School Readiness: How Can I Know If My Child Is Ready For School?

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What Signs Show Your Child Is Ready For School?

BY DR. SARAH HUGHES

Starting school is a big thing for kids and their parents and it’s usually at this time of year that parents start to ask…Is my child ready?

Reading isn't the most important indicator of school readiness

School readiness isn’t about reading

In NSW school readiness is determined by a child’s age (5 years), but there are exceptions to this. If, for example, your child will turn five before the end of July, they can either wait until the next year to start school or start in January even though they’ll only be four-and-a-half.

And here’s where things start to get messy.

The decision to start kids at school early or hold them back is a hotly debated one. Teachers, educational psychologists, and other parents all have their own views, but at the end of the day it’s a personal decision that only you can make.

Here’s what you need to know to help you make an informed decision.

There’s a common misperception that academic skills are an important indicator of school readiness, but this is not the case. A child who can read, write, and identify colours, numbers, and shapes is not necessarily more ready for school than a child who can’t. Remember school is where your child learns these skills; they don’t need to have strong academic skills before they hit kindergarten. Indicators in other areas are far more telling of your child’s readiness for school, starting with…

Cognitive Skills

Kids starting school need to be able to:

Follow instructions without too much prompting
Sit still and concentrate without too much difficulty

Social Skills

Before starting kindergarten kids need to be able to:

Interact with other kids and have the ability to form relationships with their peers
Demonstrate key social skills like turn-taking, sharing, asking others to play etc.
Read and be responsive to the social cues of other kids

Emotion Skills

Kids who are school-ready can:

Manage difficult emotions like frustration and anger with minimal adult prompting
Identify feelings and the feelings of others
Stop and think before acting (at least some of the time)
Use words to communicate their needs
Separate from mum and dad without high distress

School readiness isn’t an exact science. If your child has difficulty separating from you for example, this doesn’t mean you should hold your child back a year if they’re ready in other ways. If you’re unsure, speak to your child’s preschool teachers and get their input about your child’s school readiness. They spend more time with your child in a school-like environment and are a valuable source of knowledge.

If you do have concerns about your child’s readiness for school, don’t assume they will magically catch-up. Kids who start school before they’re ready can suffer blows to their self-esteem and this can have longer lasting effects on their attitude towards school and learning. Trust your parental instincts but remember, it’s not a race – kids who start school slightly later than their peers will still do well in life. In the grand scheme of things, 12 months isn’t that long to wait.

Dr. Sarah Hughes is a clinical psychologist and the founder of Think Clinical Psychologists. She enjoys working with children, adolescents, and adults, and specialises in anxiety, depression, postnatal depression, eating disorders, self-harm, and challenging behaviour.