School readiness tips for parents
School readiness tips for parents
At this time of the year “school readiness” is one of the hot topics of discussion among mothers with young children. Moms are concerned with the question “How do I ensure that my child is ready for school”. Nowadays school readiness is known as “readiness to learn”. I have previously written about this topic, but in my practice as an educational psychologist moms ask for practical tips on how you to get their children ready for school and ready to learn. In this article, I specifically explore school readiness tips for parents, giving parents useful tips to prepare their children for going to school.
School readiness tips for parents – 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 and readiness to learn is likely to develop emotionally, behaviorally or academically obstacles and problems.
Knowledge of your child’s strengths and weaknesses when he enters grade 1 is important and beneficial for understanding his academic performance throughout his academic career. This knowledge may also be utilized to develop strategies to facilitate effective learning in your child.
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 experiences influence your child’s brain development, establishing the neural pathways in the brain, that provide the foundation for language, reasoning, problem solving, social skills, behaviour and emotional health. Therefore it is of utmost importance that you prepare and develop your children’s potential and ability to learn to the utmost in this phase.
School going age in South Africa
A child is obliged to go to school in the year that he turns 7, whether it is 1 January or 31 December, unless they obtain school exemption for the year.
School readiness tips for parents – FAQ’s about the school readiness assessment?
Below I will try to answer some frequently asked questions about school readiness assessments as administered by an educational psychologist.
What is a school readiness assessment?
A school readiness assessment is a formal assessment, done by a qualified person, (usually an educational psychologist), to determine if a child is ready to enter primary school.
How is a school readiness assessment done?
The school readiness assessment is done looking at the following areas: social, emotional, physical and intellectual capabilities. The assessment usually starts with an initial interview with the parents (plus minus 90 – 120 minutes). Thereafter an assessment is done, during which time a series of tests are used, including formal IQ tests.
How long will a school readiness assessment take?
The school readiness assessment will take approximately 5-6 hours. Some psychologists perform the assessment in three hours. Personally I prefer to do the assessment over two morning sessions, as young children find it difficult to concentrate for long periods of time. The other advantage is that I have enough time on the second day of the assessment to determine whether a child who couldn’t master or didn’t understand an activity the previous day, really hasn’t developed the skill yet or whether he was just tired or didn’t feel well the previous day. A further reason for using two morning sessions for the assessment is that I assess a child as a “whole” which contains a mental assessment (IQ Test), emotional assessment, social assessment, physical assessment (including gross- and fine motor development and perception).
The last reason for taking two mornings is because I had been a grade 1 and pre-primary teacher and school principal myself for 18 years. I know that the demands placed on the grade 1 child are high and by administering a proper school readiness assessment, I can provide parents with practical examples, with regards to their child’s gaps and needs as well as strengths to support him at home, before he starts with grade 1.
What kind of feedback can I expect from the educational psychologist after the school readiness assessment?
Parents will receive a written report, but also detailed verbal feedback on the various aspects of the school readiness assessment as well as practical examples of activities to support their child at home in mastering skills which still needs development. So lets explore the school readiness tips for parents in more detail.
School readiness tips for parents – What is school readiness?
School Readiness is determined at various levels, namely mental readiness, social readiness, emotional readiness, perceptual readiness, and physical readiness. It also implies that a child has reached a certain stage in his development where formal education will be advantageous to him. “Readiness is a stage where a child’s development is when they can learn easily, effectively and without emotional disturbance. It cannot 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, pediatricians and preschool 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 his 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 also includes physical maturity, as the child needs to be physically fit to enable them to deal with the demands of formal maturation.
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 coordinated muscle control. Usually this kind of maturity is reached by children at about the age of six. 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.
School readiness tips for parents – The domains of school readiness
These domains of 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.
- Physical and motor development and physical health
- Emotional development
- Social development
- Cognitive development
- Language development
Physical, motor development and health
Gross motor development
Coordination 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, swinging (also upside down when hanging on his legs), rolling, bollemakiesie, wawiele maak and standing on one leg.
