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How to kick-start your kid's healthy school year

Dr. Matt Longjohn is National Health Officer at YMCA of the USA, National Resource Officer for 2,700 Ys across the country.

Encouraging smarter children all year long

Now that August is quickly coming to a close, take advantage of your remaining vacation to prep your children for the upcoming school year. The first day of school may not always be top of mind during the summer months, but keeping your children active is important for them to be prepared when they hear the school bell ringing in a new academic year.

Family going for a hike

The trifecta — nutrition, education and exercise — are essential to helping children succeed in and out of the classroom. The majority of U.S. children, though, are not getting the daily recommended hours of physical activity, reading or daily amounts of healthy foods. According to the latest YMCA Family Health Snapshot — a survey of parents that gauges their children’s activity levels during the school year — only 17 percent read books for fun and only 12 percent eat at least eight fruits and vegetables daily. Studies also show kids are at even greater risk of falling behind in these areas during the summer.

Prepping kids for the new school year

It’s not too late to get your kids "in training" for the new school year. Use the remaining days of summer vacation to seek out fun ways for the whole family to be mentally and physically active. Learning enrichment activities, like visits to museums or an aquarium, can get children’s minds and bodies active. Another idea is to take a weekend trip to nearby historic spots.

Check out these educational field trip ideas >>

Things you can do at home

There are also things you can do at home as a family to encourage physical activity and learning now and throughout the school year: 

For an active mind

  • Visit your local library. Explore new books you and your kids may have missed.
  • Start a book series and read together each evening as a family. Reading at night keeps the brain buzzing and young minds active.
  • Play Saturday mind games. Do the crossword or sudoku in your local paper or find one online.
  • Start a "Words I Want to Know" notebook for the entire family. When there is an unfamiliar word, write it down, look it up and add it to the family’s vocabulary.

To learn more about the Y, visit ymca.net >>

For a healthy body

  • Start your morning with a stretch. Take a moment and have everyone in your family reach for their toes.
  • Once all of you are done stretching, head to the kitchen table for the most important meal of the day. Having a healthy breakfast can help set a precedent for more mindful eating.
  • Take a walking staycation. Map out a new neighborhood or hiking trail in your area and get your family to explore on foot. Use weekends to explore new neighborhoods during the school year.
  • Next time you get "I’m bored!" give your kids a jump rope! From jumping solo to double dutch, it’s an awesome way to have fun and keep moving.


Dr. Matt Longjohn is national health officer at YMCA of the USA, national resource officer for 2,700 Ys across the country.

More on children's health

How eating organic improves your child's health
Children and good nutrition: Start early
Oral health tips for kids

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