Most parents feel a sense of apprehension about their child’s transition to big school. Is my child ready for the change? Do they have the foundational skills necessary for the more formal learning environment? Will they cope?
This article unpacks the concept of ‘school readiness’ and discusses ways to nurture and develop a child’s cognitive, physical, social and emotional skills to help them successfully navigate the transition and reach their learning potential.
What is school readiness?
School readiness is a term often used to describe a preschooler’s ‘preparedness’ for big school, but parents should know that there are no definitive criteria or benchmarks that a child has to achieve in order to transition successfully.
Most educators agree that early education settings should not mirror those of formal school environments and that the learning and development intentions at these centres should be much more holistic than simply the accumulation of academic skills. Play-based learning is best.
Children are born with an innate sense of curiosity and wonder about the world and they develop at their own pace. It’s far more effective over the long-term for early educators to provide the space, resources, encouragement and freedom for children to forge their own paths of discovery.
A quality early learning environment and a supportive connection between their school and home lives will give a child the best chance of developing vital cognitive skills as well as language, communication, social, emotional and physical skills - and will give them the best opportunity for a seamless transition to formal school.
Ways to tell if your child is ready for formal school
A child will usually transition well if they:
- Can follow a set of simple instructions (three to four steps)
- Are able to maintain focus on a task
- Can cope with expectation and can exercise self-control
- Can interact socially with other young children and are starting to form relationships
- Are able to do a range of self-care tasks (such as getting dressed, brushing hair, cleaning teeth, putting on shoes etc) with minimal adult intervention
- Are toilet-trained
A high-quality early learning environment staffed by skilled and experienced educators can be the best way to prepare little ones for the move into more formal schooling. Here at Evoke Early Learning, we champion the progressive Reggio Emilia approach to childhood education which has proven its credentials in enabling young children to develop the vital foundation skills that set them up for future success at formal school.
Learn more about why high quality childcare matters for a child’s development here.
Ways to encourage and support a child’s lifelong love of learning
As mentioned earlier, play-based learning is the best way for young children to activate their natural curiosity, explore their world and develop a wide range of skills.
They will learn vital skills by having fun, exploring, experimenting, making mistakes, collecting pebbles, picking flowers, playing with water and sand, singing, dancing, role playing, balancing, painting, threading, cutting, jumping, listening to a story, turning pages of a book - even simply observing others - because their innate wonder and awe about the world around them will lead them to discovery and development.
Here’s a closer look at how to support a child’s skills development and help prepare them for school.
Cognitive skills development
Even something as simple as playing with water and sand or baking cookies can introduce a child to a variety of maths and science concepts like counting, measuring, sorting, weight and dimension.
Loose parts play, having fun with manipulative materials, dramatic play and outdoor activities are also some excellent ways to stimulate a child’s awareness of maths concepts. Memory games and activities that require children to problem-solve (puzzles, arranging items in a pattern) are also excellent for building vital cognitive skills.
Language and communication skills
Strong language and literacy skills are related to school success and will help children with their social, emotional and cognitive development. Lots of reading together, fun activities like singing and playing with rhymes and having conversations with your child will help with sentence structure, vocabulary and general language and literacy skills.
Emotional and social skills development
Many parents have concerns about whether their child will be able to cope with a new school environment from a social and emotional perspective. Will they make friends? How will they handle conflict? Will they manage in group situations? Are they sufficiently independent to cope?
Parents, other family members and educators in early learning environments can play a huge part in helping children build social and emotional skills and become more resilient. Aim to provide your child with constant positive reinforcement of concepts like kindness, empathy, sharing, taking turns and teamwork and encourage independence by allowing them to do things themselves from an early age. Even enabling your young child to take ‘safe’ risks in a controlled environment is an important step to help them become more adaptable and resilient.
Self-help during mealtimes, washing hands, bathing and getting ready in the mornings can be time-consuming and a bit frustrating at times, but your investment will pay dividends as they’ll develop confidence in their abilities and become more independent.
Development of physical skills
Some children are naturally adventurous and will happily scale the jungle gym or climb a tree, whilst others will need more encouragement to participate in physical activity. Movement of any sort (kicking a ball, throwing, dancing, balancing, swimming) will help them build core strength and develop gross motor abilities which are important for success at school.
Fine motor skills are important for formal school too. You can foster these through activities like holding a pencil or paintbrush, cutting with scissors, threading and moulding play-dough.
A last word on school readiness
As the time draws closer for the child to make the transition, parents and caregivers can build excitement about the new environment and also address and allay any concerns that the child may have. Encourage open and honest discussions, build connection to the new school through physical visits, create socialisation opportunities with another child or children who are going to the same place and focus on building up your child’s self-belief and self-confidence.
Our mission at Evoke Early Learning is to provide a safe and nurturing environment that promotes knowledge and inspires a lifelong love of learning. We strive for outcomes where children are not only ‘school ready’, but are also equipped with the knowledge, skills, dispositions, attitudes, languages and self agency for active participation in all areas of life, at any age and any stage. You’re welcome to contact us about any aspect of early education and school readiness or to book a tour of our Melbourne childcare centres in Clayton and Albert Park. We look forward to seeing you!