Though my family has chosen to homeschool for various reasons, weâre not immune to the influx of illness as school begins. We arenât outside as much as the weather gets colder, and our trips veer away from outdoor adventures toward library trips, homeschool co-ops, and other places where germs love to hang out.
Looking around a public place you would think that chemical hand sanitizer is the best way to avoid illness (those dispensers are everywhere!). In reality, our best defense against illness is a strong immune system.
Building up the bodyâs natural defenses doesnât happen overnight thoughâŠ it takes time! Iâve learned itâs important to start an immune-boosting measures well before these activities/school starts, so we have a better chance of avoiding illness. (And if youâd prefer these tips in podcast form, youâre in luck!)
Of course, we canât prevent every cold or flu bug from making us ill. But, naturally boosting the immune system is one sure-fire way to strengthen our bodyâs defenses against common germs.
When the carefree days of summer are winding down, I switch my focus to supporting immune system strength. Here are the things I do:
A healthy diet plays an important role in boosting the immune system. But, getting picky eaters to eat healthy isnât always easy. Try these suggestions and recipes to get your kids off to a good start this school year.
While thereâs lots of debate about what we should eat (and when), hereâs one principle we can all get behind: If a food is highly processed, contains chemical preservatives, dyes, or artificial sweeteners, then it is not a healthy option.
These unhealthy foods often cause inflammation in the body. Chronic inflammation lowers the bodyâs ability to fight off infection. (Definitely not what you want during cold and flu season!)
So, I encourage my children to eat plenty of these nutrient-rich foods:
These foods will provide the vitamins, minerals, and nutrients needed to support a healthy body and mind.
Check out these healthy breakfast ideas for quick and easy morning meals. My kids also enjoy helping me plan and prepare healthy snacks and lunches. I find they are always more receptive to healthy food when they have a hand in making their own food choices.
Junk food is everywhere. This can be extremely frustrating for parents (including me). But, who can blame a child for choosing âveggieâ chips over actual veggies?
This guide will help you encourage picky eaters to make healthy choices. Learning to eat healthy from a young age sets children up for a brighter future. Although there may be strong resistance, at first, just know it will get easier.
Physical activity is so important for overall health. Aside from helping maintain a healthy weight, exercise improves heart health, brain function, and may even impact the bodyâs immune system.
This 2019 review suggests that exercise diversifies the bacteria in our gut. We also know that the gut is where about 70 percent of our immune system lives. Having a wide variety of good bacteria in the gut strengthens the immune system so we can fight infection.
Exercising as a family is a great way to encourage children to be physically active. These are some of my kidsâ favorite ways to have fun and exercise at the same time.
Anything that can be turned into a game is a big hit in my family. We all need unstructured time to move in ways that feel good. Doing so often has many positive benefits (for kids and adults).
Another way to increase the diversity of bacteria in the digestive tract is to spend time playing in the dirt. Even a babyâs immune system can benefit from being exposed to the microbes found in dirt.
This 2009 article in the New York Times states that playing in the dirt âtrains the immune systemâ to know what the body needs protection from (and what it shouldnât waste its energy on).
Unfortunately, when school begins kids spend a lot more time indoors. To combat this, we often walk barefoot through the yard, work in the garden together, and create things with natural materials like sticks, rocks, and leaves.
Itâs amazing what a little dirt on your hands and running around the yard can do for the mind and body!
Rest is best when you are sick, but getting quality sleep also plays a key role in preventing illness. Cultivating good sleep habits before the kids go back to school is a great way to ease into a new routine.
We know from studies that sleep helps enhance immune defenses. Interestingly, a healthy immune system also supports sleep through signals sent from immune cells.
Here are my best tips for encouraging kids to get a good nightâs sleep as they prepare to head back to school.
Begin setting a bedtime a week or two before school starts. A consistent (and early) bedtime helps to regulate the sleep cycle, and influence the bodyâs natural circadian rhythm.
Reading is our favorite pre-bed activity. It is a relaxing way for the kids to wind down that we all look forward to. We set aside half-an-hour before the lights go out to read as a family or in smaller groups.
My kids do not sleep with a night light. Light (even in small amounts) can disrupt the bodyâs production of melatonin during the night.
The blue light from TVs, computer games, and other devices also suppress melatonin. Limit the use of these devices before bedtime.
When itâs time to head back to school, kids can be anxious with thoughts of what a new school year will bring. Or for some kids, bedtime is always a stressful event. Some natural ways we soothe anxiety and encourage a good nightâs sleep include:
Setting up a soothing bedtime routine is easy and has many benefits for kids. Set the tone for the entire year with a health-promoting bedtime routine.
Many herbal remedies have immune-strengthening properties. We use herbs as preventative medicine. These herbs have a wide range of nutritious benefits that are easily absorbed by the body while also supporting a healthy immune system.
There are many other herbs support the immune system and I mention all of the ones I keep on hand for illnesses in this podcast. But, these remedies are the ones I use most to support my familyâs health and avoid illness.
