Backpacks, shoes, and bedtimes: our experts' back to school tips

23 January 2018
As thousands of children, parents and teachers prepare for a new school year, our education and health experts share insights on shoes, school bags, helping students thrive and more.
A child studies

1. Finding the right school shoe

Dr Justin Sullivan, Discipline of Physiotherapy, Faculty of Health Sciences:

"With school shoes the most important factor is fit. Shoes that are either too big or too small can place excessive stress on the foot and impact on foot function. Definitely don’t buy shoes for a child to ‘grow into’ – for primary school kids, aim to get six months out of a shoe.

“Importantly, the shoe should be immediately comfortable and there is no need for any ‘wearing in’ period. Look for durable and breathable upper, such as leather.

“The fit should be checked on both feet, with socks on, while the child is standing. There should be about a thumb width between the longest toe and the end of the shoe. The toe area of the shoe should be roomy enough for the child to wiggle their toes. The laces or straps should prevent the foot moving within in the shoe.

“The sole should be soft, cushioned and non-slip like a running shoe. The sole should also be flexible at the forefoot, bending at the region near the base of the toes to allow sufficient toe movement during walking.”

2. Backpacks and kid fitness

Dr Andrew Leaver, Discipline of Physiotherapy, Faculty of Health Sciences:

“Parents are often worried about their child’s school backpacks. There are many beautifully designed backpacks on the market that have been engineered to distribute loads efficiently and maximize comfort for the wearer. The risks of injury through poor backpack design however, are probably overstated. Common-sense appraisal of “is it too big?” or “is it too heavy?” or “does it feel comfortable?” will avoid most problems.

“However, long periods of inactivity and screen time, along with low levels of physical activity are a greater risk to the health of our children’s muscles, joints and bones. The new school year is a great time to start new physical activity routines like walking or riding to school, joining a sporting team, learning to dance or swim, and limiting screen time.

“At the end of the day, good fitness habits will have a significantly greater impact on your child’s physical health and wellbeing than selecting the ‘right’ backpack.”

A child completes a high ropes course

The new school year is a great time for kids to try different sports. Image: Pexels.

3. Establish routines early

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

"One of the most valuable things a parent or caregiver can do is to take the time to talk with and listen to their child to gain an understanding of how the child is feeling, their worries and their expectations. Being ready to listen carefully, share experiences and answer questions is always reassuring.

“A great way to prepare children in plenty of time is to establish regular routines around, mornings and bedtimes, planning the week and finding time to share stories and read together.”

4. Supporting children with special needs

Dr Ilektra Spandagou, Senior Lecturer, Inclusive Education, Sydney School of Education and Social Work:

“Support, communication, and time are essential in successfully transitioning all children to school. For students with disability or additional needs, the process of planning should start well in advance with a transition plan to ensure that supports and adjustments are put into place.

“The first weeks of Term 1 are critical, as communication avenues between schools and parents need to be established, teachers require time to get to know their students and adjust their planning to their individual needs, and students need time and guidance to find their way in the new environment.

“Support, communication, and time are essential in successfully transitioning all children to school."
Dr Ilektra Spandagou

5. Help gifted students excel

Shirley Koch, PhD Candidate, Sydney School of Education and Social Work:

“Gifted students have multiple and complex individual needs and do not always fit with easy-to-program school initiatives, regardless of the good intent of organisers and parents. Instead, they benefit from spending time with like-minded students by working on appropriately challenging autonomous tasks matched to their interests.

This can be achieved in a mainstream classroom or in a segregated setting however requires teacher understanding, skill, and parental and school support.”

A selection of colourful stationery.

A curious mindset is the secret to a healthy mind. Image: Pexels.

6. Encourage curiosity

Associate Professor Alyson Simpson, Associate Professor of English and Literacy Education, Sydney School of Education and Social Work:

“Building a curiosity mindset sets up the conditions for lifelong learning and the context for student engagement and motivation, with the beginning of the school year great for generating questions in the minds of parents and children. For parents, some of the questions are practical – do I need to buy new uniforms, shoes, books? For children, the questions are often more social – will I meet new friends?

This kind of curiosity only touches the surface of what schooling is about. Teachers who ask challenging questions stimulate deep thinking, and parents can support this work at home by helping their children develop skills in wondering.”

7. Identify speech and language difficulties early

Dr Kimberley Docking, Director of the NeuroKids Communication Lab, Faculty of Health Sciences:

“Having a voice and being understood is a crucial part of a child’s development and setting them up for success at school. If a child is hard to understand, gets frustrated trying to talk, or uses very few words while they are still in preschool, it is important that parents seek help as early as possible and don’t wait until their child is starting school. Difficulties in these areas can lead to problems in literacy and social skills, and limit academic achievement down the track.

“Parents and families can begin to help children learn skills for reading and writing by reading to their child, singing songs, counting sounds or syllables in a word together (e.g. “c-a-t” and “cat-er-pil-lar”), playing rhyming games, and other games which help children think about sounds and letters (e.g. “I Spy”).”

Charlotte Moore

Assistant Media and PR Adviser (Humanities)

Kobi Print

Media and PR Adviser (Medicine and Health)

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