What is school readiness and how exactly do you know if your child is ready for school or not?
This guide, written especially for parents, is an overview of readiness and includes a school readiness checklist for easy reference.
This is also a useful school readiness checklist for teachers to use.
Read on to find out what school readiness is, how to know if your child is ready and what you as a parent can do to prepare your child for school.
In the field of early childhood education, school readiness refers to whether a child is ready to benefit from formal education in a group context.
What Does School Readiness Mean?
School readiness means a child has learned the necessary skills to be able to cope and thrive in the first grade of school – known as Grade 1 or First Grade.
The first grade of school is the first formal year. All years leading up to this grade are considered informal schooling.
The year before the first grade is also considered an important year and is basically a semi-formal preparation for starting formal schooling.
Depending on what country you live in, this year is referred to as Kindergarten, Reception Year, Grade R or Grade 0.
While most school readiness skills checklists out there are for kindergarten, this year should not be mistaken as the official start of formal schooling, as kindergarten should still include many play-based learning experiences.
The checklist below can be used as a general Kindergarten or Grade R readiness checklist. However, some skills – such as sound and letter recognition – will still be developing during this year.
How is School Readiness Measured?
Unlike a high school pupil taking a sit-down entrance exam, a young child’s holistic development cannot be measured with a test.
This is especially true because a huge part of their readiness has to do with physical, emotional and social maturity.
A child’s readiness for school can usually be measured by roughly comparing how your child interacts, copes and behaves compared to other children in a similar age range.
Parents are usually able to tell if their children are ready and a teacher will be able to tell if a child is generally ready or not.
There is no exact criteria and no actual way to establish 100% readiness because all children are completely different and develop at different rates. They also have different strengths and weaknesses.
All the readiness checklists online have different criteria, although they are roughly the same. A checklist is merely a general guide.
Therefore a child is ready for school when:
- They meet most of the criteria on the checklist
- They seem like they will cope in a formal environment
- They are emotionally mature
- They interact and behave in a similar way to peers of the same age
Readiness is certainly not an exact science. It is determined by understanding a child and determining whether you think they will cope in elementary/ primary school.
School Assessment Tests
Some schools prefer to do a school readiness assessment with young children going into the first grade/ grade 1.
This test is usually quite short as children of this age have a limited concentration span.
This kind of assessment usually involves testing for specific skills such as a child’s auditory memory or their phonological awareness (e.g. hearing rhyming sounds).
These kinds of assessments may provide some insight into a child’s ability. There will not be a strict measuring of criteria but rather an opinion formed of the child’s predicted general ability to fit into a formal grade.
What Does School Readiness Look Like?
In order for a child to be considered ready for school, he or she must have well-developed emotional, social, physical and cognitive skills.
A child who is ready for school has well-developed:
- Physical and motor skills
- Visual, auditory and tactile perception
- Listening skills
- Communication skills, language ability and wide vocabulary
- Pre-mathematical skills (the ability to manipulate concrete materials)
- Basic chemistry, physics and biology skills (through play and discovery e.g. blocks and water)
- Problem-solving skills
- Ability to express through art, music and stories
- Love of books and a desire to read
Criteria for School Readiness
The following is a rough guide of criteria for determining school readiness.
The milestones are set out in the four developmental areas – emotional, social, physical and cognitive.
- Show independence
- Do not need to be around an adult at all times
- Separate easily from you at drop-off
- Have healthy self-esteem and feel competent
- Accept authority and be able to obey simple rules at home and at school
- Have good self-care skills – dressing, eating, going to the bathroom independently
- Feel comfortable to go places without you – e.g. stay over at granny, visit a friend
- Express feelings in a healthy way
- Work on a task independently
- Work quietly and calmly
- Ask questions and seek help when necessary
- Follow home and school routines with ease
- Cope with disappointments in a mature way
- Show perseverance and determination when working on a task
- Be able to take turns and share with others
- Form healthy relationships with peers
- Socialize with more than one peer (not only one ‘special’ friend)
- Be assertive when necessary and also be able to follow another’s lead
- Handle conflict appropriately and independently (without always reporting to an adult)
- Show manners unprompted -e.g. say please, thank you and sorry
- Respect others’ property
- Work cooperatively in a group
- Show respect and listen when someone is speaking – a peer or adult
Physical and Motor Development
- Run easily, climb and move with agility
- Balance when walking along a beam
- Distinguish between left and right
- Throw and catch a ball
- Walk along a straight line
- Hop on one leg and hop with legs together
- Stand on one leg for 5 seconds, maintaining balance
- Cross the midline
- Hold a pencil or crayon correctly (tripod grip)
- Cut along a line and control a pair of scissors
- Do activities that need fine motor control – e.g. pasting, tearing, placing pegs in a board
- Determine his or her dominant hand (let this develop naturally)
- Move rhythmically to music
- Sit at a desk for a period of time with good posture and without slouching or tiring
- Sit on a floor/carpet with legs crossed without flopping over
- Attend school regularly – be in good health
- Recognize shapes and colours
- Build a jigsaw puzzle
- See similarities and differences in a picture
- Distinguish foreground from background in a picture
- Estimate, plan and evaluate
- Count with one-to-one correspondence (e.g. by touching one item at a time)
- Group, classify and sort objects and information
- Copy a simple pattern
- Do basic addition and subtraction (e.g. what is one more?)
- Use mathematical terms such as more, less, first, altogether, longer, shorter, etc.
- Have a concept of time – weekdays, seasons, morning/afternoon/evening, etc.
