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School readiness: trust your gut instincts, parents!

Picture of a school bag

While the kinder year has been interrupted by the COVID-19 pandemic, it is not itself a reason to hold a child back from school. This post covers school readiness considerations for children in general and not just in the time of COVID disruption.

 

Four years ago parents Damien and Lauren Gardiner (LG) met with Debbie Isaac (paediatric occupational therapist) (DI) to talk about whether their son, D, was ready for school.

LG: Our middle child, D, is a February baby. I wish someone had told me the trouble  with that earlier!

DI: In my clinical practice the school readiness question comes up with children:

  • with a birthday between January and April
  • with delays with motor, language and play skills
  • with an identified difficulty such as ASD, or a genetic disorder that challenges social and motor skills

LG: We started D in 3 year old kinder just before his fourth birthday. He was on track to start school two years later, aged 6. He was very interested in learning – wanting to read his brother’s readers, forming letters when drawing, confident socially, loved the school environment and was tall and robust. We began to worry about whether two years of kinder would dampen his interest in learning.

DI: Some broad markers of school readiness include:

  • Self-care – open a lunch box, get a drink, toilet independently (including clothes), take shoes, socks and jumper off
  • Gross motor skills – manage stairs, walk around a playground, manage a range of playground equipment, kick and throw a ball
  • At kinder – can sit on the mat and listen to a story, join in singing and actions, engage in cutting tasks, hold and control a pencil, manage messy play, engage with construction toys
  • With peers – share toys, play in parallel as well as interact with another child in shared play
  • Own play – play independently with toys of interest
  • Showing interest in starting school

LG: We spoke to the kinder about D’s readiness. The kinder recommended he complete his 3 and 4 year old kinder years.

DI: The decision can be particularly hard when parents and educators, even extended family and neighbours, have conflicting views.

I strongly believe that parents need to:

  • trust their gut instincts and recognise that they are the experts on their own child
  • consider the position of the child in the family – younger siblings are aided in their readiness for school with an older sibling at school, and are already familiar with the playground and school activities such as readers and assembly
  • consider the child’s social confidence and height. It can be hard to hold back a tall five year old – they stick out in the preschool group. However, they also need the social confidence to manage beginning school

LG: Damien and I also had different perspectives. I had read widely on the topic. Not being totally certain of his readiness, I felt that less harm could be done holding D back from school. Damien, who had started school at age 4 and is an April baby (so he was 4 well into his first year of school), felt that if D was ready, he should go to school.

DI: Readiness for school should be determined on the individual child, not rigid rules. If a child is ready, they should go to school, bearing in mind the State’s prescribed rules on school starting age.

In my clinical practice, I use a developmental assessment that looks at gross and fine motor skills, including pencil control and scissor skills, following instructions and accepting directions. More careful assessment is required for children with language delay, social immaturity, or a formal diagnosis.

LG: As well as considering readiness, I also wondered whether I was ready to let him go.

DI: The transition from preschool to school is both a physical and emotional change for children and their parents and brings with it a mixture of joy and sadness.

Parenthood is a constant process of enabling our children’s independence, and with the move to school, comes exposure to a range of influences from other adults and children. There is some anxiety in the letting go process.

As a parent I was excited for my children to move on to the wider world, having clearly outgrown kindergarten. But I felt sad too – the reality of less time together to go on adventures and play in the garden. Starting school also makes obvious the passing of time, from the baby and early childhood years. Parents can feel a sense of loss.

Acknowledging mixed emotions and how parents’ own experience of starting school can play a role helps retain some objectivity about school choice as well as child readiness.

LG: Some people suggest we should be asking if the school is ready, rather than the child. Our school principal told us that whatever decision we made, the school would support it with extra help for D etc if required. He urged us to do the same. I think that was a really powerful message – that rather than having one chance to get it right, the decision was actually just one of many in D’s school career!

DI: Yes, absolutely!

It’s also helpful to be open to repeating Prep or another year in early primary school where the decision to send a child has been difficult. I’ve supported families in this situation. In practice I’ve seen it work well when children have repeated Prep, Grade 1 or Grade 2, sometimes at a different school.

PS

  1. We suggested activities to do at home to supplement the COVID-19 interrupted kinder year in our last post “Getting kids school ready in the time of COVID”, below.

 

2. Grab our BRAND NEW Drawing Activity Book for children starting school – “Squiggle Pop goes to school” – it’s FREE when you subscribe to our email list, here

This 11 page drawing activity book helps familiarise your child with school in a fun and positive way. And it encourages drawing, a leading activity in school preparation.
 

You’ll receive an email with the drawing activity book shortly after you subscribe.

Squiggle Pop goes to school - images

3. Want more educational, screen-free fun? We have a range of printable drawing books for children from around 3 and up, starting at AUD $1.95. Check them out in our video below and here.

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