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Is your child ready for big school?
It’s a big step to big school. And not just for the children!
As much as the milestone of starting school is an exciting one, it can also be one that’s fraught with worry. Is your child ready for school? And how can you help prepare them for the transition?
We dive into all things school readiness so you can support your child for the next stage in their education.
What Is School Readiness?
School readiness may not be what you think it is. Rather than focusing on whether a child can read and write, school readiness is measured against a set of skills that children need to succeed at school.
Consider social skills like the ability to get along with other children. Or skills like being able to open a zipper or hold a pencil. Without these types of skills, sitting and listening to a teacher and participating in learning activities are all that much more difficult. They can be the difference between a child who thrives and a child who feels overwhelmed by the school experience.
Why Is School Readiness Important?
Think of school readiness as the foundation on which your child will build their education. The more solid the foundation, the better they are likely to adapt to life at school.
Think of all the things your child will learn in their first year of school. Think of all the experiences they will have. Without the basic school readiness skills, they can become frustrated at school. Maybe they won’t be able to follow the teacher’s instructions or effectively communicate what they need. This puts them on the back foot, working much harder than their peers to catch up. This can also affect children beyond the first year of school, carrying through their many years of education.
School readiness isn’t about deciding when a child is ready to start school. It’s about setting your child up for success.
Factors That Determine School Readiness
There are physical, social and developmental factors that combine to determine school readiness. Can your child play or work well with other children? Do they have solid self-help skills that they can perform independently? Are they interested in learning new things and new skills?
These factors will come into play in different ways for every child. Just because a child looks physically ready for school, doesn’t mean they have the social maturity required to form new friendships.
What Are School Readiness Skills?
Foundational school readiness skills cross a range of different areas of development. Children will develop the skills at different times and that’s completely normal. The skills combine together to give your child the best start at school. And one on which their teacher can build.
- Speaks in full sentences with a wide vocabulary
- Uses correct grammar when speaking
- Pronounces words clearly
- Communicates needs and feelings
- Sings nursery rhymes and other familiar songs
- Recognises their own name
- Finds enjoyment in books
- Follows simple, three-step instructions
- Tells stories from their own experiences
- Makes up stories from image prompts
- Distinguishes between similar sounds
Fine And Gross Motor Skills
- Jumps in all directions with feet together
- Hops and skips
- Walks up and down stairs independently
- Has ball skills including throwing, catching and kicking
- Walks, runs and marches using opposite arm and leg at the same time
- Climbs on climbing equipment
- Follows a figure eight pattern drawn in the air without moving their head
- Balances on one foot
- Preferences one hand over the other for tasks like drawing
- Uses all fingers independently
- Draws a house as well as a person with a head, body, legs, arms and fingers
- Says what they will draw before drawing it
- Counts up to 20 items
- Names shapes and colours
- Identifies differences in patterns
- Understands direction (e.g. up and down)
- Aware and able to move the two sides of their body independently
- Copies a cross and a square
- Counts out loud to 10 or 20
- Holds a pencil with the correct grip
- Holds a book and turns the pages properly
- Starts a task and finishes it
- Uses scissors properly
- Asks and answers simple questions
- Knows their full name and address
- Aware of landmarks in their neighbourhood or area
Social And Emotional Skills
- Shares and takes turns without prompting
- Takes responsibility for their belongings
- Sits still and listens without interrupting
- Handles simple chores
- Communicates feelings and emotions verbally rather than physically
- Separates well from parents
- Adapts well to change
- Works cooperatively with other children and adults
- Handles frustration and criticism
- Uses the toilet and washes their hands independently
- Knows how to use a tissue
- Does up their own buttons or zippers
- Lines up in a straight line
- Stacks blocks successfully
- Sits on the floor with legs cross
- Puts rubbish in the bin
- Understands how to use a swing and slippery dip
- Claps along to music in time with the beat
- Identifies different sounds and their source
Building Blocks To Develop School Readiness
All of these school readiness skills rest on a set of social, emotional and cognitive building blocks. These are the building blocks that children start to develop from the time they’re born.
