The question of whether your child is ready for school can be very daunting for parents. While the education system sets an age when your child should start school; this varies slightly between systems and states across Australia. By law, all children must be enrolled in school by the age of six. There is an eleven-month difference between the youngest eligible child and the child that just misses the cut -off date. For those parents whose child falls into this grey area because of when their birth date is, what year to send them to school can be one of the most difficult decisions to make.
Do you start your child at four and a half years or do you wait until they’re going on six? Will they be bored with another year shared between home and preschool or will they struggle if sent to school too early? Are they emotionally mature enough? Will they be able to keep up academically?
How can a parent know?
Kathy Walker says parents can’t be expected to make a completely independent decision on whether their child is ready to start the school journey. “The best person to assess school readiness is the child’s preschool teacher,” she says. “And it’s important parents listen to the advice given because this person has been trained in early childhood development.”
She stresses that school readiness is not about being able to read or write, know colours or count.
“These skills will be taught at school so they are not a priority for starting school,” she says.
“To enter school ready to thrive, flourish and enjoy the challenges – rather than merely just coping – we are taking the issue of school readiness more seriously and carefully.
“Readiness is really mostly about emotional and social maturity – aspects of development that we cannot fast track. We cannot make a child who lacks the necessary maturity become mature.”
To make a decision about school readiness, you may want to consider:
• Language skills: communication is used to engage with and teach your child. A child needs to be able to follow instructions and understand what teachers are saying, as well as being able to communicate well with teachers and the other students.
• Physical well-being: a child who has a disability or a chronic illness may have difficulty with some aspects of school. This does not automatically mean they are not ready for school but any physical or functional limitations need to be considered.
• Motor co-ordination and skills: a child needs co-ordination skills to allow them to dress and undress, unwrap lunch, use a pencil and scissors, and participate in other activities that require eye hand and motor co-ordination.
• Concentration and emotional adjustment: a child needs to be able to socialise and play with their classmates. They also need to be able to deal with the structured nature of a more formal learning environment, such as being able to focus on tasks, follow directions and instructions from teachers, cope with transitions, and understand the rules.
• Independence: a child needs a range of skills so that they can cope with minimum adult supervision. This includes going to the toilet by themselves, dressing, and being able to follow a structured classroom routine.
Some simple activities that you can do to help your child get ready for school are listed below:
• Read to your child and use books as a pleasurable daily shared activity.
• Make everyday things an exploration of language – ask the child questions, listen carefully to their answers, and encourage the child to ask why.
• Encourage the child’s natural curiosity – do different things with them, encourage them to try different ways of doing things. Make a walk in the park a nature tour.
• Encourage the child to learn to dress and undress independently, and to use the toilet appropriately.
• Make sure the child has crayons and pencils and a supply of paper to draw and write on, and always praise their efforts.
• Encourage your child to mix with other children in different supervised activities so they learn to socialise with their peers, take turns and share their toys and books.
If you are concerned about whether your child is ready to start school, then it is important to get advice that can support you in making this decision. You should talk to the preschool/ kindergarten teacher, the primary school teachers, and other health professionals; they can assist in assessing your child’s development and readiness for school.