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Starting kindergarten is an exciting time. This information is for parents/caregivers to help your child have a healthy start to school. You can also find this information in the Healthy Start to School Booklet.

Has your child:

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/caregivers are involved in their learning and their school.

Most parents and caregivers have questions about parenting and what to expect when their children start school. There are many people in the school who can help. Speak with the teachers, principals, guidance counsellors and social workers. For newcomers to Canada, there are settlement workers in certain schools to provide additional help.

 

Everyone has a role to play to reduce the spread of viruses and support in-person learning. Each measure below provides an added layer of protection for yourself, your family, and your community:

  • Stay home if you are sick and keep your children home if they are sick, even if symptoms are mild.
  • Wear a mask in indoor public settings, including in schools and childcare settings. Children ages two to five should only wear a mask with supervision if they can safely tolerate masking and can put it on and take it off.
  • Wash or sanitize your hands often.
  • Cover your cough or sneeze with your elbow or a tissue.
  • Clean and disinfect frequently touched surfaces.
  • Choose well-ventilated spaces when possible.
  • Keep your family up-to-date with vaccinations including COVID-19 boosters and flu vaccines when eligible for the best protection against getting very sick from COVID-19 and influenza.

Vaccines protect children from serious diseases. Ontario’s Immunization of School Pupils Act (ISPA) requires all school-age children to be vaccinated against nine designated diseases or provide a valid exemption. All the vaccines needed for school are free.

Report your child’s vaccinations to Toronto Public Health. You can also securely store your family’s vaccination records in one place using the free CANImmunize app.

Refer to Ontario’s Publicly Funded Immunization Schedule for more information.

Just like adults, children can feel anxious or stressed about new situations, meeting new people, and they can worry about many things.

Stress in your child may show up in different ways including:

  • Headaches or tummy aches,
  • Trouble sleeping,
  • Eating more or eating less,
  • Not wanting to go to school,
  • Changes in their behaviour (e.g. more quiet/more active than usual), and
  • 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.
  • Talking/providing support about any of their worries/fears.
  • Showing your child that you love them.
  • Giving your child time to relax from a busy schedule.
  • Watching your child play and helping them to get along with other children.
  • Helping them learn to solve simple problems.

Children need sleep to be healthy and happy and do their best. Children ages 3 and 4 require 10 to 13 hours of good quality sleep each night. Children ages 5 to 13 years require 9 to 11 hours of sleep each night.

  • Create a bedtime routine with your child (e.g. have a bath or read a book together).
  • Keep your child’s bedtime about the same time during the week and on weekends.
  • Limit screen time before bed.
  • Keep screens (TVs, video games, tablets and computers) out of your child’s bedroom because the light and sounds from screens prevent children from sleeping.
  • Make sure the sleep area is cool, dark and quiet.
  • Encourage your child to be physically active during the day.
  • Avoid giving your child drinks with caffeine (e.g. colas, chocolate, tea, coffee).

Encourage your child to move! It is important for children to be active for at least 180 minutes each day in a variety of physical activities, of which at least 60 minutes is energetic play like running, dancing and jumping. More activity provides even greater health benefits.

Regular physical activity can help children have increased concentration, better academic scores, improved self-esteem, healthy growth and development, stronger heart and bones and healthier muscles.

Encourage everyone in the family to be active together. Reduce the “non-active” (sedentary behaviour) time children spend on computers, electronic games, or watching TV to less than 1 hour per day. Less is better.

Children need nutritious food to give them energy so they can learn better in school.

  • Give your child enough time 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 meals and snacks that include a variety of vegetables and fruits, whole grain foods and protein foods.
  • Encourage your child to drink water throughout the day.
  • Involve your children in planning and preparing lunches and snacks.
  • Find local food and nutrition services in your community at 211.

Learn more about how to pack nutritious school lunches and snacks.

Healthy teeth are important for eating, talking, and learning.

  • Give your child foods that help with dental health such as milk, cheese, and fresh fruits and vegetables.
  • Help your child floss and brush their teeth before bedtime.
  • Call Toronto Public Health’s Dental and Oral Health Services at 416-338-6565 to get more information about healthy teeth and dental programs and services.

Speech and language skills are 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.
  • Be understood by family and strangers most of the time.
  • Use full sentences with adult-like sentence structure.
  • Tell short stories that have a beginning, middle and end.
  • Match some letters with their sounds (letter b says “buh”).

You can help your child get ready for school by reading books together every day. Point out letters and words on the page and talk about the pictures. You can also participate in story time programs together at the library.

Talk to your child’s school principal if you have any concerns about their speech, language or social skills. Learn more about services for school-aged children.

Your child’s hearing impacts their speech and spoken language development. Have your child’s hearing checked by an audiologist if:

Vision health is important for your child’s learning and participation in school activities. In fact, 80% of what children learn is gained through their eyes. It is important for your child to have an eye exam before starting school to check their vision development and to find ways to help if they have any vision challenges.

Kindergarten students can get an OHIP-covered eye exam and a free pair of eye glasses, if needed, through the Eye See Eye Learn Program. OHIP covers an eye exam by an optometrist every year for children under the age of 20.

Download Toronto Public Health’s Vision Health postcard.

Outdoor play supports children’s health and well-being. Spend time outside and enjoy the changing seasons and temperatures safely.

