Whether we’re ready or not as parents – there will come a day when our child heads off to school. You might be blubbering in your car, celebrating with a bottle of champagne or feeling oddly indifferent, depending on how ready you are for this day.
But what’s more important than knowing how you’ll cope with the transition, is knowing know how to tell if this is a transition your child is ready for.
Readiness for school isn’t about how smart your child is. You don’t need to stress if they don’t seem gifted, or don’t have all of the numbers and letters down yet. Learning things like reading and writing and maths is why they go to school, so these things can come after they start.
Readiness for school is more about how physically capable your child is of looking after themselves, how they interact socially, and their ability to communicate and manage their emotions. It’s also about their confidence, independence and the ease with which they can be separated from you.
If your child goes to childcare or preschool, chat with their teachers. They will have a very good idea of if your child is ready to head off to school or not.
Here are some key things to look for, and some tips that can help you to help them get ready.
Some good signs that your child is ready for school:
- They can make independent decisions and act on them
- They can follow a series of 2-3 instructions
- They can interact with other adults and children outside the immediate family
- They can recognise and express their own feelings and what they need
- They can concentrate on a task for a period of time
- They are ok at handling their own frustration
- They are ok at separating from you
- They are toilet trained and can wipe their own bottom, and wash their hands when finished
- They can blow their own nose and know what to do with the tissue
- They can open a lunchbox and feed themselves
- They can dress themselves and fasten their own shoes
Tips to Help My Child Prepare for School
Your child’s readiness for school mostly comes down to their emotional and social maturity (which we can’t skip over or fast-track – it needs to develop in its own time)
If you’re worried that your child isn’t ready, here are some tips to help.
- Read to your child and chat to them about what they understood from the book
- Teach them songs with actions or dances
- Play with letters and numbers and practice holding crayons, pencils, and scissors
- Have playdates with other children the same age
- Get them used to being away from you for periods of time, and trusting that you will always come back
- Give them opportunities to dress themselves, fasten their own shoes, pack a bag and a lunchbox for snacks.
- Take them on excursions such as to the zoo, to the library or even for just a ride somewhere on the bus – bring their lunchbox and let them learn how to use it
- Teach them to put on sunscreen and take care of their own hat and jacket when out
What is the Cut-Off Age for School?
Every state in Australia has a different set of rules regarding the cut-off age for school. In NSW your child can start school if they turn five by July 31 of their first year. While many children will only be four on their first day, it is also completely normal for plenty of them to be five and six as well.
What if you make the wrong decision about their readiness?
Starting your child before they are 100% ready won’t be the end of the world, and you can work through the early challenges with their schoolteacher. Give your child lots of time and love and support through that first year to support them. Let them know that no matter what, you’re here for them.
If at the end of the year they need to repeat, this isn’t the end of the world either. This is a healthy decision for your child and will almost always work out better for them.
If you really are unsure about when to start your child, it may be better to keep them back another year.
Rarely will being held back affect a child badly and they’ll always have more confidence and problem-solving capabilities next year. Child psychology experts say that there is little evidence that being held back has negative effects, or that starting school young has any long-term positive ones.
Basically, there is no need to rush.