will drop in a very short time after a sugary meal. Where their blood sugar goes, their energy, attitude, behavior and focus will follow.  


Teach your child about the four food groups and let them select choices from each one as he/she plans lunch for the next day. There are many books and websites that are full of ideas to help think outside the PB&J box.  

Many different kids, boys and girls running in the park on sunny summer day in casual clothes   


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Ensuring children get enough sleep is also vital to their health. When children do not get enough sleep, the consequences are well-studied and predictable. According to sleep researchers, a child’s mood and temperament deteriorate first, followed by a loss of their will to participate in work or play. Then, it can get difficult for a child to organize and react appropriately, as well as reflect on his/her own behavior. Higher-level thinking skills also become compromised. 

During deep sleep, growth hormones are released which are advantageous not only for a child’s physical growth but also for a healthy immune system. In the July 2003 Red Book magazine, Stacey Colino wrote about how to help your child develop healthy sleep habits. She outlined the “five sleep robbers” as allergies, computer games before bedtime, chocolate and caffeine, snoring (obstructive sleep apnea) and watching TV before bedtime.  


Inda Schaenen, in her book, The 7 O’clock Bedtime, reflects on how important a bed ‘time’ is and how it allows for an unwinding of the day. She recalled the time when her daughter said, “I don’t want today to end,” as she was leaving her room. Schaenen did not want it to end either, but she explained that time will not stop for anyone, and we are each responsible for our manner of traveling this trip of time. She wanted her daughter to get enough sleep for the ‘trip,’ as she acknowledged that nearly half the trip is itself that journey in the dark.  


If your child does not have a bedtime routine, has difficulty waking and falling back to sleep at night (especially without your assistance) or shows symptoms of inadequate sleep, I strongly encourage you to read, Solve Your Child’s Sleep Problems by Richard Ferber, M.D. and The 7 O’clock Bedtime by Inda Schaenen.  


As stated in the opening poem, sunshine, water, rest, air, exercise and diet are our birthright as humans. Setting good habits and routines regarding nutrition and sleep are elements in a child’s day that are established and overseen by their parents. Then, when they arrive at school, well fed and rested, their child will be ready to learn.   


I hope you find a routine that works well for you and your child. It will need to be a ritual that is easy to follow on relaxed and hectic days alike, as well as one that you not only feel good about but can look forward to at the end of your day. It is a wonderful gift to give to your child and to yourself. 

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