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Books, Backpacks and Bedtimes, Oh My!

Where did the summer go?" Are you hearing that in your house, too? Yes, it's time to think about getting the kids ready to head back to school. Are your child's immunizations up to date? Does he need new glasses? What time should she go to bed? Should he bring a cell phone to school for safety? We've rounded up expert advice on all this and more. Read on and you'll be ready for the big day!

Schedule a well-child checkup. Most states require only two well-child exams for school enrollment: one at the start of kindergarten and the other at the start of high school. Some states vary from this schedule, so check with your school. An additional examination is often required for participation in a school sport. Of course, you'll want to check with your child's doctor regarding how often to schedule additional regular well-child check-ups.

Make sure your child is up-to-date on all immunizations. Ask your doctor for a copy of your child's immunization record. You may need this to prove his immunization status for school. Visit the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) Childhood Immunization Support Program website at for lots of helpful information, including:

The AAP's 2009 Childhood Immunization Schedule (for infants through teens) and a catch-up schedule for children who may have missed a scheduled vaccination.

Information on vaccine safety.

Information for parents and caregivers about the H1N1 (swine) flu, including vaccine updates.

Information on vaccines that are temporarily in short supply.

Frequently asked questions about childhood immunizations.

Have your child's vision checked. Basic vision screening should be performed by your child's doctor at each well-child examination. If a child fails a vision screening — or if there is any concern about a vision problem — the child should be referred for a comprehensive professional eye examination, according to the American Academy of Ophthalmology (AAO).

Schedule a dental check-up. Students in the U.S. miss more than 51 million school hours per year because of dental problems or related conditions, according to the American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry. Teach your child to floss once a day and brush twice a day with a fluoride toothpaste. Beware of frequent snacking, as repeated exposure to sugary or starchy snacks can increase the risk for cavities. And visit your child's dentist twice a year for a professional cleaning and check-up.

Get set for sports. For children who wear glasses, the AAO recommends one-piece wrap-around polycarbonate sports frames for all contact sports, including soccer, field hockey and basketball. All children wearing glasses need sports frames for gym class.

Have your child's hearing tested. Most states now mandate hearing tests for infants. But many school-age children have not been tested. If your child is listening to the television or music at a very loud volume, or tends to favor one ear over the other when listening to you speak, it may be a sign of hearing loss. Talk with your doctor about having your child's hearing tested.

Communicate about medications. Does your child receive medication on a regular basis for diabetes, asthma or another chronic health problem? School nurses and teachers must be made aware of your child's needs, especially if they are the ones who will administer the medicine. Speak with them about the prescribed medication schedule and procedures, and work out an emergency course of action in case of a problem.

Schedule testing if you suspect a learning disability or dyslexia. If you feel that your child may not be processing information as she should, speak with her teacher and her doctor as soon as possible. Your child's doctor can provide a referral for testing.

Plan ahead for brain-power breakfasts. Studies show that children who eat breakfast are more alert in class. Try to include protein (peanut butter or low-fat cheese, milk or yogurt are good choices), fruit and whole grains.

Talk with your child about healthy eating at school. Most schools regularly send home cafeteria menus. With this information, you can plan on packing lunch on the days when the main course is one your child prefers not to eat. Talk with your child's school, suggests the AAP. Encourage the school to stock healthy lunch choices such as fresh fruit, low-fat dairy products, water and 100-percent fruit juice in school vending machines. Each 12-ounce soft drink contains approximately 10 teaspoons of sugar and 150 calories. Daily habits count: Drinking just one can of soda a day increases a child's risk of obesity by 60 percent, says the AAP. Restrict your child's soft-drink consumption to special occasions. Don't let it become a daily habit.

Update emergency phone numbers. Are your current emergency phone numbers on file at school? Make sure the school and your child know how to reach you or another caregiver at all times.

If your child has a cell phone, talk with him about when and where it can be used safely. Chatting on a cell phone while walking to school isn't a great idea. A recent study examined how cell-phone use distracts preteens while crossing the street. Researchers from the University of Alabama at Birmingham worked with children ages 10 and 11. Distraction was created by cell-phone conversation with a research assistant. When distracted, the kids were less attentive to traffic, they left less time between themselves and the next oncoming vehicle and they were involved in more collisions and near misses. (Fortunately, the testing was done in a simulated environment!)

Choose the right backpack — and use it safely. Look for wide, padded shoulder straps. Narrow straps can dig into shoulders, causing pain and restricting circulation. A padded back increases comfort. The backpack shouldn't weigh more than 10 to 20 percent of the student's body weight. Remind your child to always use both shoulder straps. Slinging a backpack over one shoulder can strain muscles and may increase the chances of developing curvature of the spine. Organize the backpack to use all of its compartments to distribute weight more evenly. Pack heavier items closest to the center of the back. Even better: Use a rolling backpack. Visit or or more backpack-safety tips from the AAP.

Review school-bus safety rules. Designate a safe place for your child to wait for the bus, away from traffic and the street. And review these safety rules, from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, with your child:

When getting on the bus, wait for the driver's signal. Board the bus one at a time.

When getting off the bus, look before stepping off the bus to be sure no cars are passing on the right. (It's illegal, but it happens.) Move away from the bus.

Before crossing the street, take five "giant steps" out from the front of the bus, or until the driver's face can be seen. Wait for the driver to signal that it's safe to cross.

Look left-right-left when coming to the edge of the bus to make sure traffic is stopped. Keep watching traffic when crossing.

Ask the driver for help if you drop something near the bus. If you bend down to pick up something, the driver cannot see you and you may be hit by the bus. Use a backpack or book bag to keep loose items together.

Create a healthy sleep schedule. Children ages 5 to 12 need 10 to 11 hours of sleep nightly, and teens need 8.5 to 9 hours, according to the National Sleep Foundation. That can be a tough prescription to follow, with the increasing demands on kids' time from homework, sports and other extracurricular activities this time of year. As they get older, school-aged children become more interested in TV, video games and the Internet (as well as caffeinated beverages). This can lead to difficulty falling asleep and sleep disruptions. Poor sleep can lead to mood swings, behavioral problems and cognitive problems that affect a child's ability to learn in school. To help your child get a good night's sleep, teach healthy sleep habits, emphasize the need for a consistent sleep schedule and bedtime routine, create a good environment for sleep (dark, cool and quiet) and keep TV and computers out of the bedroom. For more information, visit and click on "Sleep for All Ages" for tips specifically for children and teens.

—      Sources: New York Presbyterian Hospital, American Academy of Pediatrics, Texas Children's Hospital, Mayo Clinic, National Sleep Foundation, National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, American Academy of Ophthalmology

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