Heading out the door? Read this article on the new Outside+ app available now on iOS devices for members! Download the app.
As Covid-19 restrictions impact school openings in the fall, back-to-school may look really different for your family this year. On the one hand, taking a break from rushed breakfasts, chauffeuring kids to extra-curricular activities, the monotony of packing lunches, and the endless parade of germs kids bring home doesn’t sound all that terrible. But online education presents its own unique challenges. Here’s a round-up of essential tips, tricks, and must-have supplements to keep kids happy and healthy in this brave new world of learning.
Promote focus and attention
It’s harder for some kids to focus without the structure of a classroom setting. First, make it clear that this is not a vacation, but simply a different way of going to school. Emphasize structure with a daily schedule built around online school hours, and create a dedicated space—ideally, one that’s used just for school and homework in a location that minimizes distractions. If space is limited, get creative about underused areas such as hallways or landings. And let kids customize their own spaces. If they’re sharing a space with siblings, create mini-cubicles with cardboard partitions around tables or desks. Stock up on supplies such as pens and pencils, erasers, staplers, and writing paper, and make it comfortable, with desks and chairs that support posture. For extra support, consider omega-3 fats, choline, phosphatidylserine, and other supplements that promote focus and attention.
Back-to-school essentials: Nordic Naturals Omega Focus Jr.; MRM Kids Attention!; Carlson Kid’s Chewable DHA.
Keep eyes healthy
Excessive screen time can impact eyes, leading to vision-related problems known as computer vision syndrome or digital eye strain. The most common symptoms include eye strain, blurred vision, dry eyes, headaches, and/or neck or shoulder pain. While most of these symptoms are temporary, some people may experience continued blurred distance vision and other issues even after shutting off the screen.
To keep kids’ eyes healthy, reduce overhead lighting to minimize screen glare and increase the font size to make content easier to read. Be sure eyes are an arm’s length away from the screen, and take breaks. For every 20 minutes of screen time, look away for 20 seconds and focus on an object 20 feet away. Minimize screen time however you can: print documents instead of reading them online, and if possible, get textbooks and printed materials from your child’s school. And keep eyes healthy with drops and vision-supportive supplements. Lubricant eye drops, especially, can relieve symptoms of dryness and irritation.
Back-to-school essentials: ChildLife Healthy Vision SoftMelts; Similasan Computer Eye Relief homeopathic drops; Boiron Optique-1 drops.
Extra screen time can disrupt sleep patterns. Computers, e-readers, tablets, and cell phones emit blue light, a short-wavelength light that impacts levels of sleep-inducing melatonin. LED lights and fluorescent bulbs can have the same effect. Exposure to blue light in the evening increases the amount of time it takes to fall asleep and decreases restorative REM sleep. It’s an even bigger problem for teens, whose circadian rhythms are already naturally shifting. Erratic schedules, lack of routine, and stress can further impact the body’s natural sleep cycle.
To support sound sleep, make sure kids turn screens off at least an hour before bed and shift to a slower, more relaxed pace. Stick to regular school week and weekend sleep schedules, with the same wake-up time and bedtimes they’d follow if they were going to school. If kids still struggle with sleep, try safe-for-kids supplements such as chamomile, lemon balm, passionflower, and magnesium.
Back-to-school essentials: Nature’s Plus Animal Parade MAG Kidz magnesium powder; WishGarden Herbal Remedies Sleepy Nights for Kids; Genexa Children’s Sleepology chewable tablets.
An unfamiliar routine and isolation from friends can leave kids feeling lonely, moody, and depressed—especially teens, for whom peer support is essential. In one survey by the American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California, more than half of respondents said they were in need of mental health support since school closures began in mid-March. Students also rated their mental health on a scale of 1 to 10, and 23 percent rated their mental health a 3 or lower—more than triple the number of respondents who rated their mental health that low before the pandemic began.
To support your kid’s mood and mental health, keep the lines of communication open. Have frank, age-appropriate conversations around Covid-19 and how your children may be feeling. Maintain your daily routine as much as possible: get dressed and have breakfast with the family at your usual time, have dinner together, and emphasize after-dinner activities such as playing games or going for a walk together. Minimize TV and video games to give your kids a break from screens, and encourage teens to keep in touch with friends via phone calls instead of social media. Also try omega-3, vitamin D3, and probiotic supplements to boost mood.
Back-to-school essentials: Doctor’s Best Vitamin D3 Kids Gummies; Kyolic Kyo-Dophilus Kids Probiotic; Country Life Omega 3 Mood.
Worries about Covid-19, economic concerns from parents losing jobs, and ongoing uncertainty can impact kids, especially high school juniors and seniors who may be wondering what their college years will look like. And frustrations with online learning—unfamiliar platforms, issues with technology, household distractions, and fears about falling behind academically—only add to anxiety.
To mitigate stress, talk openly with kids about their fears and come up with action plans to address what you can. Make online learning less stressful by upgrading your internet service, giving each kid a dedicated computer or laptop if possible, keeping pets quiet during school hours, and making sure all family members are respectful of learning time. Encourage kids to exercise and practice deep breathing. Even a simple two-minute belly breathing practice can soothe emotions and calm anxiety. Stress-soothing supplements such as L-theanine, chamomile, passionflower, and B vitamins can offer extra support.
Back-to-school essentials: KAL Children’s Relax-A-Saurus L-Theanine Blend; Good Day Chocolate Calm for Kids; MegaFoods Kids B Complex.
Focus on physical health
During a normal school day, kids get plenty of movement from after-school sports, physical education, and even transitioning between classes and activities. But online learning means kids are more sedentary, impacting mood, sleep, and concentration. Plus, being at home all day means more opportunity for mindless snacking.
Encourage kids to make movement a priority because being physically active enhances brain health and cognition, increases concentration and attention, and improves mood. Set alarms for breaks between online classes, and encourage kids to step away from their study space and get moving, ideally, outside. Try a walk in the park, an afternoon bike ride, rollerblading, or a jog around the block. Even dancing or doing jumping jacks in the back yard can improve mood and focus. And keep your kitchen stocked with healthy munchies such as hummus, yogurt, almond butter, cheese, guacamole, fresh fruit, and plenty of good-for-you packaged snacks.
Back-to-school essentials: Bearitos Baked Veggie Puffs; Biena Baked Chickpea Puffs; Bitsy’s Smart Crackers; RX Kids bars; KIND Kids Chewy Granola Bars.