Starting big school is an exciting time for children and their families. It involves many changes for our little ones, including their routine, their friends, their teachers, and even what they wear. You might think that being ready for school means knowing the alphabet or being able to write your name, but there is much more to it!
What skills do children need for school?
Understanding language – Children need to understand what is going on around them. In the classroom they’re being given directions all day, and some of those will be complex directions with lots of steps, for example, ‘Put your shoes on, put your bag away, then line up at the door.’ If a child is having problems with their receptive language they might not understand what their teacher has told them, and follow this instructions incorrectly or not at all. This can be disruptive for the other students, and may seem like the child is being naughty. Having age appropriate receptive language is essential when starting school.
Using language – Being able to produce language is important in the classroom and in the playground. The teacher needs to be able to understand what the child is trying to communicate answers to questions, or state their physical or emotional needs, and the other children need to be able to understand the child in order to have successful social interactions. If your child isn’t easily understood, it can lead to frustration for your child, social isolation or withdrawal.
Speech – The sounds a child uses impact how easy they are to understand. All children develop speech at their own pace, but by the time they get to school, most children should have very few speech sound errors. This too can impact their intelligibility and negatively influence their classroom and playground experience.
Emotional regulation – Children need to be able to regulate their emotions, behaviour, and attention. Being able to sit still in class and behave appropriately is essential. The child needs to be able to understand when they or someone else is experiencing an emotion, and be able to respond appropriately.
Social skills – Children need to be able to respond to social cues appropriately, understand rules of play and interaction, eye contact, and body language. If a child has difficulty understanding and using these social skills it can make it difficult for them to make and maintain friendships.
Self care – At school, children are responsible for being able to go to the toilet on their own, washing their hands, know when they need a drink of water, tying their shoe laces and more.
Motor skills – Children need to be able to open their lunch boxes, hold a pencil and engage in outdoor activity. Having difficulty with their motor skills can impact their participation in school activities, academics and play, all of which are vital learning opportunities.
Having these skills means children are ready to spring into learning. Children who lack those foundation skills might find themselves play catch up.
How do you know if your child is having a difficulty?
There are some red flags that might indicate your child is having problems in some of these areas.
- Following instructions incorrectly
- Not coping with a change in routine
- Not being toilet trained
- Having limited attention to a single task
- Being resistant to new activities and experiences
- Not interacting well with children their own age
- Having trouble understanding consequences
- Having difficulty expressing themselves
- Not being able to ‘play nicely’, including sharing, following rules
- Not being able to ask for things they need, for example going to the toilet
What can I do to help?
Increasing parenting expectations in areas such as getting dressed, going to the toilet, and getting ready to leave the house in the morning can help children develop and use their skills so they’re ready for school.
It’s important to encourage children to interact with other children their age, especially children they haven’t met before, in order to practice those social skills for school. Being exposed to lots of books is essential before starting school, and being able to sit through a book until the end will help prepare your child when they’re learning to read. Engaging your child in ‘sit down’ activities at a desk, like colouring, crafts or looking at books and help them develop the attention to see a task through to the end.
Talking to your child about what happens at big school can really help them feel prepared when the time comes. Talk to them about expectations at school, appropriate behaviour, social aspects and functional aspects of being a school like wearing a uniform, carrying a backpack and sitting at a desk.
If your child is struggling
Your child’s early education teacher is often an excellent resource when wondering about school readiness. They know your child well, and know where they are in relation to other children. It’s important to approach the conversation with an open mind, they may tell you something you weren’t expecting!
If your preschool teacher, GP, or community nurse have raised any red flags, or you notice something that your child is struggling with, it’s important to have an assessment by a speech pathologist before your child starts school. A speech pathologist can help your child develop the language, speech and pragmatic skills they need to thrive at school.