Helping children get the sleep they need increases learning

Elementary-age children require a minimum of eight hours of sleep; many need up to 11 hours. Since school starts early, children are often up by 6 a.m., so it’s important for parents to enforce a reasonable 8 p.m. bedtime.

Extracurricular activities often compound the fatigue factor. Many children are involved with sports, music and more. Being too busy can leave children (and their parents) exhausted. As a result, family time and unstructured playtime often suffers. We recommend that you and your child sit down together, prioritize activities, then establish a schedule that supports your family’s health and well-being. Involving your children in the schedule helps them learn the importance of time management, shows that you respect their opinion, and promotes their own self-respect.

Picky eaters need to eat too

Adequate nutrition is an important part of learning, yet many young children are picky about what they eat. Some may even try to skip school snacks or meals. If you know that your child won’t eat what is offered at school, send along a healthy snack or lunch that contains at least three of the four major food groups: dairy, bread, meat/protein and veggies/fruit. If your child is buying school lunch, study the menu and teach your child to make healthy choices, such as choosing salad, bread and milk over pizza, French fries and juice.

How to help your child succeed in elementary school

  • Provide a nutritious breakfast. Studies show that kids who eat a healthy meal before school are more able to focus and learn. Serve something from each major food group, such as a slice of toast with peanut butter, half a banana and a glass of milk. Avoid processed, sugary, artificially colored foods, which burn off quickly and can leave your child feeling tired and less able to focus.
  • Encourage sleep. Children require 8 to 11 hours of sleep for optimal health and learning.
  • Read with your child for a minimum of 15 minutes every day. To keep your child engaged and to check for understanding, ask questions about what you read. This allows you and your child to reconnect. It also improves memory and vocabulary.
  • Support homework time. Create a quiet, well-lit spot that encourages homework. Be available, so that your child can ask questions. Don’t criticize your child’s work or do it yourself.
  • Beware of too many extracurricular activities. Too many after-school events can distract and exhaust your child. At this age, your child needs unstructured time for play and family.
  • Stay informed. Talk to your child’s teacher at least once a week. Asking for feedback and finding out how your child is doing demonstrates that you’re truly supportive of your child’s success.
  • Go to parent-teacher conferences. Keep an open mind and seek out information about your child’s accomplishments and areas that need improvement. It’s okay to ask questions.
  • Volunteer, if you can. Your child will appreciate your involvement. For working parents, there are often helpful tasks you can do in the evening at home. Ask your child’s teacher how you can get involved.
  • Make your child’s school aware of any medical conditions. If your child has a medical condition, be sure to talk to the school. If your child requires medications nearby, provide an up-to-date prescription with clear, written instructions. Then show school staff how and when to administer the medication in an emergency. Too often, children do not have medication at school when they need it, or school staff waits too long to give it. In an emergency, minutes matter.
  • Support your child’s teacher. They are giving of their heart and expertise, so engage them in a positive way.
  • Speak positively about school. Your child will mirror your attitude.

Learn more about school matters for these age groups: