Developing School Readiness in Early Childhood

toddler excited for school

All parents look forward to their children’s first day at the kindergarten with mixed feelings of joy, excitement, pride and even a bit of anxiety. Entering kindergarten is the very first step a child takes towards developing his independence, as the rest of his schooling comes with lots of fun and even challenges as he gets older. The one dominant thought in the minds of most parents is whether or not their children are ready for school and have they done their best to get them there. The concept of early school readiness is there to help assess children who are about to start school. Here is all you need to know about it.

What Is School Readiness?

In simple terms, school readiness is whether a child is able to transition easily into school. School readiness goals are defined by a set of skills that go beyond the child being ‘kindergarten ready’ and can take on the demands that come with schooling and the change in lifestyle in general. Some of the skills include the application of knowledge, social-emotional skills, problem-solving and critical thinking, creative and innovative thinking, and a positive attitude towards learning.

School readiness of a child extends beyond traditional learning and incorporates skills that are future-forward and help him assimilate the changes on the horizon. Since traditional learning is still based on memorising facts and figures that need to be regurgitated, school readiness goes beyond that. Roberta Michnick Golinkoff and Kathy Hirsh-Pasek, in their book “Becoming Brilliant”, describe what they emphasise are the essential skills children need. They are also popularly called the 6 Cs of school readiness among parents, which are:

  • Collaboration
  • Communication
  • Content, which includes Math, Science, Literacy and History
  • Critical thinking
  • Creative innovation
  • Confidence

Importance of School Readiness Skills

The early learning experiences of children, especially from birth to five years of age, have a significant influence on their ability to learn and succeed in the future. It is observed that children who attend the school readiness program generally:

  • Enter kindergarten with most, if not all, skills needed for school success.
  • Have a better grasp of verbal and numerical concepts.
  • Are more socially adaptable and competent.
  • Have the ability to stay focused on one activity for a longer time.
  • Are very likely to make good progress that is expected during the lower grades.
  • Are less likely to be placed in special education classes.
  • Get through kindergarten with ease without being retained.

Building Blocks That Are Necessary to Develop School Readiness

There are a number of skills and behaviours that are the building blocks necessary to develop school readiness.

1. Self-Regulation

Self-regulation is the ability to maintain oneself and change their emotion, attention, behaviour, and activity levels that are appropriate for the situation or task.

2. Sensory Processing

It is the ability to precisely process sensory stimulation that comes from one’s own body as well as the environment. It influences attention, how they hold the pencil, how they sit and pay attention to the teacher.

3. Receptive Language

This pertains to understanding the teacher and comprehension of spoken language.

4. Expressive Language

This refers to the ability to speak a language such that the teachers and peers can understand them.

5. Articulation

Articulation is the ability to speak clearly pronouncing the words and to put together meaningful sentences.

6. Executive Functioning

It is the ability to think higher things and reasoning, such as – what do I need to pack to school for today’s time table?

7. Emotional Development and Regulation

It is the ability to perceive, understand and regulate emotions (in response to challenges) and to use emotions to facilitate thoughts and controlled actions.

8. Social Skills

It is the ability to interact reciprocally with others, both verbally and non-verbally.  It also refers to the skills of recognising and sticking to the social norms and to compromise for the greater good.

9. Planning and Sequencing

It is the ability to sequentially perform any methodical activity to achieve a defined goal. An example would be to cut and paste in the crafts class or do a simple math worksheet.

Signs That Your Child Has Problems With School Readiness

Children who have difficulties with school readiness show signs, such as:

  • Getting frustrated or agitated when they are expected to do something.
  • Difficulty in following simple instructions during everyday activities.
  • Rely on parents for self-care tasks such as dressing up and wearing a shoe.
  • Missing proper toilet training during day time.
  • Difficulty attending to tasks as long as their peers can (tasks of varying length and difficulty).
  • Social immaturity in the form of unwillingness to share or engage in cooperative games.
  • Having poor expressive language and receptive language skills.
  • Difficulty with understanding the consequences of their actions and behaviours.
  • Having difficulty sitting still and being uninterested in looking at books and classroom tasks.
  • Possessing limited playing skills where they cannot incorporate new items or people into the game.
  • Hesitant or resistant to engaging in new activities or taking inputs from others.