Very hot weather can pose health risks. To reduce the risk of getting 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.
  • Stay in the shade when outdoors.
  • Wear a wide-brimmed hat to shade the face and neck.
  • Wear loose, breathable clothing.
  • Thirty minutes before sun exposure, apply broad spectrum sunscreen, SPF 30 or higher. Reapply every 2 hours and after swimming or sweating.
  • Wear UVA and UVB protective sunglasses if possible.
  • Encourage your child to drink plenty of fluids, especially water. Children may not feel thirsty while at play.

Extreme cold weather and snow and ice can be unsafe for children. Follow these tips to keep your child warm, dry and healthy during colder weather:

  • Dress in layers and cover exposed skin.
  • Wear waterproof and windproof outer 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.
  • Check regularly if your child is warm and dry.
  • Send extra socks and mittens to school in case they get wet.

Injuries happen frequently while children play. Here are some things you can do to help your child have fun without getting hurt:

  • Do a safety check before your children play: check the area for sharp objects, garbage, report any equipment that needs repair, and choose playgrounds with soft surfaces such as sand or rubber.
  • Check your child’s clothing for any items that may become a hazard such as drawstrings, shoelaces, scarves or necklaces.
  • Supervise your child while still giving them the chance to explore. Be extra cautious around roads and water.
  • Make sure your child uses playground equipment and toys intended for their age and ability.
  • Be a role model for safe play.

Wearing a correct, properly fitted helmet may help protect your child’s brain from serious injury during a crash or a fall. Different sports need different helmets. Use the 2-V-1 Rule to properly fit your helmet:

“2”

  • 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 repositioning the foam pads
  • Move the dial or other fitting devices so it fits snug

“V”

  • The side straps should meet to form a V below each ear
  • If the helmet tilts back, tighten the front straps. If the helmet tilts forward, tighten the back straps

“1”

  • Only 1 finger should fit between the chin and the fastened straps

Children should use additional protective gear such as wrist guards, elbow and knee pads for some activities including skateboarding and scootering

Using a child car seat or booster seat correctly helps protect children from serious injury better than seat belts alone. A child’s age, weight and height can help determine what type of child car seat is best for them. A secure car seat is mandatory for children if:

  • They are under 8 years of age, or
  • They are between 18 kg – 36 kg (between 40 – 80 lbs.), or
  • They are under 145 cm (4’9”) tall.

Here are a few things you should know when using a car seat:

  • A car seat is needed to position the seat belt properly over your child’s body.
  • The lap belt should be positioned low and tight across the hips.
  • The shoulder belt should lay flat and snug across your child’s shoulder, staying clear of the neck and face.
  • For children 12 years old and under, the safest place to travel is in the back seat.

Walking to school can help children learn, improve mood, and reduce stress. Role model road safety by walking with your child and teaching them these tips:

  • Children 10 years and under need to be with an adult or an older child to cross the street.
  • If possible, wear bright colours and items that are reflective in low light conditions.
  • Avoid crossing mid-block and between parked vehicles. Use crosswalks, crossovers, and intersections.
  • Stop before crossing any roads. Press the “Walk” button (if there is one) and wait for your turn to cross when the way is clear or all vehicles have come to a full stop.
  • Obey traffic signals. Walk, don’t run, across the road. Pay attention to traffic as you cross.
  • Stay alert. Unplug earphones and put away phones. Check in all directions for vehicles. If possible, make eye contact with drivers and cyclists.
  • Talk with your child’s school about road safety concerns and call 311 for concerns in your neighbourhood.

If driving a child to school, teach them to safely exit the vehicle and be aware of their surroundings.

There is no safe level of exposure to second-hand smoke. It is hazardous for everyone, and especially children because their lungs are small and growing. Second-hand smoke can lead to asthma, allergies, ear infections and cancer.

The law in Ontario bans smoking and vaping in cars or other motor vehicles if anyone inside is age 15 years or younger.

Smoking and vaping are not permitted on school grounds (including playgrounds and sports fields), community recreational facilities, children’s playgrounds, publicly owned sports areas and public areas within 20 metres of these places.

It is also important to make your home smoke-free. Here are some tips to help:

  • If you or visitors to your home smoke commercial tobacco products like cigarettes or shisha, or vape any substance, do so outdoors.
  • Let everyone coming into your home know that you do not want smoking or vaping in your home or around your child(ren).

Head lice are tiny insects that can live and breed on your 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 are curious about bodies. Answering their questions throughout their lives will allow you to continue to speak openly as well as share your family’s values. Parents may consider replacing “the big talk” about changes of puberty with ongoing and open age-appropriate conversations.

  • Whenever your child asks a question, it requires an accurate 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. There are also books written for parents on how to answer these types of questions. You can find both at your local public library.
  • Teach your child the correct names of all body parts.
  • Talk to your child about touch, teach them that they have the right to say no to any touch, that touch is never a secret, all types of touch can be talked about, and encourage them to tell you if a touch or behaviour makes them feel uncomfortable.

Walking your child to school can help you get to know other parents and children in your community.

  • Talk to your child’s teacher about your child’s strengths and what they need help with.
  • If you can, 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.

Being a parent is one of the most rewarding jobs you will ever do but it can also be tough at times. EarlyON Child and Family Centres offer parenting support to all families with children from birth to six years old. EarlyON Centres are located in schools and the community. Free parenting services and resources are available including drop-in programs and child health workshops. Visiting an EarlyON Centre is a great way to meet other parents, get information and play with your child. Sharing your concerns and experiences with other parents lets you know you are not alone. There may also be virtual services available.