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Back to School: preparing for the new year

24 January 2019
8 evidence-based recommendations from University experts
The first day of school can be exciting yet daunting for pupils, parents and teachers. University of Sydney education, tech and health experts share their evidence-based advice.

1. Starting at a new school: building coping mechanisms

Dr Caroline Moul, School of Psychology, Faculty of Science

“Prepare for some difficult behaviours. Your child is coping with an onslaught of new experiences – new friends, new teachers, new rules, new routine, new knowledge. This is difficult to manage, even for a child who is really enjoying their first few days at school.

“So, prepare for some strong emotions and some challenging behaviours and try to keep afternoons and evenings free for active play and relaxation. Your child will likely be more tired than normal so try to allow for an early night. And don’t forget to congratulate yourself – starting school is a milestone to celebrate!”

2. Language and Learning

Professor Ken Cruickshank, Director Sydney Institute for Community Language Education, Sydney School of Education and Social Work

“You will notice a rapid growth in your child’s language once they start school but setting aside those quiet times in the afternoon to chat and do things together is still really important.

“For children who speak an additional language at home it is crucial to maintain those skills and consider sending your child to a community language school in order to do so.”

Tech skills will enable students to achieve things that were once thought impossible, in fields that don't yet exist.
Dr Nicky Ringland, Australian Computing Academy

“In 2019, every NSW school will start teaching the Digital Technologies curriculum, which will equip students with the skills they need to prepare for and prosper in an increasingly technological world.

“Digital Technologies skills, whether understanding data or coding, is critical to ensure students learn not just to consume technology, but also to create with it.

“From medicine to finance to spaceflight, tech skills will enable students to achieve things that were once thought impossible, in fields that don't yet exist.”

4. Setting good exercise habits early: walk or cycle to school 

Professor Chris Rissel, School of Public Health, Sydney Medical School

“Walking or cycling to school can be an energising way to start the new school year. Children who are active before school have better concentration, and feel more alert, for up to four hours.

“Walking or cycling together can be a great way to spend some quality time together while being outside and getting the mental health benefits of being active outdoors.”

Walking or cycling together can be a great way to spend some quality time together while being outside and getting the mental health benefits of being active outdoors.
Professor Chris Rissel, School of Public Health

“Not everyone can walk or cycle to school, perhaps because of the distances involved. But it’s still possible to park the car or get off the bus or train a stop or two earlier, to allow for some time to walk together. This will also have the added safety benefit of fewer cars around the school.

“For high school students, learning how to catch public transport to school is a positive step towards growing independence that is an important life skill.

“How parents/guardians get to work can determine how children get to school, so it’s important for parents to think about their own travel behaviour, and how they can introduce walking or cycling to work.”

5. Talking and reading matters

Professor Robyn Ewing AM, Professor of Teacher Education and the Arts, Sydney School of Education and Social Work

“Transitioning from preschool to school and from primary to secondary school can be exciting but can also create some anxieties. Returning to school can also be eagerly anticipated and, at the same time, be a little worrying. Ensuring there is always time to talk with children and young people about their expectations and concerns about school and learning and making sure communication is honest and open is important.

It goes without saying that establishing good relationships between teachers and parents is always vital in ensuring children’s social and emotional wellbeing at home, preschool and school.
Professor Robyn Ewing, Sydney School of Education and Social Work


“Parents can often use the special time they share when they read with their children as a starting point for discussion. Making time for creative play is also important.

“Of course, it goes without saying that establishing good relationships between teachers and parents is always vital in ensuring children’s social and emotional wellbeing at home, preschool and school.”

6. Getting past the marketing: healthy lunchboxes

Ms Alexandra Jones, Sydney School of Medicine, Charles Perkins Centre

“The basics of a healthy lunch don’t need to be fancy or expensive. Simple components such as wholegrain sandwiches, fruit, cheese and crunchy vegetables can be quickly prepared for tried and true core healthy choices.”

“For those parents navigating the supermarket for convenient extras, its useful to know a few simple label reading tips. Claims such as ‘low fat’ and ‘high protein’ are often used as a marketing tool on foods that may not be great choices overall. If you’re interested in a particular nutrient like sugar or salt, you can use the nutrition information panel on the back-of-pack to compare similar products. As we know most people don’t have time to read these, the Australian government led development of the Health Star Rating as a simple, at a glance way to compare products.

It rates foods from 0.5 (less healthy) to 5.0 stars (more healthy) and works best when comparing products next to each other on shelves. While no system is perfect, Health Stars get it right most of the time. If a product doesn’t show stars yet on pack, you can use the free FoodSwitch app to scan the barcode and find out how it rates.”

7. Schoolbags are safe for young backs

Dr Adrian Traeger, Institute for Musculoskeletal Health, School of Public Health

“The heavy-bag theory of childhood back pain is a myth. Our latest data tells us that school backpacks – their weight, size, shape – and even how kids carry them are not an important cause of back pain in children. This means that parents need not worry about adhering to strict guidelines about backpack weight, nor should they go out and buy the most expensive, ergonomic bag available. If the bag is comfortable and the child can carry all the things they need for school - that is a great place to start.

“We all know how important physical activity is for kids. The best backpack is the one your child wears walking to school, or to and from transport.”

8. Vaccinations for school

Professor Julie Leask, Susan Wakil School of Nursing and Midwifery

“In NSW, all school principals must request an immunisation certificate when a child is being enrolled in both primary and high school. 

The NSW immunisation policy acts as a crucial prompt for parents to catch-up any of those late or missed vaccines from those early childhood years.
Professor Julie Leask, Susan Wakil School of Nursing and Midwifery


"While students can still be enrolled if the certificate is not provided, they may be excluded during an outbreak or when they come into contact with a person with a vaccine preventable disease. High schools were added to this requirement in April 2018.

“The NSW immunisation policy acts as a crucial prompt for parents to catch-up any of those late or missed vaccines from those early childhood years. So, for school it’s mandatory immunisation record checks rather than mandatory vaccination.

This ensures that all kids can still access school while prompting those who were inadvertently late or missed out. All other states have different versions of these requirements for school entry excepting South Australia which has no requirements at present.”

Helen Loughlin

Assistant Media Adviser (Humanities)

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