What is school readiness?

I confess that the term ‘school ready’ does really irk me. The pressure parents face to ensure their child can count, sing the alphabet and be fluent in a foreign language (kidding) by the time they reach reception class is pretty intense. Whilst counting to 100 is indeed impressive for a 3-4 year old, i’m more concerned with the more practical elements of being school ready. Here’s why…

Being independent in the more practical tasks such as zipping up their coat or recognising belongings will help a child to transition smoothly from home life to school. With reception classes often hitting the full capacity of 30 pupils, teachers and their classroom assistants cannot be expected to tie up 30 pairs of shoelaces or open 30 packed lunches.* If we think about it logically for a second, the children who need this assistance often end up waiting longer to go out and play or eat their lunch, purely because the teacher needs to do it for them.

As a teacher and mama to three, I have come to understand what school readiness should mean from both sides. My eldest is now in his final year of elementary school and my middle child will be starting school next September. As a result, I’ve really been reflecting on what is actually useful. In short, I truly believe that school readiness should mean developing independence. Being able to open lunch, tie shoelaces and find their own coat, will help boost their confidence and allow them to focus on the true purpose of school – hopefully that will mean heaps of learning through play!

I’ve broken down this guide into 9 general sections with advice on how to tackle each step. Before you read on, I really want to stress that your child doesn’t need to be confident in all of these areas before school – this list of questions will help you to identify areas where your child might need a little extra help.

Is your child able to go to the toilet independently?

Can you child go to the toilet by themselves? Can they wash their hands with soap? Or perhaps even more importantly, are they out of nappies?

The average child is potty trained between the ages of 2-3. Medical issues notwithstanding, one of the main school readiness goals, in my opinion, is getting your child out of nappies. Perhaps this seems like a shock to some reading this, perhaps not but parents can be so busy these days that potty training is forgotten.

Part of potty training should be about fostering independence, which includes wiping correctly AND washing hands correctly. In the beginning, this could take a lot of effort and time, yet in the long-run your child should then start school being able to go to the toilet independently and keep clean.

Having said all of this, I do recommend packing your child a spare set of pants at least as accidents can happen, particularly in the first few exciting weeks of school.

You can read more about our own approach to potty training in the ‘school ready’ section of the website soon.

Can your child take care of their belongings?

A brand new backpack, school uniform and lunchbox can seem super exciting, but would your child be able to recognise their belongings and bring them home, especially with most parents buying products from the same stores! Please make sure that you DO LABEL ALL BELONGINGS so that your child has a fighting chance of finding them. There are plenty of companies you can find that specialise in funky labels that include pictures to help your little one out.

Name recognition then plays a big part in children being able to recognise their own belongings; there are plenty of activities available under the ‘preschool’ section of the website. However an additional distinctive key-ring or ribbon should help them find their things quickly too.

At the end of each school day, the teacher should remind your child of each item that needs to be taken home – PE kit, lunch box, drink bottle etc however, they wont be aware of additional extras that might’ve been packed such as a cuddly toy or sparkly pencil. I generally advise that any extras are left at home – things inevitably end up going missing however, if your child is feeling a little unsure about school, a small toy that is kept safely in the school bag or drawer can be comforting. In these instances, let the teacher or classroom assistant know how your little one is feeling and that they have brought something in.

Can your child open their lunchbox?

There are so many cool lunchboxes on the scene today – bento boxes have become hugely popular and are certainly practical in terms of storing healthy foods BUT is your child able to open it? If they aren’t, i’d recommend practising before school starts. Opening fiddly catches or screw top yogurts usually requires fine motor skills. There are plenty of fine motor activities in the preschool section of the website, just type ‘fine motor skills’ into the search bar.

It is also worth considering the contents of the lunchbox. Depending on whether your child has attended daycare or not, the whole having lunch out of a box might seem like an alien concept so it’s worth introducing little picnic lunches so that they can get used to it. From there, you can decide whether the quantities you are including are suitable.

Is your child able to cope with routines?

An school, there is a lot timetabled in a typical day so I would recommend asking for a copy of the general timetable of events. If you know when break times, assembly and lunches are scheduled then it is easier to get your child used to the procedure.

