A Healthy Start to School
Starting kindergarten is an exciting time. Check if your child is ready for school:
- Has your child had an eye exam?
- Has your child received the immunizations needed to attend school?
- Can your child get dressed or eat without help?
- Can your child be away from you for a few hours?
- Can your child use crayons, scissors or look at books?
How to help your child do well at school
Children learn best when:
- They have a routine at home. When children know what activity comes next they feel safer and less worried.
- They have enough sleep, healthy foods and physical activity.
- They feel safe in their school.
- Their parents are involved in their learning and their school.
Most parents and caregivers have questions about parenting and what to expect when their children enter school. There are many people in the school who can help. Speak with the teachers, principals, guidance counsellors, social workers and public health nurses. For newcomers to Canada, there are settlement workers in certain schools to provide additional help.
It is important for children to be active for at least 60 minutes every day. Running, jumping, throwing, catching and kicking help children learn motor skills and become physically stronger.
Regular physical activity strengthens bones, builds muscle, works the heart and contributes to a healthy body weight and lifestyle. Physical activity also helps children to express themselves, to learn social skills, deal with stress, and do better in school. Research shows that physical activity is important for healthy brain development.
Reduce the “non-active” time children spend on computers, electronic games, or watching TV to less than 2 hours a day. Encourage everyone in the family to be active.
Children are curious about bodies. Answering their questions throughout their lives will allow you to keep the lines of communication open as well as share your cultural and family values. Parents are encouraged to think about replacing “the big talk” about the changes of puberty with ongoing and open age-appropriate conversations:
- Whenever your child asks a question, it requires an answer, even if it is not right away.
- It is fine to tell your child you do not know the answer. Tell your child you will find the answer or look it up together.
- Children’s books are a great way to help explain things that you may not know how to answer on your own.
- Teach your child the correct names of all body parts.
- Talk to your child about touch and encourage them to tell you if someone’s touch or behaviour makes them feel uncomfortable.
Motor vehicle collisions are a leading cause of injury related deaths for children in Canada. Using a booster seat helps to protect children from serious injury 3½ times better than seat belts alone. A booster seat is mandatory for children if they meet any of the following criteria:
- they are under 8 years of age
- they are between 18 kg – 36 kg (between 40 – 80 lbs.)
- they stand less than 145 cm (4’9”) tall
Here are a few things you should know when using a booster seat:
- A booster seat is needed to position the seat belt properly over your child’s body.
- The lap belt should be positioned low across the hips.
- The shoulder belt should lie across the chest and not across the neck.
- For children 12 years old and under, the safest place to travel is in the back seat.
Our hands often carry and spread germs. Washing our hands is the best way to prevent many illnesses and diseases such as cold and flu.
Be a good role model and make sure everyone washes their hands for at least 15 seconds with soap and water:
- after using the washroom
- after sneezing, coughing, blowing their nose
- before eating foods
- before touching a cut or open sore
- after touching garbage
- when their hands are visibly dirty
- after playing with animals
Children’s lungs are small and growing; they breathe faster and inhale more second-hand smoke than adults do. Second hand smoke can lead to asthma, allergies, ear infections and cancer.
The law in Ontario bans smoking in cars with children under 16 years of age:
- Second-hand smoking is even more dangerous inside an enclosed space such as a car.
- Opening the window is not enough since the smoke is blown around to the back seat where children sit.
It is also important to make your home smoke-free:
- If you have to smoke, smoke outside. Ask family members for support.
- Let everyone coming to your home know that you do not want smoking in your home or around your children.
Smoking is illegal and banned in all school properties, including playgrounds, sports fields, and parking lots. In Toronto, there is a by-law that bans smoking within 9 metres of City of Toronto sports fields and park spaces.
The hot summer sun can be dangerous for children.To reduce the risk of skin cancer and to prevent sunstroke or heat exhaustion in the summer:
- Limit time spent in the sun between 11 a.m. and 3 p.m.
- Look for shade when outdoors.
- Wear a hat with a wide brim or baseball cap with flaps to shade the face and neck.
- Wear loose fitting, tightly woven clothing to cover exposed skin.
- Wear UVA and UVB protective sunglasses.
- Before sun exposure, apply lots of broad spectrum sunscreen, SPF 30 or higher. Reapply every 2 hours or after swimming or sweating.
The cold winter weather and the snow and ice can be unsafe for children.
- Dress your child in layers.
- Wear a hat and keep ears covered at all times.
- Wear mittens instead of gloves as they are warmer.
- Wear warm, waterproof boots with deep treads.
- Use a neck warmer instead of a scarf.
- Check regularly if your child is warm and dry.
- Wear UVA and UVB protective sunglasses, and apply sunscreen to exposed skin even on cloudy days.
- Walk your child to school and get to know other parents and children.
- Talk to your child’s teacher about your child’s strengths and what he/she needs help with.
- Volunteer to do small activities (e.g. reading with students or attending school council meetings) or larger activities at your school (e.g. helping with school trips or fundraising).
- Take time to listen to your child about what they did at school, ask questions, and encourage them (e.g. “I’m proud of how hard you tried”).
- Read to or with your child at home.
Head lice are tiny insects that can live and breed on your child’s head. They are greyish-brown in colour and their eggs are white. The oval-shaped eggs (nits) stick firmly to hair near the scalp, unlike dandruff which can be blown off.
Having head lice is very common. To help prevent your child from getting head lice you can:
- discourage head-to-head contact and sharing of hats, scarves, hairbrushes and combs
- tie long hair back in braids
You cannot prevent head lice by using head lice shampoos or products. Use them only if your child has head lice. Be sure to read the directions carefully; using the treatments incorrectly or too often can be harmful.
