How to know that your child is ready for school

Natalie Matulick
Natalie Matulick
Nat is an Education Consultant and Parent Educator (and mum of 2) who empowers new school parents to effectively navigate school so their child has a positive experience of school where they are confident, happy and thriving. In over 20 years in education (as a teacher and consultant to schools and education departments), Nat has supported thousands of families and their...
Created on Jun 03, 2024 · 4 mins read

The decision to send your child off to big kid school can be one of the most anxiety-inducing decisions of their younger years. It suddenly feels like they’re growing up so very quickly, and you can’t quite wrap your head around the fact that you’re already here.

Starting school is a big milestone for both children and parents alike, but how do you know if your child is truly ready to dive into the classroom?

You need to consider if your child is ready to transition out of the home, childcare or preschool setting (which is a play-based, smaller environment with highly personalised relationships) and into the very different setting of school.

To help you decide if they are ready for that, these are the key factors to consider for school readiness.

Your child’s school readiness checklist

  1. How independent are they?

Can your child handle basic tasks like dressing themselves, eating lunch from a lunch box, using the toilet, and tidying up their toys? Are they able to independently make decisions about where and what they are going to play with? 

School requires a much higher level of independence than childcare or preschool, so if your child is already successfully doing things solo (with a bit of help here and there), they’re on the right track.

  1. Communication skills

How well does your child express themselves? Can they chat away about their day, share their feelings, and follow simple instructions? Do they have the capacity to ask questions and answer questions from their educator? 

Good communication skills are super important for navigating the classroom, so if your child can chat away, that is a positive step toward school readiness.

  1. Ready, set, learn!

Is your little one showing an interest in learning new things? Whether it’s counting their toys, scribbling away with crayons, or asking a gazillion questions about everything under the sun, a curious and eager learner is often a sign of school readiness.

  1. Socially active

How does your child interact with others? Can they work and play beside other children, can they share toys and interact with new people? If your little one is able to hold their own in group settings, they’re likely to adjust well to the hustle and bustle of the classroom.

  1. Ability to focus and sit still

Although the first year of primary school incorporates movement and play-based learning, there is still a significant amount of sitting still involved which can be a big change for young children.

Is your child able to sit with the group (e.g. mat time or at a desk) and remain focused? Are they able to engage and sustain engagement in activities?

  1. Emotional readiness

We now know that emotional readiness is the most important indicator of school readiness. In fact, it is widely accepted that social, emotional, and behavioural readiness are better indicators of a successful transition to school than academic ability.

Can your child separate from you easily at preschool drop-off? Can they manage their feelings when things don’t go their way, share with others, and bounce back after a little setback? Can they self-regulate their emotions when they are asked to do something they don’t want to do (e.g. pack up their toys)?

An emotionally-ready child is going to have a much more positive experience of school than one who requires just a little more time to develop their confidence.

School readiness shouldn’t be rushed

Crucially, waiting until your child is ready can make a significant difference to not just their learning outcomes, but to their enjoyment and sense of feeling safe and comfortable at school.

It can, in fact, be the difference between surviving the first year of school or thriving in their first year of school.

There is no rush to start school. Contextually, Australia is one of the youngest schoolstarters globally, with the majority of children commencing formal learning around the world at the ages of 6 and even 7 in some countries (such as Finland and other Scandinavian countries).

This correlates to decades of research around school starting age highlighting stronger academic and social outcomes of children who start school later. 

Even within Australia there are a range of starting ages – in states like NSW and even Victoria, it is much more common to start school around 5.5 – 6 years of age, with growing numbers of parents making the choice to give their children a little more time before starting school.

Wrapping it up

Remember, every child is unique, and there’s no one-size-fits-all answer to school readiness. You need to do what best fits your child, so keep an eye out for these indicators

and trust your parental instincts. You know your child better than anyone. 

So whether your child is ready to step into the big world of school or needs a bit more time to grow into themselves, you are setting them up for success by doing what’s best for them. 

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