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As much as I don't like to see them, the clues that Vermont's all-too-short summer will soon fade are undeniable. The goldenrod is flowering. The raspberries are ripening. And clouds of dirt-road dust are being stirred up by school bus practice runs. That signals that it's time to head into fall and back into class. Here are a few simple rules-of-thumb to help manage that transition and stay healthy doing it:

  • Stick to your list. Check last year's surplus before you head out to buy new supplies.
  • Avoid vinyl. The lifecycle of polyvinyl chloride (a.k.a. PVC) is a leading source of the toxins, including phthalates, lead and dioxin, that have been linked to childhood health problems. Seek out healthier alternatives to soft vinyl lunchboxes and vinyl binders.
  • Help lunch keep its cool. A new study from the University of Texas found that over 98% of studied school lunches reached unsafe temperatures well before lunch time. To help prevent this, make and refrigerate lunches the night before and pack with frozen juice boxes to provide some extra cold.
  • Children should be seen. Really. Dark mornings and dim afternoons are on the way. Put some reflective tape on childrens' jackets to make them visible to passing traffic.
  • Always break for breakfast. Lots of studies confirm that low-fat, low-sugar, high-protein, fruit-filled whole-grain breakfasts boost school performance, reinforce positive eating habits, help maintain healthier body weights, and lower cholesterol. So make sure nobody ever leaves home without one.
  • Wash school and work clothes in cold water. You'll save money and help the planet. In our house, we use Seventh Generation concentrated laundry detergent, a laundry detergent that makes the grade.

These are our back-to-school rules of thumb, and we've been served pretty well by them. Make them yours and you could make this coming school year one for the books. How do you prepare for back-to-school?

Geoff the Inkslinger and his Dog

The Inkslinger has written about environmental issues for over 20 years and is a freelance writer for some of America's most iconoclastic companies and non-profits. His true loves include nature, music of the Americana/rock and roll variety, interior design, books, old things, good stories, pagan rituals, and his wife of 24 years, with whom he lives in an undisclosed chemical-free rural Vermont location along with his teenage daughter and two infinitely hilarious Australian shepherds!