As the year comes to an end for schools across Australia I have taken a moment to reflect on school readiness. Many parents will be currently holding serious talks with their families, friends and teachers trying to assess whether or not their baby is ready for school next year.
As it stands readiness for school has been and is currently assessed primarily on the age of the child. The NSW Department of Community Services discussion paper on School Readiness states that, “Prior to a specified age, children are generally considered to be ‘just playing’…and …all children in Australia, regardless of experience, and to a large extent genetic make-up, are deemed ready to start school at the age of five years (or even 4 years 7 months in some states). This is the age when children are regarded as being ‘ready to learn’.”
However, when we take a short tour of the globe we see that other countries of the world have differing views on the age at which students are ready to learn. The research on readiness for learning in the United States for example has shown that we need to accept that children are actually learning at an earlier age because their carers are actually educating them, not just babysitting.
So what do we need to look for to assess whether a young child is ready to start school? How do we know they are ready to learn?
Research shows that it’s not just a matter of mastering early literacy and numeracy skills. As well as this young children need certain social skills to effectively manage the nuance of the school environment. According to Hartup (1992) the “single best childhood predictor of adult adaptation is not school grades and classroom behaviour, but rather, the adequacy with which the child gets along with other children. Children who are generally disliked, who are aggressive an disruptive, who are unable to sustain close relationships with other children and who cannot establish a place for themselves in the peer culture are seriously at risk”.
It would seem the health, physical fitness and well being of a young child is also an important criteria for school readiness. Research has shown that being well nourished, well rested and physically healthy is an important precursor for success at school.
Cognitive ability, physical well being, social competence and the ability to abide by the rules are all important indicators for school readiness. But even if all that is neatly ticked on the checklist it is important for parents to remember that the move to formal schooling is a major life change for a young child. A change that needs to be well planned, managed and supported.
Talk to your child’s carer or pre school teacher and work with them to prepare your child for school. Spend time talking with your child’s new school too. Work with the school and become a part of the community as this will assist your child in making a smooth transition.