Ten Q&A for a healthy start to school

Ten Q&A for a healthy start to school
What aspects of your child’s health should you have checked before the start of kindergarten?

What aspects of your child’s health should you have checked before the start of kindergarten? How can you help make sure your little one is in the best shape for school? Find out by reading the following answers to 10 frequently asked questions.

1. Do I need to get my child’s eyes and ears checked out?

It’s important to make sure your child can see and hear properly, as issues with sight or hearing can make it hard to learn. It is recommended that all children be given an eye exam before starting school even if they have no vision problems. This won’t cost you a dime, since exams conducted by an optometrist are covered by the RAMQ up to the age of 17. Children’s eye exams are similar to those for adults, except that pictures are used in place of letters.

Hearing tests, on the other hand, aren’t necessary for all children. That said, if your child has had multiple ear infections, if they have balance issues, or if your family has a history of congenital hearing loss, ask your doctor to refer you to an otolaryngologist (ear, nose, and throat specialist) or an audiologist. The exam will be free of charge. You can also take your child to a private audiologist, but this will cost about $100 (sometimes covered by private insurance).

2. Can my child go to school if he’s sick?

Your child’s overall state is the best indicator of whether going to school is the right option. If your child is full of energy and moving about, attending classes is perfectly okay.

If you notice a lack of energy or appetite, it’s best to keep your little one at home and inform the school. Your child should also stay home if they’re running fever. For further advice and recommendations, you can call Info-Santé 811.

In addition, to help prevent the spread of contagious illnesses such as gastroenteritis, colds, the flu or COVID-19, be sure to teach your child to always wash their hands properly (i.e., without forgetting to wash the thumb and between the fingers), cough into his elbow, and throw out used tissues.

If your child has health issues

If your child has a specific health issue, such as allergies or diabetes, or if they take medication for a condition, you must inform the school. This will allow the staff to treat your child as quickly as possible if something should happen while they’re at school. If necessary, the school nurse can also prepare a custom intervention plan for your child to provide to the daycare and the rest of the school staff. If your child needs daily treatments, for instance, or specific care in emergencies, the nurse can ensure that the staff receive the proper training.

3. Does my child need to be vaccinated?

The start of your child’s schooling is a good time to check whether your little one has had all their routine vaccines. In Quebec, even though vaccines are not mandatory, public health authorities recommend that all children be vaccinated according to the provincial vaccination schedule. This protects them against serious and potentially fatal diseases. When not enough people are vaccinated, diseases that were close to being wiped out can sometimes resurface.

Before starting school, it is recommended that children between the ages of 4 and 6 receive the combined vaccine against diphtheria, tetanus, pertussis, and polio (Tdap-IPV) and one shot against chickenpox if your child has not yet received two doses of the vaccine. You can make an appointment at a CLSC to have your child vaccinated.

After reviewing your child’s immunization record, the nurse may still offer to give them a vaccine that wasn’t administered according to schedule. All vaccines included in the Quebec Immunisation Program are free.

Unvaccinated children

Children who have not been vaccinated can still attend school. However, their parents may be asked to keep them at home if there are cases at school of a disease against which they haven’t been immunized (e.g., measles).

4. Are dental checkups provided at school?

To prevent tooth decay, some educational childcare centres and elementary schools are participating in a provincial tooth-brushing program called the Quebec Program for Supervised Brushing of Teeth with Fluoridated Toothpaste in Educational Childcare and Elementary School. Once a day, under adult supervision, kindergarteners are taught how to brush their teeth for two minutes using a fluoride toothpaste.

This activity takes place either in the classroom or at the school daycare. If your child’s school offers this program, you will receive an informational letter asking whether you consent to your child’s participation.

A dental hygienist will visit the students again in Grade 2 to identify kids at high risk of cavities and apply dental sealant to their teeth where needed.

5. What should I do if my child gets head lice?

Your child can still go to class, but you must first alert the school and begin treating your child for lice. It’s also important to check the rest of your family for head lice; only those with lice, however, should start on treatment. Your pharmacist can advise you on what treatment to use and write up a prescription.

To reduce the risk of your child getting lice, tell your little one to avoid head-to-head contact with other kids and not to share hats or scarves with anyone. You should also teach your child to place their hat and scarf in the sleeve of their coat when not wearing them. Lastly, keep long hair tied back and regularly check your child’s head for lice using a fine-toothed comb.

6. How many hours of sleep does a kindergartner need?

Children at the age of 4 and 5 should get at least 10 hours of sleep every night. Children learn better when they get a good night’s sleep. While they sleep, their brains are hard at work to process everything they learned during the day. In other words, your child needs to sleep well in order to remember what they learn in school. A good night’s sleep also improves their cognitive ability and makes it easier to concentrate.

By contrast, if your child does not get enough sleep, they may experience mood swings, and become more agitated, aggressive or impulsive. They may also have more difficulty with tasks that require concentration due to an inability to focus.

7. How do you get a child to eat breakfast if she isn’t hungry in the morning?

It’s common for children not to feel hungry first thing in the morning. This can be stressful for parents who don’t want to send their kids to school with an empty stomach. Nevertheless, forcing your child to eat won’t do any good. To get your little one to eat breakfast voluntarily, try waking them up 15 to 20 minutes earlier instead. That may be all it takes to get them to feel hungry.

Another good tip is to make breakfast the last part of your child’s morning routine. Making the bed, getting dressed, and getting her backpack ready may help them work up an appetite! It’s also okay for your child to have a simple piece of fruit with a bit of cheese, a smoothie, a mini muffin, or a handful of nuts before heading out the door. Don’t worry: morning snack time at school typically takes place around 9 a.m., so your child will have a chance to eat again soon.

