Help Your Child Be Healthy and Alert at School


Healthier children make stronger students. The best way to make sure a child is ready to learn in school is to help them get a good night’s sleep, eat a nutritious breakfast and exercise every day. Studies indicate that those three things help a child succeed in the classroom. To increase your child’s chances of being in peak condition to learn, consider these four guidelines.

1. Children Need to Get 10 Hours of Sleep

The National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute says school-age children should get at least 10 hours of sleep each night, and teenagers should get 9-10 hours. Studies indicate that a good night’s sleep can lead to improved academic performance.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) suggests ways parents can help their children get appropriate sleep:

  • Set a regular bedtime and rise time, including on weekends. Visit Healthier Tennessee's Small Starts for Families for sleep routine tips.
  • Dim the lighting. Adolescents who are exposed to more light (such as room lighting or from electronics) in the evening are less likely to get enough sleep.
  • Establish a media curfew. Technology use (computers, video gaming or smartphones) can contribute to late bedtimes.
  • Set a good example by getting plenty of sleep yourself.

2. Children Need a Good Breakfast

Breakfast is an important meal for growing children. Studies show that kids who eat breakfast have better school attendance, less tardiness and higher academic performance. Their overall test scores are higher, they concentrate better, and they solve problems more easily.

Not only is it crucial for your child to eat breakfast, but it’s important that it be a healthy, nutritious meal to get the day started right. Consider the following healthy choices, and get more ideas from the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

  • Fruits, oatmeal or whole-grain cereals are excellent options, along with low-fat or non-fat dairy products. Try to stay away from sugar-heavy cereals.
  • A smoothie can be a nutritious and fun breakfast item. Try blending some frozen berries with a banana and yogurt or milk.
  • Peanut butter on whole-grain toast provides a high-protein boost.

3. Children Need Plenty of Exercise

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services recommends that children 6–17 have at least 60 minutes of physical activity every day. Numerous studies show exercise provides many academic benefits.

Even moderate exercise, like walking, increases brain activity. Students who are physically active tend to have better school attendance and grades. They also tend to behave better, and are able to concentrate more and remember more things.

The best way for kids to get exercise is to include physical activity in their daily routine. Here are some ways to help kids be active and stay active:

  • Choose the right activities for a child’s age. If the activity isn’t a good fit, the child may get bored or frustrated. For school-age kids, activities can range from traditional sports like baseball and basketball to martial arts, biking, hiking and playing outside.
  • Small Starts for Families are simple, healthy actions you can turn into routine habits. Join other Tennesseans who are getting healthier in a few simple steps. Use the Small Starts for Families tool and get started now.
  • Give kids plenty of opportunity to be active. Kids need parents to make activity easy by providing equipment and taking them to playgrounds and other active spots.
  • Keep the focus on fun. Kids won’t do something they don’t enjoy.

4. Partnering With the School Nurse Is Important

The state of Tennessee is working toward having a full-time school nurse in every school. If there is already a nurse at your school, parents should consider introducing themselves and developing a partnership with that nurse to help your child’s health. It can be helpful to provide the nurse with the child’s medical history.

If your child will need special medical care at school, here are a few suggestions to consider:

  • When parents meet with the school nurse the first week of school, they can discuss their children’s medical condition and any concerns they might have. They also can bring a completed and signed physician’s authorization form from their child’s doctor.
  • If the child needs to receive medication during school hours, parents should consider bringing along new and unopened medication that their physician has prescribed and a small recent photo of their child to attach to the student’s medication record as a means of identification. A completed physician’s authorization form is also needed for over-the-counter medication to be taken during school hours.
  • For children who may need asthma treatments, parents should consider providing the nurse with brand new tubing and a mask.

Additional Resources

Get ready for school with this health checklist.

Learn about Tennessee's academic standards.

The CDC brochure “Health and Academic Achievement” emphasizes the importance of good nutrition and exercise for the growth of children. offers tips on nutrition and fitness for children.

Action for Healthy Kids provides a brochure, “The Learning Connection,” designed to boost kids’ nutrition, fitness and readiness to learn.