Children need healthy food to give them energy so they can learn better in school:
- Give enough time for your child to eat a healthy breakfast every morning.
- Ask if your child’s school has a breakfast, snack or lunch program.
- Use Canada’s Food Guide to plan healthy lunches and snacks that include a variety of vegetables and fruits, whole grain foods and protein foods.
- Provide vegetables and/or fruit with every lunch and snack.
- Pack a reusable water bottle so that children can drink water throughout the day. Plain milk and unsweetened fortified soy beverages are also healthy drink options.
- Involve your children in planning and preparing lunches and snacks.
Healthy teeth are important for learning, making friends, and overall good health.
- Help your child floss and brush their teeth before bedtime.
- Give your child healthy snacks such as milk, cheese, fresh fruits and vegetables.
- Visit the dentist regularly or contact Toronto Public Health if you cannot afford to pay for dental care.
Children should receive their vaccinations according to age, to keep them healthy and avoid harm from serious diseases. Refer to Ontario’s Publicly Funded Immunization Schedule.
Keeping your child’s vaccinations up-to-date is important. You will need your child’s vaccination records to register for school, summer camps and/or travel purposes. The vaccines required for school attendance under the Ontario law are free.
Report vaccination online to Toronto Public Health. Online reporting also allows parents to keep the vaccination record online for future use.
For questions or request for an exemption, call our Immunization Line at 416-392-1250.
Just like adults, children can feel anxious or stressed about new situations, meeting new people or having too many things to worry about.
Stress in your child may show up in many ways, including
- headaches or tummy ache
- trouble sleeping
- eating more or less
- not wanting to go to school
- becoming more quiet
- looking sad or worried
You can help your child if they feel stressed by
- getting your child familiar with the school and school grounds before starting school
- spending time and doing things together
- paying full attention when your child talks
- showing your child that you love him/her
- giving your child time to relax from a busy schedule
- watching your child play and helping him/her to get along with other children
Being a parent is one of the most rewarding jobs you will ever do but it can also be tough at times. Toronto Public Health offers free parenting programs to families with children six years old and under. Going to a parenting program is a great way to get information and support. Hearing from other parents lets you know you are not alone as some of your concerns and experiences are shared by other parents.
Head injuries are the number one cause of serious injury and death in children. Different sports need different helmets (e.g. biking, skateboarding, in-line skating). For in-line skates, skateboards and scooters, children should use additional protective gear such as wrist guards, elbow and knee pads.
Use the 2-V-1 Rule to properly fit your helmet:
- Put the helmet level on the head, not tilting backward or forward.
- Helmet should cover the top of the head and sit 2 finger-widths above your eyebrows.
- Adjust the fit of the helmet by adding or re-positioning the foam pads.
- Move the dial or other fitting devices so it fits snug.
- The side straps should meet to form a V below each ear.
- If your helmet tilts back, tighten the front straps. If your helmet tilts forward, tighten the back straps.
- Only 1 finger fit between the chin and the fastened straps.
Most children, age 10 and under, should be with an older person when crossing the road. Children under the age of 10 have difficulty judging the speed and distance of traffic. Teach children about how to cross the road safely and be a good role model.
Here are some safety tips:
- Wear bright coloured clothing in the day.
- Wear reflective and light coloured clothing at night.
- Unplug headphones and put down the cell phone while walking.
- When possible, cross at crosswalks, pedestrian crossovers or at corners with traffic lights or stop signs.
- Stop, look and listen for traffic.
- Check all ways and around the corner.
- Make eye contact with drivers.
- Cross when the road is clear or when traffic has stopped.
- Obey crossing signals.
- Continue to watch for traffic while crossing.
Injuries on the playground happen most frequently to children 5 to 9 years of age. Here are some things you can do to help your child have fun without getting hurt.
- Make sure the playground is right for your child’s age and stage of development.
- Check that the equipment has strong handrails and barriers to help prevent falls.
- Look to see if equipment is firmly anchored in the ground.
- Report any equipment that needs repair.
- Remove clothing that can become tangled in playground equipment, such as helmets, drawstrings, or cords.
- Tie up shoelaces and use a neck warmer instead of a scarf.
- Stay close to your child and watch them carefully.
Children need sleep to keep them healthy, happy and doing their best. Children ages 5 to 13 years old require 9 –11 hours of sleep each night.
- Create a bedtime routine with your child (e.g. have a bath and read books together).
- Keep your child’s bedtime about the same time every night, including weekends.
- Keep TVs, video games, tablets, and computers out of the child’s bedroom. The light and sounds from screens prevent children from sleeping. Limit screen time before bed.
- Make sure the sleep area is cool, dark and quiet.
- Encourage your child to be physically active during the day.
- Avoid giving your child food or drinks with caffeine (e.g. colas, chocolate, tea, coffee).
Speech and language skills are very important for your child’s success in school.
By age four, a child should be able to:
- Follow directions that involve three or more steps
- Tell short stories that have a beginning, middle and an end
- Can name numbers and letters and match some letters with their sounds
- Understood by strangers most of the time and use adult-like grammar
Inform your school if you have any concerns about your child’s speech or language.
One of the most important things you can do to help your child get ready for school is to read together every day. Point out letters and words on the page and talk about the pictures. Library story time also provides wonderful opportunities to share stories, rhymes and books with your child.
The ability to see clearly is very important to your child’s learning and success in school. It allows your child to participate fully in school work. It is important to have an eye exam before starting school.
Junior Kindergarten students can get an OHIP covered eye exam and a free pair of eye glasses through the Eye See Eye Learn program. OHIP covers an eye exam by an optometrist every year for children age 19 and under.