School Readiness: It’s not about reading and writing

Last week I shared the responses of Australian kindergarten teachers when asked about school readiness (in preparation for the year before Grade One). Today I would like to share some thoughts and ideas about the need for school readiness to focus on five important areas of development, and believe it or not they do not include reading or writing! This information combines my own experiences as a teacher of children from 2 through to 8 years of age and the research findings of Sue Dockett and Bob Perry of the Starting School Project (University of Western Sydney).

The five areas are;

  • Social competence
  • Emotional adjustment
  • Physical Health
  • Cognitive skills
  • Language and communication skills


“Surviving at school is about more than the classroom! It is about surviving in the playground too. A child who is having difficulties coping socially can find it hard to concentrate on schoolwork.”

Individual attributes of children who find it easiest to transition to a school environment;

  • Are positive
  • Not excessively dependent upon adults
  • Cope with rebuffs
  • Have capacity to empathise
  • Have one or two positive relationships with same-aged peers already
  • Display a capacity for humour
  • Do not appear to be lonely

Social skills of children who find it easiest to transition to a school environment;

  • Approach others positively
  • Are able to give clear reasons for their actions
  • Assert themselves appropriately
  • Are not easily intimidated
  • Can enter a group successfully
  • Express frustration or anger without escalating disagreements or harming others
  • Can enter discussions
  • Take turns
  • Show interest in others
  • Negotiate compromises
  • Do not draw inappropriate attention to self
  • Demonstrate independence

What can I do to help prepare my child in this area?

  • Consider, “Is my child independent?” and, “Do I provide my child with enough opportunities to demonstrate independence?” If the answer is no, now is the time for you to practise taking a little step back by creating opportunities for your child to be responsible for certain tasks and allowing them the time to complete them independently. Tasks like setting the table, collecting the mail, pairing the socks, putting away toys are all achieveable chores that your child can be responsible for.
  • Friends are very important to children and providing opportunities for children to get to know others who will be attending the same school can help them feel less worried or scared about school. Make it a priority to participate in orientation sessions conducted by your child’s school so that your child has the opportunity to meet the children he/she will be spending time with.
  • Organise play dates for your child with one or two children who will be attending the same school so that your child can feel more secure in already having made ‘friends.’
  • Consider, “Do I speak for my child or do I give them time to speak?” When other’s (especially adults) converse with your child, do not interrupt but give him/her the time and space to answer for themselves.
  • Consider, “Do I fight their battles for them with other children?” As once at school, the playground environment is less supported by adults than child care or preschool, children with the skills necessary to be able to negotiate conflict and/or displeasure independently are more confident in this new social environment. Now is the time to be supporting your child and modeling to them how to solve problems ‘with words’ when they are playing with other children.


Individual attributes of children who find it easiest to transition to a school environment;

  • Do not experience anxiety when separating from parents
  • Generally do as adults ask
  • Follow instructions
  • Can cope with minimal adult supervision
  • Have demonstrated willingness to attend preschool/child care

“It is vitally important that all children begin their school life on a positive note, feeling that they can achieve what is expected of them”

What can I do to help prepare my child in this area?

  • If your child is not used to being without you, soften their dependency with some time spent alone at Nan’s, a cousin’s or friend’s house.
  • Check your own level of anxiety about separating from your child. Research shows that 60 per cent of the separation problems that children experience are caught from their parents. How you respond to the situation will be picked up on by your child. Modelling confidence about handling new situations is important to their lifelong learning.
  • Children will be less fearful if they know what to expect. Talk in positive ways with your child about – what he/she will be doing during the day, the teachers, the other children, what he/she is going to take with him/her to the Centre. Go with them to buy a new backpack, make it an exciting change rather than a scary one.
  • Once school commences, start the day calmly, enjoy breakfast together, ensure that everything that your child needs is packed into their bag. Be organised so that everyone is calm and no one is feeling rushed or panicked.


Individual attributes of children who find it easiest to transition to a school environment;

  • Are physically healthy
  • Are well rested
  • Are well nourished
  • Are relatively independent with toileting, dressing, putting on shoes
  • Can independently unwrap/open lunch and drink containers and wrappings

What can I do to help prepare my child in this area?

  • Consider, “Do we have a predictable bedtime routine?” and “Is my child going to bed at a regular, reasonable time?” It is important that children who attend school are well rested. The requirement to sit still for longer periods and concentrate and the move away from a daytime rest or quiet time can be quite exhausting.
  • If your child does not dress him/herself, you still have nearly two months to practise. Being able to put on their own jackets, jumpers, shoes and socks are really essential to starting school.
  • You might need to consider some Advanced Toilet Training if you child cannot independently wipe his/her own bottom after a bowel movement.
  • Have fun with ‘lunchbox lunches’ in preparation for ‘big school.’ Teach your child what is for recess of ‘little lunch’ and what is for lunchtime. Give them plenty of opportunity to practise opening the containers, drink bottles and packets you will send them to school with.

COGNITIVE (Thinking and Reasoning)

Individual attributes of children who find it easiest to transition to a school environment;

  • Intellectually inquisitive
  • Able to use language to communicate thoughts
  • Recognises own name

What can I do to help prepare my child in this area?

  • Support your child’s interests. For example, if your child is interested in motorbikes, take them to the library to find books about motorbikes or to the newsagent to find a magazine to buy, build ramps with blocks and planks to allow them to experiment with movement, etc. Nurture their inquisitiveness.
  • If your child does not yet recognise their own name, make some simple fun resources to encourage familiarisation with it. In my post, Short Term Memory Games, I included some ideas for children learning sight words, these would work just as well for recognising names.


Individual attributes of children who find it easiest to transition to a school environment;

  • The ability to communicate effectively with teachers and peers
  • Ability to understand and follow instructions
  • Ability to communicate needs and thoughts

“It has been found that intellectually inquisitive children, who are able to use language to communicate, adapt more quickly to school.”

(Watson 2003)

What can I do to help prepare my child in this area?

  • Take time to listen, giving your child time to speak.
  • Take an interest in what they are doing and encourage conversation.
  • Play with your child and let them take the lead, play like you do not understand and encourage them to explain their thoughts to you.


  1. 'The playground' on a couple of occasions I watched out of sight, checking out my little 5 year old. She wasn't coping and it broke my heart. I chose to homeschool her (and my others for many reasons but this was one)and now after two years of home education I can see she has developed playground coping skills and I'm sure she would cope at school when I choose to return my children to conventional education.

  2. This was such a helpful post to read. Thanks for sharing this information!!

    I just got Cole and Bella's 1st report card from kindergarten and I was pleased to read that they're both doing well. I was worried since they are the youngest in the class (their b-day is in Oct and the cut-off for school is Dec) but the teacher says they're fitting in well on all levels, especially socially. Whew!

  3. miss carly says:

    im a huge fan of dockett + perry – they write a lot of articles that i have referenced over the years at uni.

    katey de gioia + fay hadley {who were my tutors the semester just gone} wrote a piece on something similar to this {if memory serves} il try and find it for you.

  4. Green Mama says:

    Fantastic post, thank you. My number 1 cherub will be starting kinder next year and has never been left with anyone she doesn't know. I think she'll be fine, but Mama? Maybe not so fine… Will be having a champers for morning tea that day!

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