Fine motor development
The child should be comfortable to be able to use a pair of scissors, pencils, crayons, paint brushes, tie and untie his buttons and shoe laces, play pick up sticks, thread beads, “sort out rice”, copy pictures which is build by burned out matches or toothpics and more.
“Perception is any process by which children become aware of what is happening around them. Children gain information through their senses – what they see, hear, smell, taste, and touch. … This is called perceptual-motor development”.
The basic self care skills to teach your child is dressing himself, tying shoelaces and buttoning up. Support your child to develop good hygiene routines such as going to the toilet, wiping himself properly, flushing the toilet and wash his hands. Your child should be able to sit up straight on a chair with both legs in front of the chair. Good table manners and eating habits are non-negotiable. Teach him to chew with a closed mouth, not to talk with food in his mouth, clean his mouth and hands as well as to clean up the table afterwards.
Your child should be physically healthy in order to attend and perform well within the school environment. The following should be carefully monitored and where applicable the necessary attention should be given by a qualified person.
- Attention deficit disorders with or without hyperactivity
- Nutrition and growth deficiencies
- Blood disorders
- Visual and hearing problems
- Dental problems
Social and emotional development
Young children’s social and emotional development is the foundation of their cognitive development. Children are more likely to do well in school when they have a positive sense of personal wellbeing. This personal wellbeing is 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 children’s emotional and social skills are linked to their early academic skills and development. Children who are emotionally well adjusted have a significantly greater chance of early school success, where children who experience emotional difficulties can experience early school problems. The relationships which children build with peers and teachers are based on their ability to control and regulate their emotions. Children who have difficulties to pay attention, follow directions, get along with others, and control negative emotions of anger and distress perform 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 relationships. A child who is socially immature, irrespective of whether he has the cognitive abilities to cope with formal education, will experience problems to adapt in school which in turn could hinder his scholastic performance.
School readiness tips for parents – Questions
The following are a few ways you can use to identify whether your child is socially ready for school:
- He/she likes to play with a friend.
- He/she doesn’t cry easily.
- He/she is capable to deal with conflicting situations and to try to make a plan to solve it (without crying and running to you first).
- 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.
- He/she is willing to take part in group activities.
- He/she has the self confidence to give his opinion or take part in class discussions with friends.
Emotional maturity implies that a child has reasonable control over his emotions. Emotional maturity influences important aspects such as self-confidence, which is a pre -requisite for learning. When a child is assessed for school readiness it might be possible that he is physically and cognitively ready but socially and emotionally not. School readiness depends just as much on emotional maturity as on scholastic ability. Therefore it is one of the most important aspects of school readiness.
School readiness tips for parents – Emotional maturity
How do you know if your child is emotionally mature enough to go to school?
Here are some guidelines:
Independence: Can your child complete most tasks on his or her own, or is she 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? Your child also need to let the teacher know when he needs a bathroom break, is feeling ill, or need something.
Separation: Does your child separate easily from you when dropping her off in the morning or are the good byes long and teary? Crying in the first few weeks is normal, but should stop after a while.
Responsibility for his belongings: Does your child remember to put his lunch box back into her bag after break? Does he remember his jersey and shoes or is his teacher constantly running after him with his 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 she know to borrow a ruler from a friend if she doesn’t have one or try to resolve conflict with a friend with regards to join them in playing a game.
School readiness tips for parents – Cognitive development
Cognitive development refers to:
- thinking and problem solving,
- knowledge about things,
- and the way the world works.
Throughout a child’s day (by playing, taking part in activities like paintings, drawings, ball games, experiments, climbing trees or playing on the jungle gym, listening to stories and having discussions about the world around him), his cognitive skills develops and expands and he gains new knowledge. By creating the opportunity for your child to gain more knowledge of the world around him and the way things work, he learns to observe, recognise differences and similarities, ask questions, and solve problems. Cognitive development also create and expand mathematical knowledge, critical thinking, reasoning and problem solving in creative ways.
