Senior Speech Pathologist
It’s that time of year when many parents are debating whether to enrol their child into big school or not? You want your child to succeed in their first year at big school. But it can sometimes be hard to know if they are ready, or if you should wait another year?
So, what is ‘School readiness’, and why is it important?
The concept of ‘School readiness’ is sometimes controversial. In New South Wales children can start Kindergarten at the beginning of the school year if they turn 5 on or before the 31st of July that year. By law, all children must be at school by their 6th birthday, regardless of if they are developmentally ready.
School readiness refers to whether a child is ready to make an easy and successful transition into primary school. Many skills contribute to school readiness and can affect a child’s readiness to learn. Often, we quickly think of the academic skills, (such as counting to 10, writing their name) but there are other skills which are just as or more important for a child to have before starting school such as emotional, social, language, self-care and motor skills. A child also needs to have the maturity to go to school and ability to learn and follow the school routines!
School readiness is important to consider as some studies have shown that early success at school is a strong predictor of ongoing and future success (e.g. Prior et al, 1993). Children’s abilities when they start school can predict success in academic outcomes (e.g. Snow, 2006).
However, some children may not be quite ready for the transition to school.
Studies have shown that boys tend to mature later and are often behind in language and social skills than girls in the first few years. They do generally catch up later on.
Children who are more likely to have difficulties with school readiness skills include:
- Children from socially and economically disadvantaged backgrounds
- Children with a language impairment, below average cognitive abilities, behavioural and/or emotional problems.
Children who have a language delay are at a significant risk of not being ready for school. This is because formal schooling has increased demands on speech and language skills. The complexity of language children are required to understand and use is increased when they enter the school setting. For example, think of the common instruction “If you have finished your work, come and sit on the mat.” If a child does not understand the word ‘if’, they will sit on the floor, even though they may not have finished their work. They might only be listening to the last part of the question.
The ‘Kid Sense’ website has some great information about school readiness. You can access this information by following this link: https://childdevelopment.com.au/areas-of-concern/school-readiness/
So how do you know if your child is ready for the transition to big school?
The first place to start, is asking your child’s preschool teacher. In the last year before school, your child’s educator has been teaching school readiness skills. They have a good understanding of how your child interacts with other children and can give you an insight into how they think your child will adapt. You can also arrange a meeting with the kindergarten teacher and principal at your local school. They can give you advice as to how their orientation process works and their expectations for children entering kindergarten.
You can also book an assessment with a speech pathologist and occupational therapist. An assessment by a speech pathologist can be used to examine your child’s speech, language, pre-literacy skills that are required for school. They will be able to give you specific strategies that you can use at home to best prepare your child for the transition to school.
What speech and language skills are required for school readiness?
Receptive Language (Understanding)
Before starting school we would generally expect children to be able to:
- follow up to 3 step instructions in the same order (e.g. “put your hat in your bag, get out your lunch and sit on the floor”)
- understand concepts such as size (big, little, tiny) , quantity (all, except, one, two…etc..), comparatives (same, different)
- know prepositions e.g. beside, between, on, under
- recognise and group objects (e.g. a bee and a horse are both animals)
- identify objects by group or function (e.g. scissors are used for cutting)
- listen to stories and answer questions about it, e.g. inferential questions (such as why? what’s next ?)
- sequence objects/events e.g. first, last
Children starting school can:
- usually speak in full sentences which are mostly grammatically correct
- use grammatical markers such as -ed for past tense (jumped) , -ing for present tense (jumping) -s for plurals (books)
- use pronouns correctly e.g. he/she, his/her, yours/mine, theirs/ours
- use joining words such as and, because, so, but
- use a wide vocabulary
- tell stories with a beginning, middle, and end
- participate in news time
- maintain conversation with peers and adults
By the age of five children should be able to produce the following sounds:
h, w, y, m, n, p, b, t, d, k, g, f, l, sh, ch, j, s, z
It is okay for children to still be developing the sounds: r, v, Blends (e.g. pl, tr, sk)
It is appropriate for children to have difficulty producing the ‘th’ sound e.g. “fum” instead of “thumb”.
Children starting school should be 100% intelligible by familiar and unfamiliar people.
Children starting school should be able to:
- work alongside peers without distraction
- play cooperatively
- follow rules of a game
- take turns when requested
- give and maintain eye contact to others
- stay on topic in conversation
- maintain attention
- complete tasks with minimal support
- naturally show interest in other kids
- interact easily with other children
- separate well from their parent/carer
Children starting school should be able to:
- recognize their own name and are learning to write it
- demonstrate same/different sound awareness e.g. are the sounds ‘p’ and ‘p’ the same? are the sounds ‘b’ and ‘p’ the same?
- link some letters with the sounds they represent e.g. m says “mmm”
- identify words that rhyme e.g. does ‘cat’ and ‘spat’ rhyme?
- turn pages of a book independently
- listen to a basic story
- tell a basic story
- recognise some letters and sounds (especially the letters in their first name)
- show interest in written words/texts
- begin to have left-right orientation
An assessment by an occupational therapist can provide greater information about your child’s self-help skills. Generally, children starting Kindergarten should be able to:
- make an independent decision and follow through on this
- create ideas & solutions of their own
- move on to new activities easily
- recognise and express their feelings and needs
- concentrate on a task
- easily deal with frustration
- dress themselves independently
- toilet themselves independently (including opening and locking the doors of toilets)
- open their own lunch boxes and food packaging
- know what food to eat and when e.g. saving food for recess time
Despite being daunting, transitioning to school is an exciting time! It is important that you help build your child’s school readiness skills in the time leading up to kindergarten. You can find out more tips about preparing your child for school in my next blog “School Readiness! How you can best prepare your child for big school next year!”
Kinnane, D. (2005, January 5). Is your child ready for school? Focusing on what matters most. Retrieved from Banter Speech and Language: https://www.banterspeech.com.au/is-your-child-ready-for-school-focusing-on-what-matters-most/
Prior, M. B. (2011). Predictors of school readiness in five- to -six-year-old children from an Australian longitudinal community sample. . Education Psychology, 31(1), 3-16.
School readiness checklist. (2005). Retrieved from Communicate Speech Pathology: http://communicatespeech.com.au/resources/speech-a-language-checklists/school-readiness-checklist
Snow, K. L. (2006). Measuring School Readiness: Conceptual and Practical Considerations. Early Education and Development, v17 n1 p7-41 2006.