The first year of primary school can be both an exciting and anxious time for young students and their parents.
Of course, for parents, there’s the choice of which school to send their children to. But there’s another important consideration: whether or not your child is ready for school.
In Victoria, children are eligible to start school in the year in which they will be five on April 30. They must have started by the year in which they will be six on the same date. This means there can be an age difference of 16 months between the youngest and oldest in any class.
- Related: Moving in the middle years: starting secondary school
- Related: School open days: the questions every parent should ask
- Related: Curriculum to career: VCE, IB, VCAL or VET?
Experts say school readiness is about more than a child’s academic skills. Associate Professor Kay Margetts, from the University of Melbourne’s graduate school of education, says a child’s readiness for school is linked to their social, emotional, physical and cognitive development.
“Children’s adjustment to school is supported when they are adaptable and co-operative and have some basic understanding of letters of the alphabet and numbers,” Kay says.
She says there are plenty of signs to help parents decide whether their children will be able to cope with school life.
Kay says children are ready for school when they:
- are sociable and join groups;
- can initiate conversations;
- can include others;
- have self-control and can resist temptations;
- will share and take turns;
- are confident to try new things and cope with new situations;
- are able to deal with challenges, disappointments and conflict.
Claire Vellios, director and educator at Malin Friends Nursery and Kindergartens in Melbourne, agrees. She says kindergarten teachers focus on physical, social, emotional, communication and cognitive skills to prepare children for school.
“Prep and school is a much bigger physical environment [than kindergarten],” Claire says. “There are many more people, and people that are initially unknown to children.”
Children have to be able to manage themselves within this new space. They should also be able to resolve problems or difficulties, such as knowing how to find a teacher to ask for help. “By having developed these skills, children have the confidence to tackle new and unknown situations and hopefully manage these with minimal stress,” Claire says.
While social and emotional skills are important, getting to know their new surroundings is also a vital part of adjusting to school for young students. Claire says children should visit their new school as many times as possible before they start.
“Parents can help their children by making extra visits such as walking past the school on the weekend, looking at the grounds and talking about the transition in a positive and exciting way,” she says. “Most children will be very happy and excited to be starting prep and proud of this transition from kindergarten.
“Parents and teachers can be available to talk about any concerns, feelings or difficulties the children might have and give the children strategies and further information to help the transition be as smooth as possible.”
When deciding whether or not a child should start school, experts advise parents to look at the big picture. That includes not only considering their child’s social and emotional skills but also their interest in school and learning, as well as their age.
“We need to remember that each child is unique and it is sometimes difficult to predict how they might respond to school,” Kay says.