- Your should be able to use drawings, play, and various objects to develop and express herself creatively.
- He should be exposed in role playing, drama, puppet shows and storytelling.
- She should be able to express her understanding of the world around her.
School readiness tips for parents – Language development
Language development includes listening and understanding as well as speaking. Therefore your child needs to have a proper vocabulary.
Language development is a key predictor of school readiness as well as success in your child’s school career. Early literacy skills which includes the development of an expanded vocabulary, the understanding of sounds and letter relationships, etc. at nursery school are good predictors of children’s reading abilities as well as their comprehension skills throughout their school careers. Language and literacy skills enable children to develop cognitive skills and knowledge and to interact well with peers and adults. You can never read enough stories to your child (a minimum of two to three books should be read every day).
Indicators of proper language development:
- The child should be conversant in his mother tongue.
- The child should be able to both understand what other people say and express himself fluently and meaningfully.
- She should be able to remember details from stories in a logical sequence.
- Your child should have an expansive vocabulary and be able to describe the attributes (size, shape and colour) of objects.
- She should be able to recognize letters (particularly those in her name as well as in friend or family member’s names).
- He should understand the concepts of time for example a short or a long time, morning, afternoon and evening, the names of the days and on which days he doesn’t go to school.
- Concepts like before and after, first, last, more, less, big, small, top, bottom, next to, underneath, above and between, should be mastered.
- Your child need to know where his right and left hands are (even if he turns around).
- Your child should be able to identify the differences and similarities between objects.
School readiness tips for parents – Writing
Writing (and reading) is a movement that entails rhythm. Yes, the same rhythm that you need when you dance. Before you even think to start teaching your child to write the alphabet and words on paper, remember the golden rule for writing is to develop a good rhythm.
How to develop your child’s rhythm:
- Clap your hands / click your fingers / tap your feet on the rhythm of the music while you moving in a circle with your child.
- As your child’s rhythm develops, you can combine more rhythmical movements, like clap your hands, click your fingers and clap hands on your legs (all on the rhythm of the music).
- Gallop like a horse on the rhythm of music, play skipping games, like hopscotch and jumping on one leg.
- Use musical instruments to further develop your child’s rhythm. If you don’t have any instruments, make your own (e.g. for the drum use an empty tin and two sticks; put some small stones in a plastic bottle to have a rattle, use kitchen utensils and just enjoy the orchestra).
- The next step will be to make rhythmical patterns in the sand / mud, while for example singing a song.
- Let your child also draw rhythmical patterns in the air (with both his hands and feet).
- Try to dribble a ball rhythmically (start with a big size ball first and later use a tennis ball).
- Let your child copy a rhythm which you clapped with your hands or ticked on a table with a pencil.
- Finger exercises: Pretend to play a piano or a flute.
- Thumb touching: Each finger of every hand should touch the thumb (forward and backwards). Try to move faster every day.
- Tear a paper.
- Put pegs on a washing line.
School readiness tips for parents: The importance of mid-line crossing and writing
Mid-line crossing (or middle line crossing) is one of the most important skills that a child has to master in order to learn to read and to write.
What does mid-line crossing mean?
Our bodies have a left side and a right side. If you could draw a line from head to toes (or from top to bottom), that is your mid-line or your center line. Most children who experience problems with writing and reading, can’t cross their mid-line. To cross your mid-line, means that you should be able to move with your left side of your body into the area of the right side and visa versa.
Do these exercises to the rhythm of music as a dance: Cross-crawl, knee-foot-heel, backward-heel touch and lazy 8 (8 lying on it’s side).
School readiness tips for parents – Mathematics
Have you ever thought of this: To be able to do maths, your child has to know:
- his body parts
- the difference between his left and right sides (he should also know it when he turns into a different direction)
- the basic concepts: before / after; in front of / at the back; on top of / below; next to; between; more / less; left / right; under; underneath; bigger / smaller; etc.
