Tag Archive for: kids health


Healthy School Lunches

School starts next week and although many welcome the return of routine, packing a healthy lunch that won’t come home uneaten remains an ongoing parental challenge. It’s true–packing your child’s lunch can seem like a daunting, never ending task, but it doesn’t  have to be. The following from Eat Right Ontario provides all the information you need know to ensure your kids are eating healthy foods every day.

Eat Right Ontario:  Packing Healthy School Lunches and Snacks


Are Our Kids Too Busy?

How busy is too busy for your kids? It seems that the extracurricular participation of kids in sports and the arts is increasing. Yet, for all this time out of the house, there is time lost for homework, play, proper meals, outdoor time and family. While keeping kids active and engaged in activities they enjoy is extremely healthy, this needs to be balanced appropriately based on the child and the resources of the family. The following from the Huffington Post discusses some key signs to look for if you are concerned that your child is overscheduled.

The Huffington Post:  10 Signs Your Kid Is Too Busy


Back to School – Backpack Safety

Backpacks are a staple for every student. They travel back and forth between home and school, lugging books and school supplies. They are put through the unavoidable daily abuse of being thrown on the ground, trampled on, stuffed into a cubby or locker, saving a spot in line, and become over-stretched and over-used with the necessities of school. They are a necessary part of your child’s education, yet how much thought do you really put into the backpack your child wears aside from maybe price or color?  Have you considered the health implications of an improperly worn, fitted, or poorly supportive backpack?

Backpacks are meant to be worn over both shoulders so that the weight can be evenly distributed across some of the largest and strongest muscles in the body. Due to this, backpacks are preferable to shoulder bags, however they must be worn properly in order to avoid postural issues and injuries to the back, shoulder, and/or neck (1). Additionally, backpacks that are too heavy or large increase a child’s risk of injury due to falling or tripping (2). The following are some simple tips to help ensure your child’s backpack is fitted properly in order to avoid any negative health implications.

First of all, when choosing a backpack look for the following features (1,3):

  1. Make sure the backpack is made of a lightweight material. Sure, some trendy materials may look cool, but these can also add unnecessary weight.
  2. The backpack should have two wide, padded shoulder straps that are adjustable. Thin, narrow straps can cut off circulation resulting in pain, tingling, and numbness.  Straps with a clip to secure them across the chest are best.
  3. Look for a padded back to increase comfort and also to protect your child from being poked by items inside the bag.
  4. Backpacks with a waist strap help distribute the weight more evenly and can protect the neck and shoulders from carrying the weight independently.
  5. Check out backpacks that have a roller option if allowed in your child’s school. This allows freedom to switch between wearing on the back (for example on snowy days when rolling is not practical) and rolling the bag on the ground to take stress off of the neck and shoulders.
  6. Ensure the backpack has multiple compartments as this helps to distribute the weight more evenly, and keeps things organized and separated.

Once you have found the perfect backpack, ensure the backpack is worn properly by following some of these general guidelines:

  • The American Academy of Pediatrics suggests that backpack load should never exceed 10-20% of your child’s body weight. Make sure unnecessary items aren’t traveling back and forth – leave heavy items at home or school if possible.
  • When putting on a backpack, ensure your child bends at the knees (not the waist!) and uses both hands to lift it onto their shoulders. Watch for signs of strain or difficulty when putting it on – if any are present consider reducing the load in the bag by having your child carry a few items.
  • ALWAYS use both of the shoulder straps. No matter how “cool” your child thinks using one shoulder strap looks, it can cause muscle, spine and orthopedic injury down the road.
  • Tighten the shoulder straps and use the strap around the waist (if available). This helps to ensure even weight distribution. The bag should sit in the center of the back, about two inches above the waist (not down near the buttocks!).
  • When packing, ensure heavy items are near the center / back of the bag. Use all of the available compartments to help distribute the weight more evenly.
  • Talk to your child about making frequent trips to their locker, desk or cubby to avoid carrying extra weight around all day.
  • Consider the backpack as a possible culprit if your child starts complaining of back pain, numbness or tingling in the shoulders or arms, or discomfort in the upper body or lower back.  If so, consult with a professional about how to correct the issues, and prevent these from getting worse.  Core, back, or strengthening exercises might be needed if your child is having difficultly lugging around their school stuff – and consult a professional to have any exercises prescribed.

Then, make it fun!  Give your child a list of things to look for when picking out their backpack, and comment on the different features of the ones at the store.  Once purchased, load this up with different things so you can show them the difference when weight is distributed evenly, unevenly and gets too heavy.  Have them try the straps at different lengths so they can comment on what is most comfortable.  Encourage them to leave things at school that should stay there (like indoor shoes) and consider having a double set of school supplies at home so these don’t need to travel back and forth.  Make Friday “clean out your backpack day” for a special treat.

Remember that you get what you pay for.  A $10.00 backpack chosen on style or color may cost you a lot more in the long run.  Backpacks are not an item you should cheap out on!

1)      American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons (2013).
2)      KidsHealth (2013)
3)      American Academy of Pediatrics (2014)


Turning the Back to School Blues into the Back to School “Yahoos!”

Julie Entwistle, MBA, BHSc (OT), BSc (Health / Gerontology)

Last year, my September blog was called “Stress-tember”. For many, the September transition brings about new routines, adjustment chaos, and change that can be met with resistance, fatigue and stress. This year I wanted to take a different approach. I thought instead I would start the conversation early and give parents, teachers, and even kids some proactive strategies they can use to manage this transition as smoothly, productively, and as positively as possible.