One helpful tip is to start having snacks and lunches at the same time as the school does so that subconsciously, they know when to expect it. Whilst I certainly wouldn’t expect a four year old to be able to tell the time, you could try gently introducing the concept, e.g. ‘It’s 12 o’clock so now we are going to wash our hands and get ready for lunch.’

A printable timetable of our daily rhythms will be available to subscribers soon, so look out for it on social media.

Can your child dress independently?

This covers everything from dressing and undressing for PE to retying shoelaces that have come undone. Putting on a coat can be super tricky for little ones so whilst it might seem time saving to help with zippers and buttons in the short-term, it becomes a struggle at school. Allow time for your child to practise getting changed in a non-pressured environment – let them try to zip their coat and put on shoes without you doing it for them. Like any skill, it just takes a little time and practise.

In the early years, choose the shoes and coats that are practical rather than super fashionable. Check the zips – do they work easily? Opt for velcro shoes over laces to make life a little easier all-round.

Coming soon to the ‘school ready’ section of the website will be tips and tricks your child can learn so that they can dress easily and independently.

Is your child emotionally ready for school?

Allow plenty of prep time so that school is not a shock – attend school fetes, read books and talk about what ‘school’ means. If possible, arrange play dates with children who will also be in the same class so that they have a friend to look out for on the first day.

Schools usually arrange home visits and transition days for new attendees and in the case of children with additional needs, arrangements made so that new students can get an insight into routines and procedures. If for any reason, the school doesn’t offer a transition day, i’d recommend asking for a tour.

Can your child communicate their needs?

For a shy child, communicating needs such as going to the toilet or having a tummy ache might seem like a monumental challenge, especially with the more confident kids vying for attention.

If your little one has a tendency to be shy around other adults, it’s worth just reminding them that it’s okay to ask questions or to tell their teacher / teaching assistant what they need. I’d also recommend informing the teacher, just so they can keep an eye out for your child’s well-being and build up a rapport.

Can your child work with others?

School children are often placed in small groups – either so that resources can be shared or so that team-building skills can be worked upon.

If your child tends to snatch objects from others, it’s time to start working on the concept of patiently waiting for their turn. On the flip-side, you also don’t want your child to easily surrender the toy they are playing with. Sharing can be complicated!

One way to tackle this issue at home is to try commentating or sportscasting – for example, ‘Johnny is playing with the cow right now but he will give it to Sarah once he has finished.’

Try not to encourage the surrender of toys because the other child is crying. It sends out confusing signals which may eventually end up meaning that your child always gives into their peers a little too easily. Helping your child understand how to share fairly will subsequently benefit their ability to work in a team.

There will be more information on the ‘how-to’s of sharing coming to the blog soon.

Can your child listen and follow directions?

School means so many instructions – often all at once! It’s not unusual for teachers to issue two or three step instructions to their class. For example, ‘I want you to take a drink, put on your coats and line up for break time.’ Now usually these instructions will be repeated, especially in the early days before such things become routine, but it’s worth practising at home too. I often do instructions in multiple steps, such as, ‘I want you to go to the toilet, then wash your hands with soap.’

To encourage active listening, get your little ones to look at you when you talk to them. If they are playing with a toy or watching tv, chances are they won’t really hear you!

Positional language is another biggy here – it’s something that is often overlooked, including by myself! I have recently realised that Z (3.9) often doesn’t understand where to find things. If she’s asking for her favourite toy dog and I say for example, that it’s ‘next to the basket of blocks’ or ‘under the blue chair.’ It can lead to her wandering around aimlessly! This tells me that it’s something I need to work on with her so look out for activities relating to this topic very soon!

More coming soon…

As I wrote this post, I realised that there is a need for a brand-new section of the website! So whilst I do not like the traditional ‘school ready’ tag, it also makes sense to call this section ‘school ready’ so that you know where to find things!

Most of the skills covered here can even be covered as young as two, since we’re talking about practical life skills rather than learning the abcs! Please check back in regularly both here and on social media. There will even be some subscriber exclusives so sign up to email list to avoid missing out.

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*This advice generally applies to children who are physically able and do not have any special learning requirements.

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