How to teach these basic concepts to your child:
Always start with three-dimensional games, which means your child’s body is involved:
- Play with your child and give him instructions like “Stand next to Sam”. “Sit on the picnic table”. “Stand between the swing and the slide. “Kick the biggest ball”. “Stand on one leg at the left side of the (play) house.”
After your child has mastered the three dimensional games, move to more complex activities, which implies that your child has to complete a task, but that only a part of his body will be needed, for example:
- “Put the doll underneath the couch”. “Put the truck left of the smallest car”. “Bring me the ball that is bigger than the yellow ball, but that is not the biggest ball”. “Lift up your right leg”. “Touch your left elbow with your right knee.” “Put the yellow bean bag on your left foot and try to walk around”. “Put the bean bag on your back / elbow, etcetera. Can you still move around?” (give your child tasks to perform with a bean bag while some music is playing – children enjoy this activity very much).
Instructions should get more difficult as your child progresses.
Now your child will be ready to move to two-dimensional activities which involves him sitting on a chair and / or carpet.
Two dimensional activities imply the use of card games, board games and peg boards, etcetera:
- Let’s start with peg boards: “Put a green peg left of the orange peg”. “Place a purple peg in the right corner of the peg board”. “Can you build a square with the pegs?” “Put two black beads inside the square (it is assumed that your child knows the basic shapes, it is circle, square, triangle, rectangle and oval, otherwise you could start to teach him the shapes).
- Examples of board and card games: Match the pictures / colours / numbers (eg that looks identically the same); match the pictures that go together eg a mother and a baby, a bee and a hive. Monopoly.
- Snakes and ladders (ask questions like, which number is before / after number four; which number is between / next to / above / underneath number ten, etc).
- Make your own colored arrow card. Arrows show in different directions. Ask your child to touch the arrow/s that show left / up / right / down directions.
One dimensional activities will be your final destination (it means pencil / pen and paper activities and BE WARE that parents as well as some pre-primary schools tend to skip three- and two dimensional activities and / or start too early with pen / pencil activities.
What do I mean by too early?
Remember the sequence: three-, two-, and one dimensional. If your child hasn’t accomplished the three- and two-dimensional activities, it means that he won’t be ready to move to the one-dimensional activities. In the process he might get confused and loose confidence in his first, very important, math skills.
A nice change to the normal: Take turns with your child to give the instructions.
Pen / pencil and paper activities mean: “Draw a circle at the right side of the tree”. “Mark the third duck in the row”. Tick the last triangle in the row”. “Circle the object between the girl and the car”.
Have fun! Ready, steady, take the strain out of Maths. You can do it!
School readiness tips for parents – Self-concept
The first and most important ingredient in your school readiness recipe, is to support your child to develop a healthy and good self-concept. Without it he will never be able to be a happy, well balanced child who will belief in himself and have confidence.
What does self-concept imply?
It is the way in which a child sees (perceives) himself with regards to his abilities and traits.
Practical ways of developing a positive self-concept:
- Practice what you preach. Be a good role model for your child.
- Enjoy life. Smile and laugh a lot. If you experience every day life as a big obstacle, don’t expect that your child to experience life differently.
- Have fun together as a family. We don’t have any opportunity to do a rehearsal in life, this is real life we are in and we are busy living it. Teach your child to live life to the fullest in spite of obstacles and teach him that there will always be challenges in life – so therefore rather have a broken halleluja than no halleluja at all.
- As family you should at least have one meal a day together. It should preferably be a meal where you have time to sit together and not a meal during the rushing hours of the morning when everybody has to get ready for work and school. The TV should be turned off. Listen to your child. Ask him about his day: What was exciting and/challenging and how did he handle it. Don’t criticize your child for all the wrong things he did, but focus on the positive aspects that he did well. Ask him whether he will handle such a situation differently in future and let him share it with you.
- Talk about light-hearted things as well, for example what you, as family, are planning to do together the weekend, the news of the day, new movies and outside activities that you want to do together.
