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Science of School: Tips from Sam Wass for preparing for back to school

Lisa O'Keeffe

03 September 2017

Time to Read

5 minutes

Back to school can be daunting, for both kids and parents. Those first day nerves, settling back into routine, or the realisation that your little ones aren’t quite so little anymore can all result in anxiety for the first few weeks of September.

Preparing for back to school is key, and can turn those worries into excitement and eagerness for school to start, so we caught up with Sam Wass, the on-screen scientist from popular Channel 4 show ‘The Secret Life of 4, 5 and 6-Year-Olds’, to ask him for some tips on getting top marks for back to school prep!

Back to school advice from scientist Sam Wass

  1. What advice can I give my child to have a great first day back at school, and how does this differ for different years?
  • Ask questions! If you want to be friends with someone, don’t just go up to someone and start telling them about yourself. Asking questions is a much better way to start a new friendship.
  • If you’re feeling nervous, don’t be afraid to say it! Saying ‘I’m nervous’ or ‘I’m shy’ can be a great way to start a new friendship – because it helps the person to understand how you are feeling. Maybe they are feeling nervous, too!
  • Always have lots of games to play. If you have ideas for a game to play, for which it is easy to explain the rules, you will find it much easier to get children to play with you. But don’t be worried if they want to play their own game instead – just go along with it.
  • Don’t be upset if people ignore you to start with. There are so many reasons why a child might ignore you if you go up to them and ask to play with them. Maybe they were just feeling shy, or they didn’t understand what you said to them, or they just needed to play on their own for a while. It doesn’t mean that they don’t like you! Don’t be afraid to go up and ask them again later.
  1. What is the one piece of advice you’d give to a parent for preparing their child for starting school?

    For many children, going back to school will evoke feelings of stress and anxiety. As adults, we have learnt to recognise these emotions in ourselves - which helps us to manage them. But children can experience emotion without being aware of what it is that they’re feeling. Simply labelling an emotion – saying ‘I know that it’s scary, going back to school’ or ‘I can see that you’re feeling worried about this’ – can help because it helps a child understand this strange new emotion that they’re feeling. Telling a child to inhibit emotions is almost always a bad idea and constant talk along the lines of ‘look on the bright side’ can make a child feel more scared, not less. If your child is worried the most effective route may be, quite simply, to let your child know that you are there for them. You love them, you understand what they are feeling, and can empathise with it – but you, yourself, are calm.

    Back to school advice from Sam Wass
  1. What can kids learn from family time and days out that can help them to thrive at school?

    One thing that can certainly help with school transitions is to talk about time. Children tend, much more than adults, to live life very much in the moment. As an adult, we naturally think and plan for the future – but children often don’t, meaning that the end of the holidays can come like a bolt from the blue. Make sure that you talk to them in advance about how long the holidays are going to last, and when they will have to go back to school. This will help them to plan for it in their head – and then, when the transition does come, it’s easier to manage.
  1. What are the things that kids look forward to the most at school?

    Everybody needs to relax - but I think that, for children, the need is even greater than for adults. Their bodies and brains are changing so fast, and in so many different ways. Many people’s happiest memories are from school holidays as a child – lounging around, for hours on end, with absolutely nothing to do. So different children react to going back to school in very different ways. Some like the increased structure and regularity that school brings with it – they find order, and predictability, relaxing. But others love the freedom, and the lack of structure, of the holidays.

    Others might like school for different reasons. For an extrovert child, going back to school, where there are always hundreds of people around, can be energising. Whereas many children are, quite naturally, more introverted – and they find it tiring to meet so many new people. It really does depend on your child’s personality, but by asking them what they enjoy at school, you can help to get a better understanding of their thoughts and feelings.

    Back to school advice from Sam Wass
  1. What conversations are kids having over lunch, compared to when their parents were at school?

    Hartley’s Jelly Pots has done research proving no topics are off-limits for the school kids of the UK, 15% of kids like to discuss careers, 25% talk about TV, and even 2% discuss politics over their lunchboxes. When compared to the most popular dinner party topics for adults, it seems that although kids cover all the same subjects as their parents – they are actually more likely to talk about TV/Film (25%) and their friends (36%) more than their family (15%) compared to parents, who prefer to talk about their family (43%) over friends (19%).

    Top 10 Conversations kids like to have over lunch:

Favourite toys (48%)
Friends (36%)
Holidays (29%)
TV/Film (25%)
Lunch (19%)
Family (15%)
Sports (15%)
Careers (15%)
Activities at school (15%)
Relationships (12%)

  1. Are there any changes you should make to a child’s routine when they start school?

    One of the biggest shocks for children when they start school is that suddenly their days become much more regular. If your child doesn’t have a very regular structure at home – if they don’t tend to get up at the same time, to have lunch at the same time, to go to bed at the same time – then it might be worth trying to build some of this structure into their lives before they start school, so that it doesn’t come as too much of a shock.

    Another thing that can help with transitioning into school is having some common elements. Make sure that as much as possible is consistent across the transition – in terms of their appearance and things like the foods that they are eating at lunch, if possible – to help them to cope with how much is different.

    Back to school advice from Sam Wass
  1. Do you have any tips for balancing homework, routine and quality time in the week?

    My experience is that schools are, increasingly, taking care of childrens’ homework requirements, and doing a good job of introducing them gradually. Particularly for older children, though, one challenge I’ve noticed is that they are often so tired once they have finished their homework that they only have energy for very passive forms of entertainment, such as watching TV. Although this is very relaxing for kids, and you certainly shouldn’t stop it completely, it is worth trying to encourage them to do more self-directed play – where they have to come up with their own ideas – as well. This can be relaxing for kids – every bit as relaxing as watching TV – once they are used to it. But, if left to their own devices, they will often just go for the easy option.  

    Are your kids heading to school this summer? Let us know what you’re most worried about, or looking forward to, in a comment below.

    Don’t forget to read our other back to school blogs for even more tips and inspiration, and we’ll be back with more insight from Sam on family time soon


Sam Wass is working with Hartley’s Jelly Pots to help inject fun into lunchboxes this back to school season. To find out how you can get hold of your free Hartley's lunchbox, go to Hartley's have not donated to our piggy bank to be featured in the post.


Lisa O'Keeffe

03 September 2017

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Lisa is Brand Manager at Day Out With The Kids. Originally from London, she now lives in Birmingham and is a big kid at heart!

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