If you are a parent with children aged 4 – 5 years, chances are you have heard the concept of school readiness and spent most of this year asking: “How do I know if my child is ready for school”? It can be such a daunting prospect for both you and your child, and the search for answers often exposes more questions. These could be anything from “what skills will my child need?” to “how can I help prepare them for the new environment?” And while you search for definitive answers to set your mind at ease, the reality is that all children will be at different levels when they enter the classroom, and that is ok.
In this article, I will unpack the concept of school readiness, the importance of understanding your child’s strengths, and what you can do to help with your child’s transition.
The concept of ‘school readiness’ has not been without criticism. Many industry experts believed the original idea to be limited in its approach of only assessing a child’s development when determining readiness. The traditional child maturation and development flavour of the school readiness concept has now evolved, and considers the following interrelated components:
- children’s readiness for school,
- school’s readiness for children,
- the capacity of families and communities to provide developmental opportunities for their young children
Readiness does not reside solely in the child, but reflects the environments in which children find themselves―their families, early childhood settings, schools, neighbourhoods, and communities. – Kagan and Rigby, 2003
Child’s Readiness for School
Experts, including those within the early education space, consider the following skills and behaviours to be important for children to enter the school environment without substantial support:
- Physical Health and Wellbeing: ability to climb, throw and catch a ball (gross motor skills), cut with scissors, grip and draw with pencils / crayons (fine motor skills), able to sit, turn pages in a book, build with blocks, use the toilet independently and wash their hands, able to dress themselves, open and unpack their lunch box and feed themselves.
- Social Competence: able to share, take turns, get along with others, sort out problems, follow rules, cope with stress of new situations and new learning tasks, exhibit healthy levels of assertiveness, ability to play solo and with other children, and exhibit pro-social behaviours.
- Emotional Maturity: some ability to self manage their emotions, able to cope with minimal adult contact in large groups, develop friendships, and handle separation from parents.
- Language and Cognitive Skills: able to listen and follow basic instructions, communicate with words, ability to speak clearly and respond appropriately when spoken to, basic numeracy and literacy skills.
- Communication Skills and General Knowledge: basic conversation skills, manners, ability to communicate needs appropriately, and understanding of wider world.
- Independence: basic skills to manage needs without adult supervision.
While the above can be helpful guidelines to base an assessment, it is also important to consider a child’s individual strengths and what environment will work for them. Of course, children with development, speech, language, and learning delays, will not always be able to ‘tick these boxes’. It is because of this that the question may need to be “is the school ready for my child?”, rather than “is my child ready for school?”
Determining a School’s Readiness
For a school to be ready (for everyone) they need to be proactively seeking information about the individual needs of each child associated with the above – physical health, wellbeing, social competence, emotional development, language skills, cognitive skills, communication skills, general knowledge and independence. When specific needs and strengths of each child are identified, the school is better equipped to prepare and maintain a positive school experience.
To assess if the school you are looking at is ‘ready’ for your child, consider the following:
- Have they established effective communication channels with your child’s early education setting?
- Are they warm, responsive and nurturing towards your child?
- Do they offer curriculum, environments, experiences and individualised learning programs that are enriched by play and encourage inclusivity?
- Do they offer additional supports for children with special needs?
- Are they aware of additional supports available?
There are a number of resources you can tap into that will help prepare your child for school. Of course, preschool is at the top of the list as this is an environment where your child can learn more than just basic numeracy and literacy skills. Early Childhood Educators can help your child develop social, self-care, and communication skills, while building resilience, and learning all-important fine and gross motor skills. In circumstances, where additional assistance is required, parents can seek the guidance of occupational therapists, psychologist, and of course, speech pathologists.
Speech pathologists can offer additional supports across the following building blocks that are necessary in developing school readiness:
- Receptive Language: Comprehension of spoken language (e.g. the teachers instructions).
- Expressive language: Producing speech or language that can be understood by others (e.g. talking to friends).
- Articulation: The ability to clearly pronounce individual sounds in words.
- Executive Functioning: Higher order reasoning and thinking skills (e.g. What do I need to pack to take to school?).
- Emotional Development/Regulation: The ability to perceive emotion, integrate emotion to facilitate thought, understand emotions and regulate emotions (for a child’s own responses to challenges).
- Social Skills: Determined by the ability to engage in reciprocal interaction with others (either verbally or non-verbally), to compromise with others and to be able to recognise and follow social norms.
- Planning and Sequencing: The sequential multi-step task/activity performance to achieve a well-defined result (e.g. a cut and paste task or a simple maths worksheet).
- Self Regulation: The ability to obtain, maintain and change emotion, behaviour, attention and activity level appropriate for a task or situation.
- Sensory Processing: Accurate processing of sensory stimulation in the environment as well as in one’s own body that influences attention and learning that affects how a child sits, holds a pencil and listens to the teacher.
What You Can Do
There is nothing quite like the home setting when it comes to helping your child get ready for school, and we mustn’t forget that children learn best through play. To help your child build essential skills for school, try some of these activities at home:
- Arrange playdates with other children starting at the same school. This will give your child a chance to develop their social skills and will give them confidence in knowing they will have a friend to talk to when they start school.
- Let your child practise drawing with a range of different materials, such as pencils, crayons and textas, to help develop their fine motor skills, and remember to praise their efforts.
- Encourage your child to dress and undress themselves, and use the toilet independently.
- Encourage your child to have conversations with you. Ask them questions, listen to their answers, and encourage them to talk about what they think and feel so they can learn how to express themselves with new friends and teachers.
- Read with your child as often as possible. If your child has some reading skills already, that’s great! But if not, don’t worry – they will be taught how to read at school. Just enjoying books you’re your child develops early literacy skills and helps encourage a love of reading. When reading with your child, talk to them about the story, point out new words, and ask questions. This will help with their comprehension, vocabulary and language skills.
- Help your child develop a basic awareness of numbers by encouraging them to help out around the house. They could set the table and count the plates, match socks from the washing line, or measure the ingredients when baking.
- Play games with your child including simple board games (snakes and ladders) and card games (snap and go fish). Games are great for practising turn-taking, sharing, waiting and learning to cope with not winning.
Knowing if your child is ready for school can be tricky, but remember, all children develop at different rates. They all have their own strengths, interests and approach to learning, and to help them develop we need to understand these individual attributes and encourage them to grow at their own pace.
Don’t worry if your child doesn’t demonstrate all the ‘school readiness’ attributes above, the picture is so much bigger than this. Think about how your child relates to the world around them, and what sort of environment they will flourish in.
Finally, trust your own instincts. At the end of the day, you know your child best. You know their strengths and challenges, and what will work for them. Listen to what your gut is telling you, and don’t stop asking questions, particularly those that we can help with.
The A Growing Understanding team are here to help you navigate this tricky period, so send us an email to discover how we can help your child develop essential skills in readiness for school.