- Understand cause and effect (e.g. consequences to certain actions)
- Solve problems with insight
- Have excellent listening skills
- Be able to follow verbal instructions (at least a 2 or 3 part instruction)
- Listen to a story and recall the events in sequence
- Answer questions about a story and remember details
- Memorize simple songs and nursery rhymes
- Identify rhyming words
- Hear the beginning and ending sounds in 3-letter words e.g. bat
- Identify and discuss characters in a story
- Express opinions about a story
- Show an interest in books and reading
- Know the names of some of the letters
- Speak clearly and use grammar correctly
- Have a well-developed vocabulary
- Participate in discussions at home and at school
- Concentrate on a single task for at least 20 minutes
- Complete tasks
This checklist should give you a good idea of where your child is at.
Is School Readiness Important?
If your child is to reach his or her full potential and benefit from formal education, being ready is extremely important.
When children are pushed into a grade they are not ready for, they not only don’t benefit but often also regress.
They may struggle to keep up academically, which may negatively affect their self-worth and emotional development.
They might even struggle to socialize if they are not yet mature enough for the group, which has negative effects on their social development.
How to Prepare Your Child for School
Although your child is probably attending a preschool and learning many things, you can also play a big role in helping him or her prepare for school.
I firmly believe that children learn far more from their parents than they do from teachers or peers. You are your children’s first connection with the world. They learn non-stop by watching and interacting with you.
The time that you spend with your children is just as good an opportunity as the time spent at school to learn and grow.
This does not mean you need to be stressing your children out by working them to death. As you will read about here, ‘hard work and learning’ is all about play.
Read on to find out how to get your children ready for school, or use my Teach Your Preschooler Bundle for a comprehensive set of activities that will get your child ready for school through play.
School Readiness Begins in Infancy
School readiness is not something children suddenly acquire when they come of age. It is an accumulation of all the learning and skills a child has picked up right from birth.
Being ready is more about general maturity and skill level, than it is about learning specific things or having certain knowledge.
This is one of the reasons I don’t think parents need to follow ‘programs’ for preschoolers. These programs usually come with a set of themes and all the activities are laid out day by day, to be followed in a certain sequence.
Most often, they get put aside when it becomes too much effort to follow or life gets in the way.
Preschool is not rigid and neither should your time at home with your child be.
Learning Through Play
So just how do your children learn all these wonderful skills that will get them ready for formal education?
Through none other than good old-fashioned play. This is sadly becoming a bit underrated in today’s society of packing children’s schedules with non-stop extra activities and introducing formal activities such as reading and writing too early.
Play is the most important activity for your child’s overall development.
What is important is that your child has ample opportunity to engage in all types of play.
There should be sufficient time for free play, where your child decides what to play and where to play, and there should be time for adult-guided activities.
School Readiness Activities and Tips for Parents
Any play activity that you engage in with your child or any free play session your child engages in is part of getting ready for school.
Where you can make a difference is in providing activities for your child that are varied and therefore work on different skills.
You don’t necessarily need to be playing with your child all the time.
Sometimes it is as simple as taking out different materials or making suggestions and offering new ideas. Other times, you will want to really get involved and do an activity together or play a game to work on a specific skill.
The most important thing is that you are aware of the skills children need to learn before formal schooling and that you try wherever possible to make a play opportunity to work on those different skills.
What Skills Should you Teach your Child?
In a nutshell, your children need to learn these basic skills through play:
- Fine motor skills
- Gross motor skills
- Language skills
- Listening skills
- Visual perception
- Auditory perception (including phonological awareness)
- Pre-reading skills
- Pre-writing skills
- Early mathematical skills
- Social skills
- Emotional intelligence
Why do Children Need these Skills?
Everything your child needs to do at school will rely on these basic skills. Something as simple as holding a pencil and writing requires well-developed gross motor, fine motor and visual perceptual skills.
In order to learn to read, children need excellent auditory and visual perception. Learning letters and the sounds they make is not all there is to reading. These are just a few things involved in learning to read:
- Hearing sounds – e.g. through learning nursery rhymes
- Hearing rhyming words and patterns
- Distinguishing whether sounds are the same or different
- Hearing the beginning sound in a word, and the end sound
- Hearing sounds that are missing
- Seeing and identifying letters – an understanding of shape is crucial
- Perceiving similarities and differences (to not confuse b and d)
- Being able to identify patterns (to read words by sight)
- Having good visual memory (to remember common patterns in words)
Many tasks at school require a combination of different skills so the best chance you can give your child is to ensure all their basics are in place.
How Can You Teach your Child these Skills?
Many of these skills will be learned naturally through free play; however, they should also be learned through adult-guided play-based games and activities.
You can look up all the skills mentioned above and find activity ideas to work on all these skills.
What if My Child is Not Ready for School?
If you go through the checklist and feel your child may not be ready, don’t worry or feel you have done something wrong. I have taught many children who repeated a preschool grade or even kindergarten and they all became highly-functioning, competent pupils.
The younger your child is when they repeat, the easier it will be. Repeating a grade higher up (e.g. 5th or 6th) has more damaging effects on a child as they then struggle with feeling incompetent and losing their peers in their grade.
The worst thing you can do is push your child up if it is clear he or she will struggle. Playing catch up all the time and feeling incompetent and incapable will not help their development in the long run.
Repeating an early grade is not serious at all. Simply let it be if necessary and, along with the school, keep helping your child as best as you can.
Signs Your Child May Not be Ready for School
These are very generalized guidelines, but if your child displays some of these characteristics, he or she may need extra time to mature:
- Appears younger than peers
- Has a short attention span and poor concentration
- Struggles to distinguish between left and right
- Has poor eye-hand coordination
- Moves in a clumsy or uncoordinated way
- Struggles with fine motor skills such as cutting, holding a pencil, etc.
- Is dependent on adults for self-care tasks
I hope you found this readiness for school checklist useful.
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