What makes children 'school ready'?
How do I know my child is ready for school?
This is a question I get asked every week from playgroups, kindergartens, and early learning educators. As a mum of 3 children, I understand how hard it can be to know whether our children are ready for school or not. In my own experience, my oldest daughter was physically and academically ready, but not socially ready. My son was academically ready, but not physically or socially ready.
As a parent, we just want to try our best to give our children the best possible start to their school life. For me, this included talking with my children's kindergarten teachers and providing them with the allied health support that they needed to develop the skills that were going to give them a good start to their foundation years.
I often look at school readiness from a motor development and social play perspective.
In my opinion, academics can be taught as children become older. But every child needs a strong foundation of physical skills, language skills, and social play skills, in order to have the ability to take in academic information that they will receive at school.
The 5 main school readiness questions that I ask educators, when talking about what makes children 'school ready' are:
- Can the child take their own jumper off when they are hot, or put their jumper on when they feel cold?
- Can the child organise their own back pack, lunchbox and drink bottle at the start, during, and end of each day?
- Can the child respect their peers' and teacher's personal space when sitting during discussion time? Or do they often invade others' personal space?
- Is the child able to follow a 3 step instruction without needing any of the steps of the instruction repeated?
- Can the child move safely around the indoor and outdoor play spaces without frequently falling over or bumping into other children or objects?
You may be wondering why I'm asking such random questions, that have nothing to do with whether the child can read or write their name. This is why.
1. Can the child take their own jumper on and off
It is important for children to be able to identify when their body feels hot or cold, and then have the necessary gross motor and fine motor skills to put on, and take off, their own jumper.
Often children with developmental delay may not notice that their body feels hot or cold. They may often need someone to notice that their cheeks are bright red, and that they need to take off their jumper. When asked whether they feel hot, children may often look at you puzzled, because they're not sure what their body temperature should feel like.
As summer is fast approaching, it is important for children to develop independence with knowing when their body is too hot or too cold, as this protects their energy levels, and encourages their body to function at its optimal temperature. We know how hard it can be for us adults to concentrate when we're shivering cold, or boiling hot.
2. Can the child organise their own back pack, lunchbox and drink bottle at the start, during, and end of each day?
I often see parents carrying their own child's back pack into kindergarten and I will explain why it is important for children to locate, and be responsible, for their own belongings.
To be able to place a child's back pack into their own pigeon hole or locker, children need to be able to identify their own photo or name card that hangs on their locker. This skill requires spatial awareness. Spatial awareness refers to the ability to know where the child's body is located, where their back pack is positioned in relation to their body, and where their pigeon hole is positioned in relation to their own body, their back pack, and the overall classroom space.
Children need to practice spatial awareness activities like this every day, because spatial awareness is important for learning skills such as playing outdoors, reading, writing, art and craft, climbing, and ball activities.
Children who are able to organise their own belongings, are often less distracted at recess and lunch time, when they're asked to put their drink bottle away, or take their hat out of their bag. The more children practice a daily skill like organising their kinder belongings (back pack, hat, drink bottle, lunch box), the better children are at organising their belongings at home (socks, shoes, toys, books).
3. Can the child respect their peers' and teacher's personal space when sitting during discussion time?
Having worked in hundreds of classrooms, I see the challenges that some children face when they find it hard to respect the personal space of others.
Children often find it difficult respecting others' personal space because they may be unsure of their own body's spatial awareness. For example, some children with poor spatial awareness will often sit on your lap because the pressure that they feel from your lap, provides their body with sensory information about how far away their body is from you, and how far away your body is from other people or objects in the classroom.
Some children who have sensory difficulties may also find it difficult respecting others' personal space, because they're seeking the sensation called proprioception, that they receive by bumping into other children, or placing their body right up against the person sitting next to them.
Why I feel that children need to develop this skill before school, is because other children may start to find their personal space being invaded overwhelming, and may consequently retaliate. Also, as children get older, there is less opportunity for the child to sit on their teacher's lap during discussion time.
I believe it is important to teach children spatial awareness and personal space skills before school, to give them the best possible success with developing healthy friendships and play interactions during their early school years.
4. Is the child able to follow a 3 step instruction without needing any of the steps of the instruction repeated?
Children need to follow a lot of instructions during their time at kindergarten and school, including: please go get your lunch box, sit down on the mat, fill up your drink bottle, take your turn at the slide, turn the page of the book, flip over the puzzle piece, take off your jumper, pass the bean bag to your partner, etc. etc. etc.
One step instructions such as sit down on the mat are quite simple for most children. However, language and development delays start to become obvious when we add a few more steps to the equation. For example, Johnny can you please take your jacket off, put your jacket on the hook, then come over to me, and sit down on the mat.
These 3 to 4 step instructions are commonly needed in a classroom environment, and I often see children complete the first step, or the last step, but look to educators for more prompting as they get stuck during the process.
As parents and educators we often find ourselves repeating the instructions, or doing the task for the child, because children may often get stuck at step 2 and 3, multiple times throughout the day.
I am passionate about helping children complete 3 to 4 step instructions independently, without needing additional help from parents or educators, because this is such an important life skill, that children can't always have a helper around to remind them of each instruction, over 20 times each day.
My son took until he was 6 years old to be able to complete our morning routine at home without me having to remind him of each step. To get my son to this point, I used visual schedules and to-do lists, but most importantly, I stopped myself from talking him through each step, and doing each step for him. Because if I kept telling him each step, he was relying on my commands, and not learning the routine for himself.
5. Can the child move safely around the indoor and outdoor play spaces without frequently falling over or bumping into other children or objects?
I worked with a kindergarten student today who had a big graze on her nose and forehead. This was just another falling incident that this little girl suffered during her kindergarten day, because she lacks the spatial awareness and balance needed to avoid a moving swing, not bump into her friend who is running outside in the yard, regain her balance as she trips over a block on the floor.
It breaks my heart to see young children hurt themselves frequently. While some trips and falls are expected for children, we need to be vigilant if children are tripping and falling each week. We need to firstly make sure their vision and hearing is checked by a professional. Other things we need to check are their visual tracking, spatial awareness, and balance systems.
If children are tripping over at kindergarten, they're also likely to be falling over and being injured at school, as the playgrounds get bigger, and the children that they play near also get bigger.
As you observe your childrens' school readiness this year, have a think about the 5 questions above.
If you have any questions, or would like to add to this list, please comment below. I would love to hear from you.