What makes a child ready for school? In most states children must be enrolled in year 1 in the year they turn six. But this also means that children are entering kindergarten around age five, and preschool at four.
Parents know better than anyone that age is not always a precursor for school readiness. While some children might thrive in a classroom environment at five, others might struggle. So how do you know when your child is ready?
Academically Ready for School
Children who are academically ready for school aren’t necessarily reading, but they may recognise numbers, letters, and colours. Some children may be able to write their names while others aren’t quite there.
Being academically ready doesn’t mean that a child is an intellectual genius, but that they’re in a good position to absorb the new information. Children who are academically ready for school have a basic foundation of knowledge; they can identify family members and understand how they fit into the family.
Socially Ready for School
School isn’t just about academic learning; it’s also a place where children learn to socialise. Children should be able to use the bathroom by themselves and understand basic hygiene principles.
A child who can apply problem solving skills, shares, plays well with others, and is considerate of other people’s feelings is displaying signs of social readiness for school. If your child struggles with separation anxiety, he or she may not be quite there yet.
Keep an eye on your child’s gross and fine motor skills for signs that he or she is ready for school. Fine motor skills include the ability to use scissors, put together basic puzzles, or handle a pencil or crayon. Gross motor skills are things like running, jumping, hopping, and climbing stairs
With motor skills, you’re only looking for a child’s ability to do these things reasonably; not for signs that your kid is a budding artist or athlete!
Preparing Your Child for School
As a parent, there are some things you can do to help your child prepare for school without putting pressure on them. When doing these things, try to make it fun and engaging. This helps your child associate learning with fun, so they take a more positive attitude when it’s time for school.
- Sing the alphabet song together
- Help your child recognise letters of the alphabet and associate letters with sounds
- Read stories to your child, pointing out the pictures and asking questions
- Encourage your child to write his or her name
- Practice identifying colours
- Set rules and apply fair consequences if the rules are broken
- Set an example for behaviours in the way you express anger and frustration
- Encourage independence by letting your child dress themselves, practising with zips and buttons
- Give your child age-appropriate chores around the house
- Discuss the importance of playing fair and taking turns
- Work on memorising the child’s name, address, and household phone number
What makes a child ready for school is a combination of practicing skills like the above and the child themselves. All kids develop at their own pace, so don’t worry if your child is struggling with one or more of the activities.
Signs Your Child is Ready for School
So how can you tell your child is ready for school? Here are a few of the signs.
- Recognises and names basic shapes and colours
- Can count from 1 to 10
- Can recite the alphabet and identify letters
- Uses full sentences when talking
- Can express themselves through language
- Understands and follows directions
- Plays well with other children
- Draws coherent scenes using pencils and crayons
- Displays self-awareness
- Understands concepts like big and little, more and less
- Identifies rhyming sounds and words
- Has an attention span of at least several minutes when part of a group activity
Signs Your Child May Not Be Ready for School
Not all children are ready for school when their peers are. Here are some signs to watch for that suggest your child might not be ready:
- Becomes extremely upset and stays that way when separated from parents
- Struggles to express needs and wants in words
- Refuses to share with others
- Hits, bites, or lashes out at other children
- Is socially immature
- Unable to recognise most shapes, animals, colours, letters and numbers
- Does not focus or pay attention when receiving instructions
- Cannot dress themselves or put on shoes
- Mumbles or does not use complete sentences
- Does not have concepts of time or space
Should You Hold Your Child Back a Year?
If you suspect that your child isn’t ready for school, you may consider holding them back for a year or even repeating a year of preschool or kindergarten. This isn’t a decision to be made lightly. Although it is up to you and your family, it helps to consult with professionals and educators before making a decision.
Parents may hold their children back a year if they are struggling with social or academic skills, and especially if the child is already young for their year. At five years old, a 12-month span can make a big difference in development.
The decision is about whether or not your child is ready at the time of enrolment; not whether or not holding your child back will give them an advantage in academics or athletics down the road.
You’ll also need to check the rules and requirements for the schools in your district, to ensure that you won’t run into any enrolment issues.
Unless your child is clearly ready or clearly not ready for school, it can be a tough decision—especially with your first child. Take your time, give it some thought, and remember that age is not the only factor in determining if your child is ready for school.