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Back-to-school night: With four kids, I’ve attended a few. Last night the Principal at my children’s grade school delivered an opening message worth memorizing: Eat, read, sleep.

Families today are busy! It sounds trite, but it’s true. With 24/7 connectivity, a recession, and a global economy, most parents are working longer hours than ever. The majority of American households have two parents in the paid workforce; hence, the Principal’s heartfelt message: try to eat dinner together as a family, sans gadgets! Even if some are absent because of extra-curricular activities, sit down with those who are home, he implored. Now, I’m no Julia Child, but my gut says, “He is right, even if dinner is a store-bought roast chicken or kids claim they must complete homework at the table.”

The audience at this back-to-school night consisted of middle-school parents. I wonder if they were surprised when the Principal next recommended that we read to our pre-teens. Of course this is another challenge given the busy-ness of today’s modern family, but I know that when I ACTUALLY do it, the kids love it--and I’m not sure, but it appears their stuffed animals, teachers, and vocabularies do too.

The final piece of advice from the Principal: Sleep. Most middle-school children need 10-11 hours of sleep each night. Many don’t get it. He pointed out that parents want to give their kids a “competitive edge” by supporting their schoolwork and advised that we not forget that “lights out” at a reasonable hour is an overlooked way to do so. Oh yes, and that computer or phone? It sleeps outside the child’s room.

This morning, coincidentally, my email inbox contained Harvard University President Drew Faust’s beginning-of-the-year message. She concludes that the purpose of educational endeavors is:

… to educate students to lead lives of meaning and value, to better fathom the world we inhabit, to conserve and interpret the knowledge of generations, to marry rigor and imagination in the pursuit of new ideas, to serve society in ways a community of learning singularly can.

How better to prepare our younger children for what lies ahead than to take the Principal’s advice: Eat, read, and sleep.

-- Nanette Fondas writes, blogs, and tweets about work-life-mom matters. Connect with her @NanetteFondas. This post originally appeared at Psychology Today. --

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