Hopefully, you’ve had a relatively healthy summer with plenty of sunshine and outdoor time.

But if you have kids getting ready to head back to the classroom, you know they’re about to go into the petri dish of all kinds of contagions. The classroom environment has your kids alongside lots of other humans, with close contact for sneezes and tummy bugs So what can you do to make this fall as healthy as it can be? A few simple habits could make the difference.

Proper handwashing training. There’s getting into the habit of handwashing. And then there are the best practices for that habit. Do your kids know the basics? Handwashing can help mitigate a number of contagions. Kids should learn that they should wash their hands frequently throughout the school day, particularly after using the restroom, before eating and following sneezing or coughing. It’s also a great idea to get in the habit of washing your hands when returning to the classroom from the playground and after handling teaching materials like blocks, toys, and learning equipment. And when it comes to how to wash hands, remind your children that they need to wash their hands for at least 20 seconds, making sure to lather and wash the backs of their hands as well as their palms. Be sure and demonstrate for your kids and help monitor them washing their hands in the remaining days of summer to reinforce the practice when the school year begins.

Get vaccines updated. It can be hard to keep track of when vaccine boosters are needed, as well as newly recommended vaccines. A quick call to your child’s doctor’s office can help you determine what updates your child needs.  The Covid vaccine is now recommended for children as young as 6 months old boosters are available for children age 5 and up, so speak with your healthcare provider about your child. And if you are an Altrua HealthShare Member on certain memberships, you have access to the Altrua HealthShare App, where you can keep medical and immunization, and vaccine records for your family. It makes keeping up with needed shots all the easier!

Get back to healthy eating. It’s all too easy in the summer, with vacation eating-out and popsicles on hot afternoons, and lots of snacking, for health nutrition habits to go out the window. But for optimal health during the upcoming cold and flu season, healthy meals and snacks help your child’s body fight off germs and viruses. For snacks, make fresh-cut vegetables and dips along with fruit and nuts the practice in your house. For meals, reduce the amount of processed foods and lean toward simple proteins, salads, and whole grains. Sugar and processed foods can cause high inflammation levels in the body, even in kids, which impacts the body’s immune system. Adding better nutrition to your child’s plate can go a long way in making the return to school a healthy one. 

Clean up your child’s sleep. While handwashing is a critical strategy in warding off germs this fall, so is good sleep hygiene. Experts are now distinguishing between sleep that helps restore the body and mind versus disordered, broken sleep. If your child suffers from sleep disturbances, talk to your healthcare provider. Also, your child probably needs more sleep than you think, up to 12 hours, depending on their age an individual need. You may need to push bedtime back early than you might expect. Check out this two-part podcast with sleep expert Dr. Chris Winters for ideas and tips on helping your child get the best sleep possible. And take a moment to look at your own attitudes and practices about sleep; it could be rubbing off on your child. Good habits about sleep are best modeled by parents, so be aware of how you’re managing your own sleep schedule.  

Focus on these four areas in the remaining weeks of summer break to help kick off a healthy school year. And it’s back to school for you, too. These healthy habits are great to brush up on for yourself and your health. 

“Practice isn’t the thing you do once you’re good. It’s the thing you do that makes you good.”

Malcolm Gladwell

Julie Lyles Carr is a best-selling author, podcaster, and entrepreneur living in Austin, Texas, with her husband Mike Carr. They have eight kids, two unfriendly cats, and an antique dachshund.