8. What should I do if my child hardly eats anything in their lunchbox?

Asking questions may help you figure out why your child’s lunchbox is still full at the end of the day. Ask them if they have enough time to eat, if they have trouble opening certain containers, if they like the food you pack, and if they get hungry at lunchtime. Getting a idea of what’s keeping your child from eating their lunch will allow you to make adjustments.

Having your child help prepare their own lunch, may also motivate them to eat it. You can let your child choose some of the food on their menu, for instance. It’s also a good idea to remind your child that he can always ask an adult for help (if they can’t get their thermos open, for example).

Lastly, remind your chid that, even if they can’t wait to play outside with their friends, they should always take the time to eat.

What are some good snack ideas?

It’s your responsibility to plan your child’s snacks around their needs and preferences. Aim to give them healthy options, as these will help your little one meet their nutritional needs and stay alert in class. For a nutritious snack, try pairing a fruit or vegetable with a source of protein. Here are some ideas to get you started: fresh fruit with milk, a soy beverage or drinkable yogurt; raw vegetables and hummus; a hard-boiled egg and celery sticks; edamame and cucumber slices; or an apple and cheese.

9. Why are routines so important for children?

Routines are important for children because they let them know what to expect and give them a sense of time. Moreover, routines create a feeling of trust and security and help reduce stress. If your child has set routines, such as a routine for bedtime and for getting ready in the morning, they will know what is expected of them and are more cooperative.

The benefits also extend to the classroom. Routines help children become organized and develop habits they can apply at school—getting dressed on their own before going outside, for instance, or putting away their toys after playtime. When children have routines at home, it’s easier for them to follow instructions at school and get along with others.

10. Why do children need to be active to learn well?

Physical activity helps children develop normally. They need to be active to use up their energy and release tension. When children are physically active, their motor skills improve and their muscles get stronger. They not only build strength, power, and endurance, but also improve their coordination, posture, and balance.

Encouraging your child to be active will also help them in school. Research shows that physical activity stimulates certain parts of the brain that are associated with learning. This means it can help kids stay focused and concentrate better in class. Moreover, children who are active and have higher self-esteem. They would also behave better. All of these benefits contribute to doing better in school.

Being active also helps children stay healthy. Regular exercise will boost their cardiovascular fitness and reduce their risk of developing certain diseases and other health problems later on. In addition, physical activity lowers the risk of becoming overweight or obese.

Stay active every day!

According to the Canadian 24-Hour Movement Guidelines for Children and Youth, children between the ages of 5 and 17 should do at least 60 minutes of moderate to vigorous physical activity every day. Moderate-intensity activities should get children breathing harder; these include going for a brisk walk, biking, skating, skateboarding, and playing at the park. Vigorous-intensity activities will cause children to sweat and become out of breath. In addition, we need to try to use screens in healthy ways. Schoolwork, physical exercice, and social activities must be prioritized over screen time. To much screentime can be harmful to a child’s development.
Naître et grandir

Scientific review : Isabelle De Lierre, Head of administration, public and school health program, CISSS de la Montérégie-Est
Research and copywriting :
The Naître et grandir team
Updated : December 2023

Photo : Nicolas St-Germain

Useful links and resources

Please note that hyperlinks to other websites are not updated regularly, and some may have changed since publication. If a link is no longer valid, use search engines to find the relevant information.


Books for parents

  • Homework and Studying, M.-C. Béliveau, Éditions du CHU Sainte-Justine, 2010, 68 pp.
  • LessonsLearned: The Kindergarten Survival Guide for Parents, J. Podest, Balboa Press, 2014, 108 pp.
  • Ready For Kindergarten!: From Recognizing Colors to Making Friends, Your Essential Guide to Kindergarten Prep, D. J. Stewart, Adams Media Corporation, 2013, 224 pp.
  • The Littlest Learners: Preparing Your Child for Kindergarten, D. R. Roginski, Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, 2017, 160 pp.

Books for kids

  • Dad’s First Day, M. Mohnoutka, Bloomsbury Press Agency, 2015, 32 pp.
  • How to Be Kind in Kindergarten: A Book for Your Backpack, author: D. J. Steinberg, ill.: R. Hammond, Penguin Young Readers Group, 2021, 32 pp.
  • How Will I Get to School This Year?, author: J. Pallotta, ill.: D. Biedrzycki, Scholastic Canada, 2013, 32 pp.
  • Kindergarten Countdown!: 10 more sleeps until school starts, author:M. Blain Parker, ill.: S. Borrows, Streling Children’s Books, 2017, 32 pp.
  • Kindergarten: Where Kindness Matters Every Day. author: VAhiyya, ill.: JChou, Random House, 2022, 40 pp.
  • Our Class is a Family, author: S. Olsen, ill.: S. Sonke, Shannon Olsen, 2020, 28 pp.
  • Ready, Set, Kindergarten!, author: P. Ayer, ill.: D. Abour, Annick Press, 2015, 24 pp.
  • School Rules, author: R. Munsch, ill.: D. Whamond, Scholastic Canada, 2019, 32 pp.
  • The King of Kindergarten, author: D. Barnes, ill.: V. Brantley-Newton, Penguin Young Readers Group, 2019, 32 pp.
  • The Night Before Preschool, author: N. Wing, ill.: A. Wummer, Penguin Young Readers Group, 2016, 22 pp.
  • The Queen of Kindergarten, author: D. Barnes, ill.: V. Brantley-Newton, Penguin Young Readers Group, 2022, 32 pp.