Taking supplements will not fix a poor diet. But, even for kids that eat healthy, getting all the needed vitamins and nutrients from food can be tricky.
Taking supplements is a way to fill in what an otherwise healthy lifestyle is missing. These are the supplements I give to my children that benefit their overall health in a variety of ways.
Probiotics provide good bacteria that are important for gut health. As I mentioned above, the diversity of gut flora supports a healthy immune system.
Probiotics are beneficial after taking a round of antibiotics. Thatâs because antibiotics wipe both the good and bad bacteria from the digestive. But, we take a quality spore-based probiotic, along with eating fermented foods like sauerkraut and kefir, and hopefully avoid the need for antibiotics in the first place.
I mix probiotics into smoothies or even baked goods. Another option is to make these Strawberry Probiotic Jello Gummies for a healthy snack kids can take to school.
I keep vitamin C powder on hand throughout the winter. It has definitely helped decrease the time it takes to recover from a cold or flu bug.
Add 1/4 tsp to water or smoothies daily for the first two weeks before and after school has started. This will strengthen the immune system as kids are easing into a new environment.
We used to acquire enough vitamin D for our bodies by simply spending time outdoors. Especially as children begin spending more time indoors, vitamin D (which impacts the immune system among other functions in the body) levels drop.
Most childrenâs vitamins will contain some vitamin D. However, dosage amounts can be a controversial topic. I check my childrenâs level of vitamin D around the end of August and then again in the winter to make sure they are getting enough, but not too much.
My best advice is to work with a trusted naturopathic doctor that will help you determine how much vitamin D to supplement for children.
Magnesium has some pretty miraculous benefits. A 2003 review published in the European Journal of Clinical Nutrition states that magnesium plays an important role in building a healthy immune system. Since so many of us are deficient (due to poor soil and poor diets), itâs especially important to include supplemental magnesium daily.
Using magnesium topically is a quick and effective way to get it into the bloodstream. I use this topical magnesium spray each night before bed. Other ways to ensure kids get a magnesium boost include:
There are so many wellness benefits of magnesium (for kids and adults) beyond boosting the immune system. I highly recommend using this mineral often for overall health.
Gelatin is one of my favorite healthy foods and has many health benefits.
Gelatin contains anti-inflammatory properties that help to heal the intestinal tract. Regularly consuming gelatin is a good way to keep one of our major lines of defense in working order.
Here are a few of my familyâs favorite recipes using gelatin:
These recipes make it so easy to get lots of healthy gelatin into my familyâs diet.
I donât use antibacterial products, but I do try to instill in my children the importance of personal hygiene. Good personal hygiene is one of the best ways to avoid illness.
Sometimes we all just need a reminder of the little things that can be important in keeping us healthy. Starting these habits young will help them stick as kids grow.
We donât use antibacterial soap at home, and if weâre out I bring along natural soap or soap spray. We always wash our hands after going to the bathroom and before we sit down to eat.
When washing our hands we get them wet, add soap (their favorite is this foaming hand soap) and scrub while singing âHappy Birthdayâ or âThe ABCs.â Once we are done singing, simply rinse and dry.
I encourage my kids to keep a bottle of this natural hand sanitizer with them, too. That way they arenât tempted to use the chemical-filled ones in stores.
As a place of entry for many types of bacteria, our mouths and teeth need a great deal of care. Unfortunately, most of us donât learn the best way to brush our teeth until we are much older (or at all).
Using a natural toothpaste (my kids love this squeezable homemade one), teach your children to use the Bass Method of brushing. The main difference between this and regular brushing is the wiggling action that takes place on the gums. This method helps get bacteria away from the gum line for healthy gums and teeth.
We use a small sand timer to make sure we spend enough time cleaning our teeth morning and night.
I do my best not to rush bathtime. Taking time to cleanse the body is an act of self-care. I want to instill in my children that this is a time to pay special attention to what our bodyâs need.
My kids love bubble baths. But, itâs probably no surprise that I donât care for the store-bought bubble bath soaps. They are loaded with fragrances and chemical preservatives (no thank you!).
Thatâs why I decided to create my own natural bubble bath recipe. These are great because you can choose what essential oils to use when creating a fun, chemical-free bath for kids (or adults).
Keeping ourselves healthy is important, but I also want to share with my kids how to avoid spreading their germs. This helps my kids understand that their actions affect other people and that they can help improve othersâ health.
Some things we talk about include:
These are all things that I talk to my kids about as we go about our day (they naturally come up often!).
Most importantly, kids need to understand that they have a lot of power over their health. With a little guidance, they will develop strong health habits that serve them as they grow.
There are many ways to boost the immune system and it can feel overwhelming sometimes. But donât be discouraged! Even small changes can make a big impact on your childâs immune system. Start with diet, sleep, and exercise and then incorporate some of the other suggestions once you have those working for you.
How do you support your kidsâ immune systems before they head back to school?