Deciding when to send your child to school is an agonising decision for some parents. Age-wise your child may be able to start in the new school year (where did the years go?!), but what if you suspect your child is not ready for school? Or perhaps your child’s kinder teacher has raised some concerns. Is your child really ready to start the first of 13 years of formal education? Although there is no simple answer we can explore what ‘School Readiness’ means and how you might make your decision.
Let’s first define ‘School Readiness’. It is important to understand that ready for school and ready to learn are not the same thing. Children learn from their families and surroundings all the time, and will continue to do so throughout their lifetime. All children are born ready to learn! School readiness, however, implies being prepared to achieve in a structured learning setting. The latter is where each child differs. Just like children differ in when they learn to walk and talk, they also differ in when they acquire skills necessary to start school.
According to a recent UNICEF report there are three dimensions to school readiness:
(1) Ready children, focusing on children’s learning and development.
(2) Ready schools, focusing on the school environment and practices that support a smooth transition for children into primary school and promote the learning of all children.
(3) Ready families, focusing on parental and caregiver attitudes and involvement in children’s early learning and transition to school.
Let’s take a closer look at each dimension:
How do you know if your child is ready for school? Well it seems this depends on who you speak to. In the past the maturity level of the child was said to be critical with the child needing to be able to participate in quiet, focused work. Parents most commonly overemphasise pre-academic skills and knowledge when assessing their child’s school readiness. But guess what? Reciting the alphabet, counting to 100, reading, and being keen to attend school are not the most important factors to consider when determining child readiness. It has been shown that social, behavioural and emotional competencies are the best indicators of how successful a child will be at school.
It is ok if your child is not ready to start school when the education department expects your child should attend. Keep in mind that every child is different and even the recommended school starting ages of children around the world are different! Western countries don’t agree with some starting their children at 4 years and others at 7 years. Even starting ages of children in Australia vary from state to state. Requirements for each state can be found here.
School readiness is a combination of cognitive development and learned behaviours; social skills; attitude and emotional development; and physical skills. Ask yourself the following questions to help you decide if your child is school ready:
Is your child’s proposed school ready for your child? If there are areas that your child needs support with, does the school have the resources to help develop these skills? Visit the proposed school and ask questions, questions, and more questions! Talk to the teachers about the areas in which you feel your child requires support. Are the teachers concerned? Or do they reassure you that they can work on these skills and it’s not a big issue? If a child has a disability or needs extra support, does the school adopt inclusive practices? They will surely answer yes they do, but find out what these practices look like in the classroom.
Schools are likely to offer a transition program to support children entering their first year of primary school. Find out what this entails as the programs differ from school to school. Your child may need a little more preparation than the transition program offers.
Educational experiences in the preschool years are often very different to what is experienced at primary school. The Early Years Learning Framework emphasises play based learning up to 5 years of age. This philosophy differs significantly to what children can expect to encounter once they start school. The National Curriculum is academic focused and is more structured with more expectations than preschool programs. There is little time for children to transition between the two ways of learning. Ideally the first two or three years of primary school would be play-based to allow children to slowly transition into more formal academic learning. This would enable children to be children and learn the way they do best - through play.
Prior to entering school, your child’s development is likely to have primarily occurred in the context of your family. Supportive parenting and stimulating home environments have been shown to be among the strongest predictors of school performance during primary school. Parent beliefs, attitudes and commitment are considered crucial for school success. Are you ready to support your child through formal learning and to build a relationship with your child’s teacher? Are you ready to support your child through the transition from preschool to formal education?
You can help with school readiness by providing a learning environment at home that encourages learning activities such as singing, reading books, telling stories and playing games. Such experiences in the home environment help your child’s social and emotional development, which as previously stated, are key to school success. The attitude and involvement you maintain towards your child’s early learning and development is a fundamental aspect in ensuring a successful transition to school.
Many delayed starters go on to achieve great things. There is no rush. Be guided by your child’s needs. Listen to your intuition - nobody knows your child better than you do! Although your child may cope with the demands of school, is simply coping and getting by sufficient? Let’s send our children when they are most likely to thrive and enjoy their school experience!
If you are agonising over whether your child is ready for school you have probably already spoken to your child’s preschool /kindergarten teacher for guidance. You can also arrange a school readiness assessment to assist your decision making (Hopscotch & Harmony offers these assessments in Melbourne). Ultimately it is your choice as the parent and a choice that can be informed by accessing the right information and support.