They might be the right age, but how do you know when your child is ‘ready’ for school?
By Dr Sasha Lynn
It’s one of the biggest chapters in any parent’s life; sending your baby off to school. Some of us are kicking our heels as we pack their little school bags, others well up with tears while cutting apples and packing them in nude food containers – because we all know schools are all about no waste now.
While sending our child to school is something that eventually happens, the question of when becomes a big thing. Is my child ready? How do I know they’re ready? Does it matter if they’re ready or not?
There’s a couple kinds of ready we have to factor in. Firstly, their age. Legally we are meant to send our kids by the time they turn a certain age, and that can differ between States and Territories. Back in the day (let’s not discuss how long ago that day was… *ahem*), it used to be if your child turned six in a given calendar year then they would head off to Year 1, or five for States and Territories that had Prep. Now, in QLD it’s when a child turns five between by 30th June for prep, in NSW it’s Kindy if they turn five on or before 31 July, and they must be enrolled in school by the time they’re six. Other States and Territories have other age guidelines. Clear as mud? Indeed.
Factors, other than age, to consider
Increasingly though, we’re looking past the chronological age of our cherubs and focusing on other areas of readiness. More pertinent areas. Our children might be the right ‘age’ but is it the right time?
Some things to consider are:
Being emotionally ready is a big thing. Some children take a little bit more time to adjust, and to have emotions in check. It’s not a bad thing, it’s just a thing. When children are emotionally not ready, school can be chaos for them. It can bring up all sorts of anxiety issues, or regression. Part of emotional readiness is emotion regulation. While this is a work in progress, the ability to understand and to regulate our emotions is so important when entering formal schooling.
Along with a grasp of their emotions, children need to be able to understand basic social processes. Being able to interact with others forms a large part of school. Learning to connect, build relationships, being able to share and take turns. These are all core factors for success in school, and in life.
That sounds rather silly- that a child needs to be academically ready to enter the place where they start to learn, right? Well, it’s not so much about having your child know the alphabet and reading chapter books before they head to school, but more that they’re showing a developing understanding of sounds, letters, numbers etc. The capacity to learn and the ability to understand the information being taught is big. So along with this are the skills of listening, waiting, communicating, asking questions, and following instructions for example. Academics is so much more than just reading, writing and arithmetic.
Being physically ready is another often overlooked factor. Is your child toilet trained? Are they able to access the equipment in the school environment? How are their motor skills?
So, ready for school yet?
Before we get ourselves all wound up about when is the right time to send our kids, you know at times it might not seem like there is ever the ‘perfect’ time. Not every child is going to tick every box prior to entering school. Development is so variable, and so rapid at this age. Where a child is in January of a year might be in a whole different realm to where they are by June, or even December.
Children for the most part tend to acclimatise to school. But the issue is when the factors above are well outside the realms of what might be considered developmentally appropriate, or if a child just is not showing signs of meeting milestones.
If you are worried, the best place to start is talking with your child’s Kindy teacher, or carers. They will have a wealth of information and another perspective on how your child is doing. From there, you may want to chat to your GP to get a full medical assessment, just to rule out any medical factors. Your GP can also refer you to a range of support services, depending on what will be best for your child.
There’s Occupational Therapists, Speech Pathologists, Psychologists, Behavioural Optometrists, a whole range of people available to help. Talking to the potential school is also very beneficial, as they can advise on the supports they offer and what their suggestions are if you feel your child may not quite be ready. They can also help you with the decision, and provide help along the way.
And number one factor? You!
You are the expert of your child. You know what they can handle and what concerns there may be. Don’t doubt yourself or your knowledge on how your child functions. It’s about setting the foundation for learning, and enjoyment of the learning process, and that’s something we all want to be ready for.
Dr. Sasha Lynn BPsych(Hons), DClinPsych, MAPS, MCCP is a Writer, Clinical Psychologist, Academic and Mum. Want to read more? You can find her over at her blog ‘From The Left Field’ where she describes herself as “Dr. Phil’s alter-ego. With hair.”