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How do I know if my child is ready for primary school?

School Readiness - How do I know if my child is ready for primary school?

Like me, you may be asking yourself the same question ‘Is my child ready for school?’

This is a huge discussion for our family right now, reason being that our daughter is a February baby so for parents with children also sitting within this grey area (based upon when your child’s birth date falls) which year to send them to school can be one of the most difficult decisions to make.

What is school readiness?

School readiness refers to whether a child is ready to make an easy and successful transition into school.

While many people think of academics (writing their name, counting to 10, knowing colours) as the important school readiness skills, school readiness actually refers to a much broader range of skills.

In addition to some academic basics, school readiness skills also include self-care (independent toileting & opening lunch boxes), attention & concentration, physical skills (having the endurance to sit upright for an entire school day), emotional regulation, language skills, play & social skills.

This decision for parents is such an individual one; a huge decision at that & for me personally the answer is not a simple one. I do not believe that every child slots into the system, nor should be expected to so for me is the time to become curious.

For example, with a child in New South Wales able to start kindergarten anywhere from the ages of four & a half to six, there is a huge spectrum when it comes to what defines ‘school readiness’.

Every child develops at their own pace so there are no hard & fast rules as to when a child is ready for school however the most comprehensive collaboration in determining the decision may look like this: a partnership between yourself as the primary carer, your child’s early childhood teachers and the proposed school your child will attend. However, at the end of the day you as the primary care giver have the final say as you know your child better than anyone else.

Try to pay attention to what your lower abdominal (gut region) is guiding you towards (your intuition). For me, personally I think I should have followed my intuition a lot sooner!

The decision should take onboard what you know of your child intuitively, so if asking yourself "is my child ready for school?" maybe we truly need to break down the reason why we are asking this question. Is it simply age related, or do you have concerns, amongst simply age?

Traditionally, back in my early school days (late 80’s – early 90’s) commencing kindergarten as a four year, no one batted an eyelid however, it seems to now be more around a child’s emotional and social development, than it is age. In saying this there seems to have been an increase in children remaining in daycare for an extra year (until 6 years old) over starting primary school earlier these past few years.

Let’s look at this holistically…

A holistic approach means taking your perspective away from the black and white, and to elaborate on the whole, so the child as a whole, socially, emotionally, spiritually, intellectually and physically. Shifting the question of "is my child ready for school?" towards "Am I ready to send this child into an environment they may (or may not) not be ready for?"

How important it is to take a holistic view of a child, to focus on their relationships, their environment, their social abilities, resilience & emotional state, in addition to their learning disposition and literacy & numeracy skills.

I am an April baby, hence started school as a four-year-old & looking back now for me it seemed too young, however with that being the ‘societal trend’ at the time it was accepted & was all we knew. I was socially capable, independent I guess however not emotionally ready or mature enough; I had no idea at the time why I thought in ways I wasn’t coping but it mainly stands out for me throughout the high school years & although it doesn’t play a role in adulthood I can still see in ways how that additional year may potentially have really provided me with tools to not just cope, but thrive - therefore I am considering all options for my daughter, as I am sure you are doing for your child.

As a stretch of this, I also believe personality contributes to this decision. I am rather stubborn, head strong & rebellious hence if someone told me to do something that I didn’t think I needed to do there was absolutely no way I was doing it, plus it was surrounded with ‘why’ (which benefits me now, but not so much in a system where everyone is kind of expected to fit into the one box).

If I am completely honest, I’m actually unsure whether I am ready to part with my daughter 5 days per week – maybe a bit of mum guilt contributes here too as I returned to work full time when my daughter turned one, but either way it honestly seems too soon to let her out into the world. Although, I also need to do what is best for her, taking everything on board & understanding her as my child. Honestly, I don’t recall it being this difficult with my firstborn – possibly because we didn’t have a choice with him being born in October.

When assessing school readiness some questions you may ask could look like:

· Can they make an independent decision?

· Do they have ideas of their own?

· Can they follow two or three instructions at the same time?

· Can they transition into new activities easily?

· Do they separate well from their carer?

· Do they show interest in other children?

· Do they interact with other children?

· Can they recognise and express their feelings & needs?

· Can they concentrate on a task?

· How do they deal with frustration?

· Are they emotionally maturing?

· Are they capable of their tasks at hand?

· Are they able to use the toilet without assistance?

· Will they be able to manage in a new environment?

· Are they beginning to develop resilience & an optimistic attitude?

Another question I initially raised with early learning teachers was that I was concerned she would be bored if she stayed at daycare for an additional year & their response was that they are trained to manage children who are gifted, or challenged & at any stage of development within the classroom, which is comforting.

Instead of focusing on how a child may not be ready for school, below is another stretch that may be worthwhile considering if you are leaning towards school starting sooner (source Kid Sense):

· Parenting expectations: Increase expectations of the child around self care tasks such as dressing, toileting, eating, and getting ready to leave the house. Provide only verbal rather than physical ‘help’ to complete the tasks where possible.

· Social skills: Encourage the child to develop relationships with other (unfamiliar) children of a similar age, and arrange suitable ‘play dates’ for social interaction practice where the adults actively facilitate this play practice.

· Books: Expose the child to books to prepare them for literacy so they learn to sit through the entirety of a book.

· Early preparation: Start preparing the child for school at the age of 4 by talking about expectations at school, appropriate behaviour, and regularly engaging in ‘sit down’ activities.

· Collaboration: Work with the child’s preschool teacher to identify any signs of deficit or slow development so that these areas can be targeted before the child starts school.

· Visual strategies: Use visuals (such as picture schedules) to help the child understand the routine of their day both at home and at preschool (kindergarten). You could even make visuals for school in advance (note: many commercial books serve as a rough visual schedule as a starting point). Transition visits are a good time to ask the teacher what the rough schedule is likely to be, and ideally to take some relevant photos at the same time.

· Outings: Prepare the child for school excursions by going to places such as the library, the zoo, the shopping centre and help the child to understand appropriate behaviour in these environments. Visits to the school play ground, toilet block and classroom door on the weekends or during school holidays before school start may also be helpful to familiarize the child with the new setting.

· Fine motor skill development: This is an area that will be a large part of the activities undertaken at school, so developing these skills will enable the child to participate in activities much more easily and willingly. This really means practice cutting, colouring, drawing, and writing their name.

Also, it is encouraged for families to speak to the primary schools they are looking to enrol at with questions on how they can further assist if you were to send the child to school. The best way to work out if they are ready is exposure for a child to their proposed school (possibly even Best Start Assessment time, although that is later in the process). How do you know if a child is ready if they haven't been able to process through an orientation? In comparison, when enrolling into a preschool you ideally wouldn't send your child without a first view/orientation - Just further food for thought.

Additional Resources:

Thank you:

A huge thank you to Marina Cottage Early Learning (Michelle & Denise) for reviewing & contributing towards this blog post. Your assistance is truly valued.

Another thank you to Author, Danielle Murray for her video call with me this past week on this topic. Danielle’s book, ‘Before Big School’ explores the academic, emotional, and social aspects of school readiness and is filled with practical ideas and activities which can be embedded into your day. With a focus on incidental, meaningful and play-based learning experiences, Before Big School aims to assist parents in preparing their children for school without the use of structured learning- no flashcards or worksheets required.

And lastly, I personally wish you all the best with your decision, I know just how difficult it is. And as they say, we can only do the best we can with the tools we have at the time, so be sure to get curious with your questions & sit with your intuition. You may surprise yourself with what arises.

You know your child better than anyone, remember that. You’ve got this, mumma.

S x


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