- Praise your child when he did something right and when he did his best, in spite of focusing on the mistakes he made.
- Support your child to express himself. It is important to help him to identify his emotions and feelings.
- As parents your child should know that you are experiencing different feelings and emotions as well and that it is FINE to have emotions and feelings.
- Tell your child when you, for example had a bad day, and that you feel down, but also tell him what you are going to do to solve the problem (maybe it will just be to go for a quick walk with your family after dinner, or to play your favourite happy song and let the other family members also play theirs. Sing and dance together). By doing this you will learn more about one another and you will share a lot of practical life skills of ways to deal with stress, anger and disappointments.
- Plan activities in such a way that your child will be able to experience success.
- Criticism should always be positive and encouraging. Don’t “preach too much”, but listen more and try to put yourself in your child’s shoes. The result of “too” much preaching is a child who feels not listened to and understand by his parents.
- Allow your child to do things in his own way and to take responsibility for his choices. This will be the only way that he will learn out of his mistakes. Then you will have the opportunity to encourage him for trying something on his own and to teach him the important life skill that “Success is not final, failure is not fatal. It is the courage to continue that counts” (Winston Churchill).
- Give your child at least three compliments a day by focusing on things and characteristics about him that’s unique and special.
- Communicate unconditional acceptance and love to your child through your words, but also with your gestures and body language.
- Encourage your child to express his ideas that differ from yours.
- Create opportunities where he can express himself creatively, for example to choose a theme for his birthday party, to have the choice of a family activity (preferably outside the house and not in front of the TV or computer).
School readiness tips for parents – family activities
ACTIVITIES TO DO TOGETHER AS A FAMILY (You should pick at least three a week)
NOTE: It doesn’t involve passively sitting and not communicating with one another.
- Go for a walk.
- Reading (take turns to read; little ones who can’t read yet, pick a story and tell it).
- Listen to your favourite happy song.
- Have a picnic.
- Lay on the grass and look at the stars/shapes of the clouds.
- Dance (while “following” the leader – take turns to be the leader).
- Take photo’s of your family often. Print some of it out, at least every second month, and start with a family clipboard at home. The photo board will add to your child’s a sense of belonging, security and happiness.
- Sit together at the fire site and talk/tell stories.
- Play card games/board games.
- Prepare food together (divide the tasks).
CHALLENGE: Practice your creativity as a family and try to add six more similar activities to the list!
School readiness tips for parents – general questions / summary
As an educational psychologist, I’m confronted with questions like “How do I know my child is ready for school?”, “How do I support my child to ensure her school readiness?”, “Where do I start do get my child ready for school?”.
My advice and experience as educational psychologist is:
The process for preparing your child for school readiness is easier than you might think. Research has shown that it is not so much about the amount of formal learning, spending huge amounts of money, working through lots of workbooks and buying expensive learning material for your child. It’s all about play (as discussed above). It is “play” with a different angle where you as parent create opportunities and activities where your child can think, explore, experiment, learn to solve problems, is supported to build up a proper vocabulary and gain knowledge of the world around him.
Researchers describe play as a child’s work or job. Educational psychologists have called play “a window into the child’s world” and “an activity through which children gain control and come to understand life”. According to Hymes (1968) play is:
“… thinking time for young children. It is language time. Problemsolving time. It is memory time, planning time, investigating time. It is organization-of-ideas time when the young child uses his mind and body and his social skills and all his powers in response to the stimuli he has met.”
School readiness implies developing the child as a “whole”. “Whole child” means: emotionally, physically, socially, mentally and spiritually. To have a well balanced, happy child with self confidence, all of these aspects have to be equally developed in your child.
School readiness tips for parents references:
Resources: (De Witt & Booysen1994; Gordon & Browne 2004)
Resources: (De Witt & Booysen 1994; Gordon & Browne 2004; Papalia, Olds & Feldman 2004)
Resources Midline crossing exercises
Dr Melody de Jager
Neurolink South Africa
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.
Credits for images used in this school readiness tips for parents article