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School readiness

School readiness time again

School readiness: Introduction

At this time of the year “school readiness” is one of the hot topics of discussion amongst mothers with young children.

Moms are constantly concerned with the question “How do I ensure that my child is ready for school”. I have previously written about this topic, but I recently came across this very practical article, which gives excellent practical tips of how you can get your child ready for school. The article was prepared by Sinmarie Pieterse, and the original article is published at:

School readiness: Why is it so important (prepared by Sinmarie Pieterse)

Today we know more than ever before about how young children develop and about how to best support early learning.

The first five years of life are critical to a child’s lifelong development. Young children’s earliest experience and environment set the stage for future development and success in school and life.

Early experience actually influence brain development, establishing the neural connections that provide the foundation for language, reasoning, problem solving, social skills, behaviour and emotional health. Therefore it is of utmost importance that we prepare and develop our children’s potential and ability to learn to the utmost in this phase.

School readiness: School going age

A child is obliged to go to school in the year that they turn 7, whether it is 1 January or 31 December unless they obtain school exemption for the year.

What is school readiness?

A child’s readiness for school is multi faceted, encompassing the whole range of physical, social, emotional, language and cognitive skills that children need to thrive. School readiness is a measure of how prepared a child is to succeed in school, cognitively, socially and emotionally.

School readiness also implies that the child has reached a certain stage in their development where formal education will be advantageous to the child.

“Readiness is a stage where a child’s development is when they can learn easily, effectively and without emotional disturbance. It can not be defined in a point of development, however, because growth is a steady continuous process, always ongoing. Rather it is a condition, or state indicating that the child is ready to learn.”

Parents, day-care providers, paediatricians and pre school programs play an enormous role in the preparation of a child for school. Research shows that learning begins long before a child enters Nursery school. No child becomes ready on their own. It is a process. The child needs to be educated. Initially it is the parents responsibility to provide the necessarily stimuli. Infants and young children thrive when parents and families are able to surround them with love and support and opportunities to learn and explore their world.

School Maturation on the other hand refers to a biological process in the development when certain aptitudes appear before they start school. This implies physical as well as mental maturity. The maturation process cannot be hastened but the appropriate facilitation, comprehension and support thereof can.

Parents can improve the quality of the maturation. This can be achieved by stimulating the effective use of senses, language and co-ordinated muscle control.

The maturation process can be delayed by the lack of sufficient stimulation or neurological dysfunction as a result of brain injury before, during or after birth.

The maturation process includes physical maturity, as the child needs to be physically fit to enable them to deal with the demands of formal maturation.

Usually this kind of maturity is reached by children at about the age of six. But it must be added that, from a pedagogical point of view, this kind of maturity is not a guarantee of success at school, because even if a child is sufficiently mature one can still find that they will not be able to meet the demands of formal teaching.

The domains of school readiness

These domains in school readiness are separate and distinct, but interact with and reinforce each other. The need for children to develop across all five domains is supported by pre- primary school teachers.

1. Physical and Motor development and physical health
2. Emotional and social development
3. Cognitive development
4. Language development

1. Physical and Motor development and physical health

Gross motor development
Co-ordination should be well developed. The child should be able to perform a variety of gross motor acts including climbing, walking, running, skipping, catching a ball and standing on one leg.

Fine motor development
The child should be comfortable to be able to use a pair of scissors, pencils, crayons, cutlery and simple implements.

Perceptual development
This will enable them to interpret in a meaningful manner. The child must be able to perceive and reproduce correctly on a visual-motor level. They must be able to conceptualize and perceptualize. These perceptual abilities are extremely important. Visual perception is particularly important in writing, reading, copying, pasting etc. Auditory perception is important in listening; a child must not only be able to hear, but also to listen.

The basic self care skills such as dressing oneself, tying shoelaces and buttoning up should be developed as should hygiene routines such as toileting, washing of hands and face.

Physical health
The child should be physically healthy in order to attend and perform within the school environment. The following should be carefully monitored and where applicable the necessary intervention should be implemented by a suitable or qualified person.

Attention deficit disorders with or without hyperactivity
Nutrition and growth deficiencies
Blood disorders
Visual, dental and auditory problems

2. Emotional and social development

Young children’s social and emotional development is the foundation for their cognitive development. Children are more likely to do well in school when they have a positive sense of personal well being, developed through consistent, caring relationships in their early years. Emotional support and secure relationships build a child’s self confidence and the ability to function as a member of a group. Research indicates that a child’s emotional and social skills are linked to their early academic standing.

