Back to school will again look a little bit different this year, both compared with pre-pandemic normalcy and because of possible differing COVID-19 policies among area school districts. But there are still some tried-and-true tips for you and your kids to stay as healthy as possible during the upcoming year—and getting ready starts now.

So where can you begin? Now is the time to call your primary care provider’s office to schedule those routine healthcare appointments for the kids (and make sure you’re up-to-date, while you’re at it). Wait too long and it might be tough to get an appointment that fits everyone’s schedules. You’ll also want to be sure your children’s vaccinations are up-to-date—and get them vaccinated for COVID-19 if they’re ages 12 and older. If they’re involved in middle school or high school sports, make sure they’re current on their pre-participation sports physical, as well.

As for masking? Different districts may have different requirements—and the COVID picture may look different a month from now than what we’re seeing today. Your best bet is to follow Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and state health department guidelines, which can be easily accessed via the organizations’ websites. Your healthcare provider’s office is here to help, too, offering guidance and recommendations for both vaccinated and unvaccinated young people. The COVID-19 vaccine is our best defense against the virus, so again, please have everyone in your home who’s eligible get the shot.

Now is also the time to start reestablishing healthy sleeping and eating routines that may have gone by the wayside during the more lax summer months. Help kids get ready for their new schedule by gradually getting bedtimes in sync with what they’ll experience once school starts. Be sure to plan for regular, healthy meals—especially breakfast—as you get closer to the start of the school year.

There are a few other key considerations as that first day of school approaches:

Hygiene—Classrooms can be germy, so make sure your kids have good handwashing/sanitizing habits. Remind them not to share food, drinks, masks or hats and combs with others.

Allergies—Make sure your child has the proper medications on hand. Discuss any food allergy concerns with your child’s healthcare provider and the school nurse.

Backpack smarts—An ill-fitting or too-heavy backpack can cause muscle strains. Look for wide, padded shoulder straps and a padded back, and consider a model with hip and chest belts for better weight distribution. With all supplies, the backpack should weigh no more than 10 to 20 percent of your child’s weight.

This might not be a conventional school year, but with the right approach, you can still make it a great—and healthy—one for you and your family.

Audra Hermanson is a nurse practitioner at Bellin Health Marinette.