1. Plan Ahead
The last few weeks of August will go quickly as we all try to cram in those last care-free moments of outdoor time, vacation, and a less chaotic schedule. But, don’t let September catch you off guard! It is best to look at your schedule now and find time when you will be able to fit in back-to-school related tasks. Start with a list of jobs that need to be done to get back-to-school ready. Personally, with four kids, my list includes: closet and drawer clean-out to compile a list of needed clothing items, shoe inventory, looking at our available school-supplies and backpacks to determine what needs to be replaced, and sitting down with each child to ask them about the lunch foods they will happily consume if these land in their lunchbox. With one child transitioning to an out-of-catchment high-school we need to understand her new schedule and arrange transportation including some city bus trials and carpooling. Once we know what needs to get done, we need to have structured schedule to do it. When can we shop for clothes, shoes, supplies, groceries? When the first week of school arrives, it is best to have the shopping done and even meals prepared, so that the stress, anxiety and chaos of the new routine is easier to manage.

2. Get a Family Calendar
Having a calendar placed in a common area (e.g. the kitchen or back hall) can help with organizing weekly plans. Using a different coloured marker for each family member can help you to easily identify who needs to be where and at what time. You can also encourage or assist your kids with keeping track of homework deadlines, school events like picture day, and other social outings. Once school begins, set aside a time each week for the family to go over the week ahead to ensure everyone is on board and prepared (i.e. “we need a birthday present for Tuesday, rubber boots for the trip on Thursday” etc.).

3. Establish Routines
Due to vacations, sleepovers, and the unstructured nature of no school, daily routines are often disrupted over the summer months. A consistent nightly routine for kids is critical to them getting a good sleep. Be consistent with when they are to start getting ready for bed, which nights will be for baths / showers, teeth brushing, and how they enjoy falling asleep (story time, hugs and kisses, that favorite stuffie, nightlight etc.). The importance is in the consistency of the routine as this is what cues your child that he/she is ready for sleep. Set up a routine that works for you and your family and start early. Having an established bedtime routine in place BEFORE school begins will help to make the transition go smoothly.

In addition to bedtime routines, it is important to re-establish what after-school time should also look like. We have our “after school routine” typed, laminated and posted in the back hall. This includes “shoes and back-packs away, lunch boxes emptied, dry snacks and water bottle packed for the next day, paperwork from school in the “in box”, have a healthy snack, do any homework, then play (no technology)! We review this with the kids before school starts, confirm the expectations, get their commitment, and make any changes.

4. Re-Adjust Sleep Schedules
Just as the overall bedtime routine is disrupted during the summer months, so is the timing of sleep. It is important to get back into a regular routine before school starts to avoid tired and cranky kids. A good way to ease into it is to adjust your child’s sleep/wake routine by ten minutes each night, so you can gradually get back to the regular routine by the time school begins. Having alarms in the kids’ bedrooms will help them to wake at an appropriate time so that they are not rushing, skipping breakfast or brushing their teeth in order to make a bus. And watch out for the snooze button! Letting your child delay waking will only become a bad habit harder to break as they get older. Put the alarm clock on the other side of the room if you have to – walking to turn it off will deter them from returning to bed.

5. Honour Your Child’s Anxiety
If your child is nervous or anxious about getting back to school, acknowledge this. Let them know that these feelings are normal. Ask them what you can do to make this easier. If your child is going to a new school or concerned about a new teacher, call the school and see if you are able to visit the school and/or classroom teacher before the school year begins. Or, see if there is a friend also in the same class they can meet with over the summer to ease their concerns. Often just being in the new environment, or being exposed to other kids transitioning prior to the school year beginning can ease fears and calm nerves.

6. Be Consistent
The most important aspect of making the transition back to school easier is consistency. With a familiar and consistent schedule in place, children are more prepared for what is to come which minimizes anxiety, reduces behavioural episodes, and provides kids with clear expectations and structure to their day. And when kids adjust more easily, so do parents!

7. Check your Expectations
Sometimes the worst part of any transition is not having reasonable expectations in the first place. Expect that your kids will need time adjusting, allow them to be tired, out of sorts and cranky, know that you too will need some extra time for yourself to unwind or get some extra rest. Don’t be reactive to the adjustment but rather just acknowledge this as one of the toughest times of the year and accept that in good time new routines will be established and the family will once again be in sync.

So, I hope the above tips will be helpful as you make this necessary transition back to “normal” – whatever that looks like for you. Personally, I will still find September stressful and hectic, but I expect nothing less in a household of six. Like with all things, some preparedness, patience and consistency will make it easier on all involved!


Put a Plug on Your Kid’s Summer Brain Drain

The report cards are done, the bell has rung, the kids are excited and summer vacation is upon us! Summer is a time for camps, vacations, trips, cottaging and so much more! But where do they fit in learning? Ahead lies two full months of vacation from traditional schooling; which for many kids is enough time for their young minds to unlearn much of what was taught. How do we as parents make sure our kids don’t suffer summer brain drain, while still ensuring they get the break and vacation they need? Check out the following from Family Education for great tips on how to easily and painlessly incorporate learning into your summer plans!

Family Education:  Stop the Summer Brain Drain!