Children who are emotionally well adjusted have a significantly greater chance of early school success, where children who experience serious emotional difficulty face grave risks of early school difficulty. Specifically, emerging research on early schooling suggests that the relationships that children built with peers and teachers are based on children’s ability to regulate emotions in pro social versus antisocial ways and that those relationships then serve as a source of provision that either help or hurt children’s chances of doing well academically. Children who have difficulty paying attention, following directions, getting along with others, and controlling negative emotions of anger and distress do less well in school.

Social maturity as a criterion for school readiness refers to a child’s ability to adapt to social situations whether in a group or individual context. A child who is socially immature, irrespective of whether they have the cognitive abilities to cope with formal education, will experience considerable adaption problems that in turn will hamper scholastic performance.

The following are a few questions you can use to identify if your child is socially ready:
He/she likes to play with a friend.
He/she can easily integrate with a group.
He/she can easily carry on a conversation with a friend.
He/she is willing to share toys
He/she is willing to help a friend.

Emotional maturity implies that a child has reasonable control over their emotions. Emotional maturity influences important aspects such as self confidence, which are pre -requisites for learning. When a child is evaluated for school readiness it may become apparent that they are physically and cognitively ready but socially and emotionally not.

School readiness depends just as much on emotional maturity than on scholastic ability. Therefore it is one of the most important aspects of school readiness. This is partially influenced by parenting but also depends to a large extent on a natural development process and will increase with time.

How do you know if your child is emotionally mature enough to go to school?

School readiness picture
School readiness

Here are some guidelines:

Independence: Can your child complete most tasks on his or her own, or are they constantly running to their teachers’ side for approval or assistance?
Confidence: Is your child confident enough to speak up in a busy classroom when he or she is uncomfortable or needs help? Children also need to let the teacher know when they need a bathroom break, are feeling ill, or need something.
Separation: Does your child separate easily from you when drop them off in the morning or are the good byes long and teary? Some crying in the beginning few weeks are normal and even expected but should stop after a while. Teachers don’t have the time to console a tearful child the rest of the day.
Responsibility for his belongings: Does your child remember to put their box back in their bag after school, do they remember their jersey, school clothes etcetera? Or is their teacher constantly running after them with their belongings?
Problem solving: Is your child able to solve the majority of basic little problems that pop up on a daily basis? For example, will they know to borrow a ruler from a friend if they don’t have one or ask their teacher to phone mummy?

3. Cognitive development for school readiness

This domain in school readiness refers to thinking and problem solving, knowledge about particular objects and the way the world works.

The cognitive skills that grow out of a child’s everyday experiences are what help children to acquire new knowledge. From these experiences children learn to observe, recognise differences and similarities, ask questions, and solve problems. The best foundation for later learning is provided when children have multiple and varied opportunities to interact with their environment and are encouraged to learn from their experiences. Cognitive development encompasses mathematical knowledge, thinking, creative expression reasoning and problem solving.

The child should be able to use drawings, play, and various objects to express themselves creatively.
The child should be able to actively involve themselves in role playing, drama and story telling.
They should be able to creatively express their understanding of the world around them.

4. Language development

This includes communication and literacy. Communication includes listening, speaking, and vocabulary.

Language proficiency is a key predictor of school success and school readiness. Early literacy skills (size of vocabulary, recognizing letters, understanding letter and sound relationships,) at nursery school are good predictors of children’s reading abilities throughout their educational careers. Language and literacy skills enable children to develop cognitive skills and knowledge and to interact effectively with peers and adults.

Here are some indicators, important for school readiness:
The child should be conversant in their mother tongue.
The child should be able to both comprehend and express themselves fluently and meaningfully.
He/She should be able to remember details from stories in a logical sequence.
The child should have an expansive vocabulary and be able to describe the attributes (size, shape and colour) of objects.
The child should be able to recognise letters particularly those in their name.
Comprehend concepts of time as before and after.
The child should be able to identify the differences and similarities between objects.

Why is it important to determine whether your child is ready for school.

The demands placed on the grade 1 child are high. A child who enters the grade 1 classroom without the necessary skills is likely to develop problems emotionally, behaviourally or academically.

Knowledge of the child’s strengths and weaknesses when they enter grade 1 may be beneficial for understanding the academic performance of the child throughout their academic career. This knowledge may also be utilised to develop strategies to facilitate effective learning in the child.


Spoken sign language as a criterion for school readiness among deaf pre-schoolers.
N.L. de Klerk, 2003, Magister in Language Practice, University of the Free State.
Article: Young children’s emotional development and school readiness. C Cybele Raver
Brainline 2003, J Du Plessis.
Getting ready: National school readiness indicators report. February 2005, Rhodes Island Kids Count.
Peceptual development. M.C. Grove and H.M.A. M. Hauptfleisch.

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