Importance of School Readiness - Helen Newton

Full article from the Term 4 2007 Newsletter

Why is School Readiness So Important?

Each child is unique, with an individual set of characteristics, and an individual developmental pattern which is influenced by both genetic and environmental conditions. Developmental milestones in all areas of development (physical, cognitive, language, social and emotional) are attained at different rates and times for each child.

The concept of 'school readiness' has concerned early childhood educators at both preschool and primary school levels for several years. Children who have commenced school without developing vital readiness skills, have been identified as 'at risk' for their future academic, social and occupational success.

Kathy Walker (2005), in her book, 'What's the Hurry?' emphasises the importance of allowing today's children sufficient time to mature and develop, and to benefit socially and emotionally from their preschool experiences of life, before starting school.

The Australian Research Alliance for Children and Youth (ARACY) has recently published (February 2007) a research paper on the importance of school readiness. In this document, Dr Estelle Farrar, Dr Sharon Goldfeld, Dr Tim Moore from The Royal Children's Hospital, Murdoch Children's Research Institute, acknowledge that the experiences of early childhood have lifelong implications for our health, well-being, and development, including our ability to become productive, socially and emotionally adjusted members of society. Drs Farrar, Goldfield and Moore also emphasise that gaps in children's functioning and achievement develop early and may be significant by the time they reach school. Children who enter school not yet ready to learn tend to do less well in school, and are more likely to experience social and emotional difficulties throughout their lives.

With the increasing complexity of our world today, and the corresponding increases in the skills needed by young people entering adult society, school readiness has never been more important.

WHEN IS A CHILD READY FOR SCHOOL?

Previously, school readiness was understood in one of two ways: it was either simply assumed on the basis of chronological age, and children were admitted into school when they reached the designated age; or it was thought of in terms of specific skills and competencies that could be measured and assessed against established norms and standards.

More recently, however, a rethinking of what constitutes school readiness has occurred in the context of our increasing understanding of the importance of the development of the whole child, and the formative influences of the early years of childhood. Overall, current research highlights the importance of considering all aspects of a child's development when considering 'school readiness'. It is essential to provide support, experiences and effective early intervention strategies, where necessary, to optimise a child's development - well before a child approaches school entry.

DEVELOPMENTAL DOMAINS OF SCHOOL READINESS

The concept of 'school readiness' also encompasses an understanding of the developmental 'domains' considered relevant to a child's readiness to manage the complex demands of a formal school environment. 'School readiness' refers to the physical, socio-emotional, language and cognitive developmental milestones children should ideally have achieved, under optimal circumstances, before they enter school.

Thus, school readiness is not restricted to levels of cognitive development, but is multidimensional, involving physical, social, and emotional development as well as general approaches to learning.

CAN SCHOOL READINESS BE ASSESSED?

Parents and early childhood educators have in-depth knowledge of the children in their care, based on their expertise, their understanding of each individual child's developmental milestones, their environment, and their personal experiences. On occasions, parents, in partnership with the early childhood teacher, form a strong belief that a child is not quite ready for school - that his/her development in one or more of the developmental domains(social/emotional/physical/language/cognitive) has not yet reached sufficient maturity to be able to cope easily with school.

Quite often, the decision is clear - the indicators are strong, and unambiguous - the preschooler would benefit from a further year in a preschool setting. However, there are times when a third opinion may be very helpful, and both parents and early childhood educators seek an external professional opinion to provide an objective viewpoint.

An independent school readiness assessment from a qualified early childhood educator, or child psychologist will include a range of observations and incorporate the latest professional and theoretical understandings about child development. Developmental information from the parents and the preschool teacher is also an important consideration for the external consultant.

What Can Parents Do?

Research indicates that language facility and social and emotional development are the significant factors for on-going successful learning throughout both primary and secondary years. Parents often ask what they should look for in the language, social and emotional domains of school readiness.

In general, children who are ready for school are co-operative with adults and with other children. They show self control in most situations, follow the rules of their home and preschool, and can use their free time in an acceptable way. They are happy to share their toys and other belongings - and can give in or compromise with their friends when appropriate.

Socially, children who have well developed 'school readiness' show concern for other children, and comfort other children who are upset. They show affection for other children, and like to invite other children to join in their games. In return, they are accepted and liked by their friends.

Social interaction is an important indicator of school readiness. Children who have developed maturity in this area like to play with several different children, but can also work and play independently when required. They make friends easily and are invited by other children to play. They adapt well to different environments, and are able to separate from their parent easily. They can stand up for their rights by using their language skills to negotiate an outcome. They are confident in social situations, and relate well to their teachers and other adults.

Children who are ready for school have well developed language skills. They use words rather than body language to express a feeling or a need, communicate well with their peers, and speak clearly enough to be understood by others. Their vocabulary is well developed, and they use language creatively to describe what they are doing.

Children who are ready for school like to participate in classroom discussions, enjoy singing songs and saying little rhymes. They love to listen to stories, and to look at picture books. They are becoming aware of the link between language and print, and may start to recognise their own name, and some symbols in their environment. They are confident to ask for help from adults when needed, and to seek comfort from an adult when hurt. Parents can provide a range of wonderful experiences and positive reinforcement to help their children develop these skills.

For a number of children, however, a further year of maturity, experience and guidance at preschool may be required to enable their language skills, emotional skills and their social interaction skills to mature and develop sufficiently to allow them to deal with the complex social demands of the school environment. For these children, the benefits of a further preschool year may extend throughout their schooling, and indeed, throughout their lives.

School Readiness Assessments

Kathy Walker and Associates, as qualified preschool teachers with additional qualifications, are available to conduct individual School Readiness Assessments. These assessments may assist parents and teachers in their decision making process as to whether a child could benefit from an additional year in preschool before commencing school.

Helen Newton