As a primary school teacher, it’s a question I hear on the regular: Is my child ready for school?
Let’s begin by acknowledging two things. Firstly, how difficult (and emotional) this question can be. Secondly, that every child is unique and develops differently. I’m therefore reluctant to give you a checklist to tick off to assess if your child is ready for school. On any given checklist, there will be some things your child is doing well, some thing not so well. There will also be many bright and well-adjusted things your child can do that aren’t even on the checklist.
Instead, I’m going to give you a set of questions that you can think about to determine your child’s school readiness. These questions relate mainly to the emotional, physical and social skills of your child. Learning is difficult for children if they have immature social skills or are still developing basic emotional and physical skills. These are skills that can’t be fast-tracked.
Can your child separate from you without too much distress?
The school bell rings, my class lines up in a designated area and the school day begins. Tears and sniffles are definitely anticipated in those early days, but eventually students are expected to be able to wave goodbye to their parents or carers and move independently into class. There will, of course, be a handful of kids who find this very difficult and may well find it difficult well into early primary school. Keep that in mind.
Can your child follow simple directions?
As soon as my students enter the classroom, I issue a three-step instruction to order our day. Is your child able to listen to and promptly follow instructions when they are given one after the other?
Can your child listen and concentrate for short periods?
Difficulties with listening and concentration have obvious implications for learning. Children also need to be capable of sharing an adult’s attention with other children.
How does your child cope with transitions and change?
By 11am every Tuesday in my Kindy classroom, my students have made five transitions in and out of the classroom. They have dealt with two other teachers besides myself. Kindergarten is fast-paced and students should be capable of dealing with different people and multiple transitions without too much fuss.
Can they express their feelings and needs to a variety of people?
We do not expect all children to be out-going and confident. However, each child does need to be able to communicate their needs to the classroom teacher and any other teaching staff that they may come into contact with (for example, on the playground, in the library, at the canteen). It’s also helpful if they are comfortable in a large group of children.
Does your child look after their belongings?
A classroom teacher doesn’t have the time to help 21 little people unzip their school bags, open their lunch box, tie their shoelaces or put on their jumpers. Students need to be able to look after their uniform and bag.
Can your child eat with minimal assistance?
Is your child able to open a lunch box, drink bottle and packaging? Students are expected to eat independently, so keep this in mind when packing your child’s lunch and recess each day.
Can your child go to the toilet unaided?
Self-care skills are a necessary part of being able to get by at Big School. Your child will also be expected to take themselves off to the toilet block with only a ‘buddy’ by their side.
Can your child work and play cooperatively with other children?
Many learning experiences in the classroom involve sharing and taking turns. On the playground, students need to be able to problem-solve in social situations.
When it comes to school readiness, you need to make a decision that works for your family and follow the guidelines issued by your state education authority:
Kindergarten/Kindy – can start in first term if turning five by 31 July that year. All children must be in compulsory education by the time they turn six.
Prep – can start in first term if turning five by 30 April that year. All children must be in compulsory education by the time they turn six.
Prep – children must be five by 30 June in the year they enrol.You can delay entry by one year if you feel your child is not ready.
Pre-primary – can start in first term if turning five by 30 June that year. Pre-Primary begins at the age of four or five (as long as your child will turn five by June 30 of that year).
Reception – can start in first term if turning five by 1 May that year.
Prep – New starting ages took effect in Term 3, 2017 and affect kids starting Prep in 2020. Children must currently be five by January 1 of the school year, this will change to four-and-a-half for children enrolling in 2021. Kindergarten (a year of part-time formal schooling prior to Prep) currently starts when your child turns four on or before January 1, but the age will move to three-and-a-half in 2020. A child that turns five on or before the January 1 must start school that year. Check the website to ensure you are up to date.
Kindergarten – can start in first term if turning five by April 30 that year.
Transition – can start in first term if turning five by June 30 that year. Your child must start school by their sixth birthday.
It is also important to take into consideration the advice given to you by your early childhood teachers, your child’s healthcare providers and the staff at your preferred school. If you do decide to send your child to school next year, you might want to check out these resources: 11 Best ‘Starting School’ Books and 21 Ways to Prepare Your Child for Big School.
Image: Shannon Wong-Nizic