When I had my first daughter, Melina, the discussion about schooling felt like a lifetime away, but it comes around quicker than you expect or may be prepared for, particularly when every school you end up being interested in has a considerable waiting list!!
In NSW if your child is 5 on or before the 31st of July they can be enrolled in school that year, compulsory entry however is at 6 years of age. Deciding what year to send your child to school is a big consideration, and there are lots of variables to consider apart from age!
One thing that I stress to parents at my child care centre, Little Darlings, is that every child is unique and needs to be considered individually on his/her own capabilities. Sometimes siblings start school at different ages, and there is nothing wrong with that, and nothing you should feel embarrassed about. If fact research shows that sending a child to school who isn’t quite ready poses more long-term problems for that child than any benefits that you might be considering.
‘SCHOOL READINESS’, you have probably all heard about it, and know a few bits and pieces, but what is it really, and why does it matter?? School readiness is a type of measurement that we, as educators, apply to assess whether children are ready to enter the world of primary school, or ‘big school’ as my girls now call it. School readiness is not just about how well your child can count, identify colours, or say the alphabet, but how your child copes in all aspects of group interaction from their social readiness to their emotional readiness.
School readiness involves the following; social readiness, emotional readiness, cognitive readiness, physical readiness, and language readiness. What do these mean? Let me explain.
Social readiness is about how your child interacts in a range of social environments, dealing with other children of similar ages as well as adults. Does your child understand the concept of taking turns, sharing objects and the space around them, respecting others, their differences and their feelings? Do they understand the concept of compromising to avoid conflict? Do they interact well with other children of their age and form friendships?
Social readiness may seem like an unimportant aspect, but it’s one of the most important considerations to ensuring that your child will be able to keep up with other children socially, be able to form friendships and feel included in their school environment.
Emotional readiness is just as important as social readiness when it comes to starting primary school. This area revolves around your child’s ability to be able to confidently identify and express their feelings to another child or adult. Can your child control their anger or frustration? Can your child still communicate how they are feeling even during times of distress? Can your child communicate why other children may be acting in a certain way, or displaying particular emotions?
Primary school is very different to child care, with less carers per child, it’s important that your child be confident enough and emotionally ready to be able to understand when it is the right time to speak to an adult about an issue but also be able to understand his/her emotions.
Cognitive Readiness is not judged on whether your child can recite the alphabet, count to 100, or whether they can read or write their own name. What is necessary is that your child understands that symbols have meanings and that letters and numbers mean something also. It’s more about whether your child can understand and grasp different learning concepts, showing signs of curiosity when it comes to learning, and be attempting to solve problems, and reason in a logical manner.
They should however be able to follow 2-3 step instructions at a time, be able to recall basic information, be able to recognize basic colours and shapes, be able to identify similarities/differences and classify like objects as well as understand position such as over/under/next to. Most importantly your child should be able to concentrate enough to complete activities, and have the ability to sit through ‘group time’ (or what will become a lesson) without constant adult assistance or reminding to do so.
In a school setting one teacher may have up to 30 children and therefore not many children will receive one on one attention. If your child loses concentration, or gets easily distracted and finds it difficult to start and complete an activity this may be an indication that they may not be ready for school.
This is not a matter of how strong your child might be, or how well they can kick a ball, it’s about your child having certain fine and gross motor skills that they will need to get through classroom activities.
Before starting school, your child should be able to perform various physical activities like running, skipping, jumping and hopping, balance on one leg and display competent hand-eye coordinated movements. They should also be able to use scissors, use and have control of a pencil, be able to use a paintbrush and utilize a glue stick.
Most importantly though, they should be able to visit the bathroom unaided and be able to put their school shoes on and dress themselves to some extent, like put their school jumper on. Teachers are there to aid children who do need help, but your child should be able to do these tasks competently.
LANGUAGE AND READINESS
School is a much bigger place then child care or preschool and your child must be able to express themselves speak up in order to get their needs met. Their speech should be clear, fluent and audible. They should be able to listen attentively and respond appropriately and have a maturing vocabulary.
It’s important that if your child has learnt English as a second language, that they feel comfortable enough expressing themselves using the English language but also most importantly that they can understand their teacher and their peers without confusion. School is daunting enough for children, having a language barrier on top of it can make it very difficult for your child to settle in and establish a comfortable relationship with his/her teach and their peers.
MAKING THE DECISION
The Consensus derived from the early childhood experts is that social and emotional readiness are the two most important aspects to consider when deciding whether your child is ready for school. Why? Being ‘ready’ in these areas provides your child with the confidence and maturity they need to be able to tackle school and all its challenges. It also means that they are more likely to ease into the routine of school more easily and develop friendships quicker.
I hope that from reading this, you have a better understanding of how to assess whether your child seems ready for school, but more importantly have a more in depth conversation with your child’s current preschool teacher about their school readiness.