Back To School Basics: Five Things School-Age Children Need To Stay Healthy

Cold and flu seasons begin a few weeks into the school year, which means….they’re just around the corner!  Want to know how to keep your little learner healthy in the classroom? Here are a few back-to-school health tips.

1. Kids need to know how to wash their hands well and often.  

            The Center for Disease Control (CDC) says that handwashing is a vaccine you give yourself.  And it’s true!  Research shows that handwashing decreases transmission of diarrheal illnesses by 31%, and decreases transmission of the common cold by up to 21%.  Make sure your kids know to wash their hands before and after eating, after going to the bathroom, and after coughing or sneezing.  The best way to wash your hands is to get them wet, lather them with soap, scrub them for 20 seconds (roughly the time it takes to sing “Happy Birthday” twice), then rinse and dry them.  If soap and water aren’t available, they can use hand sanitizer that contains at least 60% alcohol.

2. Kids need to get plenty of sleep.

            There are lots of reasons to make sure your little ones get their Zzzzz’s!  For starters, sleep helps children grow, because their bodies secrete the highest amount of growth hormone while they’re asleep.  Sleep helps children (and grownups!) stay healthy.  One study showed that people who got seven or less hours of sleep each night had triple the risk of contracting a cold when exposed to a virus than people who got eight or more hours a night.  And, sleep helps children learn because they can focus longer and retain more information when they’re well rested.

3. Kids need to eat 5 servings of fruits and vegetables a day.

Incorporating fruits and vegetables into your kids’ daily meals and snacks is important for so many reasons!  It provides the vitamins and minerals they need to grow well and to stay healthy.  It replaces unhealthy food (that typically is high in simple sugars, carbohydrates and processed products) with nutritious alternatives.  Eating a diet high in produce also decreases children’s risk of obesity, diabetes and other diseases.  And it creates healthy habits that will benefit them for the rest of their lives.  They may not thank you now for making them eat a spoonful of peas before they can have dessert but trust us -- they’ll thank you later!

4. Kids need lots of time to move.

Yes, your child may have a recess once or twice a day, and gym class too, but school activities alone don’t usually provide children the amount of physical activity they need each day in order to stay healthy and strong.  The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that children get at least 60 minutes of physical activity every day.  So in addition to recess and gym class, find ways to build in activity opportunities for your children.  (Hint: you can have lots of fun doing it together as a family!)  Activities can include walking the dog, playing recreational sports, going for walks and hikes or using a game console fitness challenge.

5. Kids need a flu shot every fall.

Flu shots are approved for children ages six months and older.  It can take up to seven days to develop immunity after receiving the flu shot, so the sooner in flu season you get your child vaccinated, the better!  Contrary to commonly-held misbeliefs, the flu shot is not a live vaccine so it can’t make your child sick.  And children need a new flu shot each fall because there are dozens of strains of the flu, and each year the strains expected in to hit the U.S. during our flu season change.


Did you know we have six locations in the Bay Area -- and we’re open 7 days a week!?  We see children of all ages for illness and injury care, and we even have a dedicated pediatric provider at our Mill Valley location on Saturdays from 8 am - 2 pm.  Please schedule an appointment (or just walk in!) if your little one requires medical attention.  And follow us on social media to find out when our flu shots arrive in the fall!

Sarah Thebarge MMSc, PA-C Sarah Thebarge earned her physician assistant degree at Yale School of Medicine, and then studied journalism at Columbia School of Journalism. She has been a physician assistant and a freelance journalist since 2004. In addition to caring for patients at Golden Gate Urgent Care, Sarah frequently volunteers her medical skills in the developing world. Her writing has appeared in Huffington Post, USA Today and National Geographic, and her blog was featured on She is the author of the memoir The Invisible Girls and the upcoming book WELL: Healing our Beautiful, Broken World from a Hospital in West Africa. She currently lives in the Mission District of San Francisco.

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