Back to School & learning

How to know when your child is ready for school—and no, it doesn't include reading

By Helen Davis 4 min read

While you might be feeling stressed about your child's school readiness, there are some clear signifiers that will help you get a better picture of where they’re at.

Deciding if your child is ready for school can cause some anxiety for parents, especially if their birthday happens to make them a particularly young starter. Watching your child step slowly out of the nest is already difficult, without the added pressure of worrying if you've made the right decision.  

While you might be feeling stressed about getting your child ready, there are some clear signifiers that will help you get a better picture of where they’re at. With Kindergarten orientations about to start and the new school year in sight, now is the perfect time to start preparing for what might feel like the biggest decision in your child’s life.

How can I tell if my child’s ready to start school?

While there’s no official checklist for telling if your child is ready to start school, there are a few traits and behaviours that parents should be looking out for:

Eat independently

Your child should be able to eat their meal without special supervision. Your child will be expected to eat their packed lunch or purchased meal independently, along with regular snacks throughout the day.

Toilet trained 

Ensure your child is toilet trained and can go to the toilet independently. This includes the ability to pull up their own pants and wash their hands by themselves. Toilet training can vary wildly from child to child, so don’t feel discouraged if yours isn’t quite there yet.

Dress themselves

Getting dressed by themselves is another trait to watch out for, especially putting on or taking off jackets, jumpers or hats. Help your child out by buying shoes that are simple to fasten, such as those with velcro straps, and make sure all their clothes fit well.

Know and say their name

There are several basic linguistic skills to watch out for, too. Children should possess some language skills and be able to say their own name in their native language, which is helpful for a wide range of school activities, including introducing themselves to their new school friends. It’s just as important that they recognise their own name in their native language, as responding to roll call and engaging with new friends in the playground will all become common occurrences. 

Write the first letter of their name

While no-one expects children to start school with perfect writing abilities, it might be worth checking to see if they can at least write the first letter of their own name in their native language. This simple exercise is a great insight into whether your child is ready for the many writing lessons that will be coming their way throughout those early school years. Help your child develop their fine motor skills, which they'll need for writing. 

Sit still 

Another key trait for parents to look out for is the ability to sit still on a chair, at a desk and on the floor for at least 10 to 20 minutes. During school, children are expected to stay in one place for longer than they do at home, and it can often take some adjustment.

Communicate well 

Your child should be able to express themselves and clearly communicate if they need help, are hurt or feel sick. They should be able to use words to communicate their emotions, rather than body language. If your child comes from a home where English isn’t the first language, find out if your child will have access to teachers who speak their native language. In order to make this happen, your child needs to be comfortable interacting with a range of adults—not just their immediate family.

Willing to be separated from caregiver 

While some initial separation jitters are natural and expected, if your child cannot be happily separated from you or your family members for any length of time, it might be worth reassessing if they’re truly ready. Nurture a positive attitude towards schooling by pointing out all the exciting parts of "going to big school" and reassuring your child that you will see them at the end of each day.

No longer napping 

Make sure your child can go the whole day without taking a nap. While many kindergartens include nap time, it’s still important to make sure that they are on their way to a nap-free day.

Preparing a school readiness program for your child 

When it comes to preparing your child for school, there are a few handy tips and tricks that can make the whole process run a lot more smoothly. A lot of tasks might seem simple to our adult brains, but are actually very challenging for young children. 

Food and drink 

Opening and closing their lunchbox and drink bottle, for example, is something that can often be overlooked. In the weeks leading up to the big day, get them to eat out of their lunchbox and drink from their bottle, so you can keep an eye out for any potential snags. Similarly, get your child used to their new school’s eating routines ahead of time. If they’re at home with you, practise feeding them at the same times as school, including morning and afternoon snack breaks.

Orientation 

Visit your school’s transition program to meet other families and get to know teachers and other members of staff. This will not only help familiarise your child, but put your mind at rest too. This is also a great time to discuss any specific needs your child might have, and iron out any potential sticking points.

Logistics

Closer to the big day, make sure your child understands where they need to go and at what time. Discuss where you will be picking them up from, and visit the pick-up spot the day before or the morning of, so they are familiar with what to do. Explain that the teachers will help and look after them during the day, and that the school can call mum or dad if there’s an issue.

Continue to prepare them 

Getting your child ready to start school shouldn’t stop the day they pass through the door. Settling in takes time, so try and continue the journey even once they’ve started. Try taking your child out into the community, expose them to new things, and make learning fun and contextual. Teach them about money and change at the supermarket, to recognise letters on signs and licence plates when driving, look at animals at the zoo, and practise talking to new children when you’re at the park to develop their social skills.

Keep your emotions in check

The first day of school is an emotional time for everyone, parents included. While it might be difficult, try your best to control your own emotions. If your child sees you upset, this might trigger their own tears. Remember: things will get easier, it just takes time.


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Helen Davis is the principal of Eastwood Public School, a high value-add NSW public school in north-west Sydney that offers its students a unique place to learn and thrive.