Q&A How do I know if my child is ready to start school?

Posted in School FAQs.

Question & Answer

It’s a parenting milestone that gives us all the feels – our kiddo starting school. They’ve become independent little go-getters, excited to take a big leap into the wide world, and we can’t wait for them to start the best years of their childhood.

But before they trot off in their shiny, new shoes with their cute-as-a-button backpack, there’s a huge decision to be made. How do I know if my child is ready to start school?

It’s what many mums and dads are trying to weigh up right now, and across Australia there are different minimum age requirements for starting school.

A graphic showing the starting school age by Australian state

Across all of Australia, schools will require that your child turns five at some stage during their first year of formal education, but the cutoff date varies greatly (and keep in mind, this is the minimum starting age).

There are also some differences from state to state when it comes to kindergarten and preschool, so make sure you check with your state government requirements.

How to tell if your child is ready to start school

Kirsty Gibbs, experienced teacher and founder of Learning Blocks school readiness, chats to MGV about how to tell if your child is ready to start school.

Mum’s Grapevine chatted with Kirsty Gibbs, an experienced teacher and founder of Learning Blocks, which runs school readiness classes. Kristy says, it’s really important to expose kids to lots of play in their early years, which is how little ones learn.

“Children need to develop socially, emotionally and even physically before being ready to sit in a classroom with 25 other children and concentrate all day every day, with a structure and routine, and not a lot of play/free time.”

Kirsty has outlined the skills that will help children hit the ground running when they start school. However, this is just a guide, and information provided may not be appropriate for children with learning, physical or mental disabilities.

Remember – you know your child better than anyone. Follow your instincts, and weigh these expert tips up with advice from your own child’s early educators to decide if your child is ready for school next year, or the one after.

Graphic showing Book List - 23 books about starting school with a click to read button

Social and emotional skills

Being away from mum and dad all day, five days a week can be a big challenge for some school-starters. There are also a few life skills that will make the school transition easier. It’s helpful if your child can:

  • Leave you easily
  • Toilet themselves independently
  • Talk to and interact with their peers
  • Answer questions from an adult
  • Ask for help from an adult
  • Be responsible for their own belongings
  • Follow daily routines
  • Follow school and classroom rules
  • Wait until the designated times to eat (morning tea and lunch)
  • Share and take turns with others

Physical skills

After toddlerhood, children’s skills start developing sharply. But it may still take a little while to get a hang of some of the physical skills needed at school. It will help your child if they can:

  • Control their own body and have good body awareness
  • Know when is the right/appropriate time to talk
  • Have the body strength to hold his/her own body upright.
  • Hold their pencil correctly
  • Use scissors safely and correctly
  • Put on their own shoes, socks, hat, button-up shorts, etc
  • Open and close their own water bottle and lunchbox
  • Sit still on the carpet and at their desks

Academic abilities

Kirsty says these will vary greatly from school to school, but it’s helpful for your child if they can:

  • Know their colours and shapes before starting school
  • Be able to recognise their own name (written)
  • Most children are writing their own name
  • Be able to count to 10
  • Count with 1 to 1 correspondence
  • Have phonological awareness: The foundations for reading (rhyming, hearing sounds in words, syllables, etc) are all things that we can be working on as parents before our child starts school. Children who have developed these skills will find learning to read much easier.

Every child is different

Young boy smiling at the camera surrounded by colourful artwork

Child and Family Therapeutic Specialist from Capacity Therapeutic Services, Penny Gibson, says she’s yet to meet a child who is ‘ready’ across all areas – physically, cognitively, socially, emotionally and behaviourally, before starting school.

Penny says that as parents, we probably expect our little one has to be perfectly behaved, able to read and write, be socially mature, able to manage their emotions and follow instructions to start school, but teachers don’t expect that.

“A basic level of skill in these areas, or commitment to developing them further, certainly helps but a lot of this learning has to be ‘in context’. That is, they have to learn about being in school by being in school! They build their social and emotional capabilities by ‘doing’ and by encountering change.”

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