What Problems and Difficulties Can a Child Face If There Is Absence of School Readiness?

Children who lack school readiness can face problems in these areas:

1. Self-Regulation

They are unable to regulate their emotions and associated behaviours while having difficulty maintaining attention in class. They would cry or act out when things don’t go their way.

2. Receptive Language

They have a hard time understanding what the teacher is saying and find it difficult to follow the instructions given for a particular task.

3. Expressive Language

They are unable to express themselves in an articulated manner and struggle with communicating properly with the teachers and their peers.

4. Executive Functioning

This is the ability to think higher and long term. Children having difficulty with this often fail to prepare for the day and often forget important tasks.

5. Emotional Development and Regulation

Children have a hard time assessing their own emotions and responding appropriately.

6. Social Skills

Undeveloped social skill makes it hard for children to get along with their peers and participate in group activities.

7. Planning and Sequencing

Children are unable to plan, participate and perform normally in activities that involve sequential steps.

8. Self-Care Skills

They are unable to go to the toilet on their own or put on their clothes without help.

9. Gross Motor Skills

Children find it difficult to engage in physical activities that involve the whole body movement.

10. Fine Motor Skills

Fine motor skills involve using the fingers to manipulate small objects, such as writing with a pencil, tying shoelaces, etc.

Preparing for School Readiness at Home

Here’s how you can prepare to ensure you kid is ready for school:

1. Parenting Expectations

Increase your expectations around the tasks involving self-care, such as dressing up, eating, toileting, and getting ready to leave the house. Instead of physically helping your child to accomplish his tasks, stick to verbal instructions as much as possible.

2. Building Social Skills

Schedule play dates so your child can get ample playtime to engage in cooperative games. Also, encourage him to socialise with other unfamiliar children of his age at the park.

3. Reading Books

Read books to your child at bedtime as early as possible to expose and familiarise him with books and reading.

4. Early Preparation

Prepare your child for school by telling him about it and narrating stories about how he will go to school one day and be well-behaved. Prepare him through regular sit-down activities similar to schools.

5. Collaborate

Work with your child’s preschool teacher to identify areas of weakness or slower development and target those specific areas for extra training time.

6. Use Visual Strategies

Use charts and schedules to help your child stick to routines and maintain consistency throughout the day. This will help him transition smoothly into school routines.

7. Outings

Take your child out regularly to places such as the zoo, library, shopping mall or the park to help him learn appropriate behaviour when outside. This will help greatly during school outings.

8. Fine Motor Skills Development

Teach your child how to work with his fingers to build his fine motor skills. Since this is where most of the school readiness in early childhood education takes place; it can help the child a great deal in class.

How Can Therapy Help a Child With School Readiness Difficulties?

Interventions in the form of school readiness occupational therapy can help children, and it is important because:

  • There is only one chance to get it right and have your child enter school easily and successfully. This is the time to build a positive attitude towards school.
  • Performing and completing routine and new tasks are challenging aspects of schooling. Doing this at therapy or home can build better readiness.
  • Therapy can focus on developing specific deficit areas that children have before they become big hurdles during schooling.
  • Coming up with innovative and fun ways to tackle difficult areas where the child lacks the skill for school success can greatly reduce stress in the following years.
  • Learning how to follow instructions and maintaining focus on the task at hand can be learnt at therapy which would ease the transition from kindergarten to school.
  • Therapy can help children socialise in comfortable settings so they can build the essential social skills needed to be a happy member of the class. It will also help them be liked among their peers and improve their overall success.

School readiness is an important parameter by which you can assess whether or not your child is ready for school. Be it school readiness for infants and toddlers or older children in preschool, starting early is the key to success in school readiness. For those who find it extra difficult to accomplish, therapeutic intervention is recommended to help the child develop essential skills.

Also Read:

Significance of Parental Involvement at School
Effective Ways to Help Your Kid Succeed in School
Wishes & Messages for First Day of School