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School readiness - a guide for parents

4-minute read

Starting school is a big event in a child’s life, and for their family. To get off to a good start, children need to try to develop personal skills, emotional and social maturity, and the ability to communicate, pay attention and learn.

What does ‘being ready’ for school mean?

Experts list some key skills and behaviours children need going into mainstream school without support.

  • Physical health and development: being able to run, jump, climb, and play ball, grip a pencil and turn pages in a book.
  • Practical skills: being able to use the toilet independently and wash their hands, being able to dress themselves, unpack their lunch box and eat their lunch.
  • Social skills and concentration: being able to share, take turns, get along with others, sort out problems, follow rules and finish tasks.
  • Emotional maturity: being able to go into situations with unfamiliar people and handle being angry, sad or frustrated, and to be able to play and share with others.
  • Good language and communication skills: being able to listen to others, speak and express their thoughts clearly and understand what the teacher says.

Families have a vital role in supporting a child’s readiness for, and adjustment to, school. Your child will do better at school in the long term if you spend quality time developing their life skills, emotional health and self-confidence through play in a secure environment.

Why do these skills matter?

At school, your child will be expected to:

  • separate from you without becoming upset
  • wait patiently for attention in a large group
  • take turns and share
  • play well with other children
  • follow instructions
  • express their feelings and needs politely
  • stick to a task
  • deal with frustration

If they are unable to do these skills because of developmental delay, they can start school in a supported environment such as a special needs school or a mainstream school with extra support such as teacher aid support. There are regulations that vary from state to state as to when it is compulsory to have a child enrolled at and attending school.

Some questions about school readiness

Some common beliefs about when children should start can be confusing.

Are girls more ready to start school than boys?

There is evidence to suggest that many boys may have more difficulties adjusting to school than girls. But it’s certainly not true for all boys and all girls. The research is mixed on whether there is a benefit to delaying starting school. Every child is different.

Do children need to know their ABC to do well at language?

It helps if your child shows an interest in letters and words and begins to write some of the letters in their name. They don’t need to know the alphabet.

Do children need to be able to count to 10 to do well at maths?

It helps if your child can talk about their age and recognise and write some numbers. They don’t need to be able to chant a set of numbers.

School can teach your child literacy and numeracy — but you can support their emotional wellbeing and develop their social skills since these are the most important skills children need for school.

Costs of school

Public schools in Australia are free. Many ask for a contribution, but contributions aren’t compulsory. There are costs for uniforms and excursions.

If you’re worried about the cost, some state governments offer help to low-income families. Charities such as The Smith Family might also be able to help.

Making an informed decision

To be sure your child will enjoy school and thrive in that bigger, noisier, more challenging environment, you need to:

  • watch how your child copes in different situations
  • talk to the educator in their child care or preschool and any other specialists working with your child
  • talk to early childhood staff at your chosen school about how they plan to meet your child’s needs

If your child has a physical or learning disability, check how the school plans to include them in the learning program.

So, do you think your child's ready for school?

Whatever you decide, family, friends or even strangers might question your decision.

If you’ve thought it through, and taken advice from experts, and thought about your own family situation, then that’s the best you can do.

You’ve thought about the best thing for your child, and acted on it.

More information

Find out how your child is developing at this age, and about how to help your child when they start school.

Learn more here about the development and quality assurance of healthdirect content.

Last reviewed: July 2021

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