- Receptive and expressive language so children can express themselves and understand other people.
- Executive functioning and bigger picture thinking.
- Social skills and how they interact with their peers and others.
- Planning and sequencing to follow multi-step instructions.
- Sensory integration or processing to different sensory stimuli around them.
- Self regulation and emotional regulation.
- Articulation and pronunciation of words.
How Can I Tell If My Child Is Ready?
Children must be enrolled in school by the time they turn six. As long as they turn five on or before 31 July of that year, they can enrol to start school.
For some parents, there won’t be any question of if your child is ready for school. They’re already 5 and it’s almost like they were born ready. For many other parents, it’s not so straightforward.
When you’re considering this question, call on the expertise of the professionals around you such as early childhoods educators. If your child sees any health professionals, such as a speech or occupational therapist, their insights can also be invaluable.
Local schools are also a good source of support in helping to decide if your child is ready for primary school. Visit the school and attend the orientation sessions where you can ask questions and get more information.
How Can I Determine If My Child Has Problems With School Readiness?
If your gut is telling you that your child might not have the basic skills they need to start school, there are likely some signs you can look out for.
Generally, a child that isn’t ready for school will struggle to follow instructions and become frustrated easily. They may also have a shorter attention span and lack the social and emotional maturity of their peers.
Other signs include:
- Poor language and communication skills
- Resistance to trying or learning new things
- Relying on parents or carers for tasks such as getting dressed
- Not yet toilet training during the day
- Poor social interactions with children of the same age
- Challenges with understanding and accepting consequences
What Other Problems Can Occur?
School readiness challenges are also common to happen alongside some other difficulties. They may have difficulty regulating their emotions and following social norms, such as sharing or taking turns. Following instructions that contain multiple steps can also be challenging.
They may lack self-control or the ability to think flexibly and plan out the steps they will take to complete a task. Both gross and fine motor skills can also be lacking. This impacts on a child’s ability to run, jump, throw a ball, use scissors, hold a pencil and many other tasks they need to do at school.
If you’re concerned about your child’s development, talk to their early childhood educator or a health professional for advice.
How Can I Help My Child Prepare For School?
Whatever stage your child is at, there is a lot you can to do support them as they develop the school readiness skills they need. The most important thing you can do is provide your child with encouragement. Spend time with your child, playing, reading, drawing, singing, talking and listening.
Some specific things you can do to help with school readiness include:
- Encourage your child to practice their independence with self help skills such as going to the toilet alone.
- Find opportunities to count objects, e.g. counting the eggs as you put them in the fridge or counting the blocks as you put them away.
- Play board games together to learn about taking turns. Snakes and ladders is a good option for preschoolers.
- Throw a ball or build simple obstacle courses in the backyard to practise gross motor skills.
- Do craft activities using scissors, textas, pencils, crayons and glue to practice fine motor skills.
- Plan play dates with other children of the same age to practise social skills.
Transitioning From Early Childhood Education To School
School is very different to early childhood education. The school environment is more structured with unfamiliar people and things.
As you support your child with the transition to starting school, it’s important to communicate regularly and positively with your child. Take them for a visit to their new school or show them photos and talk to them about school routines. Let them try on their uniform and get them excited about the adventures that lie ahead.
If you know other families going to the same school as your child, try to spend a bit of time with them before school. Your child will appreciate the familiar faces! There are many books about starting school that can also support you and your child.
Questions about big school are normal. Your child may be excited. Or they may feel worried or scared. Remember that your child will also be impacted by your emotions so try to stay positive and upbeat, even if you’re feeling worried yourself.
Support for the big step to big school
At Gowrie NSW, we’ve supported countless children and their families with the skills and knowledge they need for primary school. From social and emotional wellbeing to physical skills, language skills and more, we help to prepare children for success.