How to transition your child from childcare to school

The transition from early learning environments to 'big school' can be challenging, both on children and adults. The professionals that care for and educate your child (if they are in formal preschool or child care) are a great resource to get feedback on school readiness.

What age does a child go to school?

This differs depending on what state your child is going to school. Each state has a different age requirement for starting school, they can be between four and six years old. Each state also has different terminology when referring to the first stage of school such as prep, kindergarten, or foundation.

It is best to refer to the governing board of education in your state for compulsory school starting ages.

Tasmania

Western Australia

ACT

Victoria

South Australia

Queensland

New South Wales

Northern Territory

Is my child ready for school?

This can be such a challenging decision for parents. There are so many factors to consider apart from the compulsory starting age. Usually parents can get caught up focussing on their child’s academic abilities but it’s also important to consider your child’s social and emotional development.

If your child attends an early childhood service seek their input. Your child’s early childhood educator should be able to give you an insight to your child’s learning, development and behaviour while they are at the centre. Ask for a meeting and find out if the centre is holding any information sessions related to school readiness or transition to school during the year.

There is a lot of readily accessible information online that can help guide your decision making, but the amount of information available can also make the whole decision-making process overwhelming. I suggest that you start with your states board of education website.

Try not to make a concrete decision too early in the year. Children develop rapidly during their 4th and 5th year. Start your research early and begin to observe your child’s learning and development, their areas of interest and think about the experiences where they don’t seem to enjoy or spend much of their time. Begin to encourage your child to practice and spend time doing the things that they are not naturally attracted to. Gauge to see what happens when your child is invited to participate in something that they did not initiate. If your child finds it impossible to focus on experiences that they are not interested in even for short periods of time this can give you a good indication that they are more suited to self-directed learning for now.

Things to consider about school readiness

School readiness is a big concept. School readiness is not something that starts the year prior to starting school wither can it be packaged-up as a program. School readiness starts at birth and at home. I think it is best to think about school readiness in terms of the most key areas of development that your child needs to be school ready. At the end of the day we want our child to thrive at school not just be able to cope.

  • Children will always have strengths in some areas of development while other areas may require more support, just as adults aren’t usually good at everything.
  • Consider the school environment and the type of skills and abilities that are needed. Think about the type of behaviour that is expected. School readiness spans across all areas of development. Think about your child’s academic skills as well as their social, emotional and physical skills.
  • Children will not always get the one on one support they need immediately from the teacher and will usually need to wait until the teacher can get around to assist them. How will your child respond to waiting for their turn?
  • Class room sizes will vary but you can almost guarantee that there will be at least 20 or more children in the class. School sizes also vary as well as the school programs. Some schools have a designated outdoor space devoted to the first-year school children. Other schools require all the primary school children to mix during recess and lunch breaks. How will your child respond to being in a playground with very large numbers of children mostly older than them? Will they be able to seek out a teacher for help if they need it?
  • Your child’s self-esteem, self-worth and self-concept will play a crucial role in school readiness. If your child feels good about themselves and has a healthy self-esteem they are more likely to put themselves forward in a situation even if they are a little anxious or unsure. They are more likely to ‘give it a go’ and take risks. They will be more confident to try new things and will be okay if they make a mistake and get it wrong, they will dust themselves off and try again.

A beautiful story of a child I taught in a long day care centre. His name was Scott. Scott’s parents were unsure of whether Scott should start school. His age allowed his parents to choose whether Scott would start school the following year or continue at the early learning centre for an additional year. The parents were torn. Eventually they decided to wait for another year before starting school. One of the reasons they decided to wait was because Scott would often cling to his parent in the morning and not want to say goodbye. Once Scott was settled in his day at the centre he was very happy, very engaged, intelligent, and cooperative. He spent the following year playing, learning and growing. He was one of the oldest at the centre. I will never forget when Scott started school. His father brought Scott back to the early learning centre for a visit. Scott looked proud and happy. Scott’s father told me that they were very happy about the decision to wait for another year before starting Scott at school. His dad went on to tell me about Scott’s first day. Scott and his parents arrived at school. Instantly Scott saw some year 6 boys playing cricket in the school yard. Without a word Scott let go of his father’s hand and walked straight over the boys and asked if he could join in with their game of cricket, and the boys let him. Scott’s father explained to me that there was no way that this would have happened the year before. The previous year had done wonders for Scott’s self-esteem and confidence and Scott’s father believed that Scott would of ‘coped okay’ if he had of gone to school the year earlier but now he had a better chance of thriving was going to thriving because he had that additional year to develop.

Some practical things to look for and to work on with your child leading up to school

  • Holding a range of writing and drawing materials such as a pencil, crayon, texta, pen
  • Being able to look after their belongings
  • Recognising their name and some other letters in the alphabet
  • Counting to 20 and can counting at least 5 individual items with one to one correspondence
  • Listening to a story and recalling some of the story line afterwards
  • Following 2 or 3 step directions without assistance
  • Dressing themselves, toileting independently and washing their own hands
  • Recognising and naming colours
  • Being able to turn pages in a book
  • Understanding that written words have meanings
  • Plays cooperatively with other children, can share and take turns (not always but has shown they are able)
  • Is curious about the world around them
  • Uses imaginative play
  • Can solve some basic problems without help
  • Able to see patterns in things
  • Can differentiate in opposites such as day & night, big & small, under & over
  • Can run, jump, hop, climb, and balance

Preparation for school

  • Remember your child will need to comply with the vaccination requirements for starting school.
  • It is an appropriate time to check your child’s health such as hearing and eye sight.
  • Think about your child’s sleeping patterns and make some adjustments if necessary so your child gets enough sleep during the night and can wake up, get ready and sustain their energy throughout the day.
  • Consider school lunches. Look for lunch box ideas that comply with the school food guidelines.
  • Collect and gather the resources that your child will need like school bag, lunch box, drink bottle, uniform etc.
  • Include your child in the preparation stages. It can be an uncomplicated way to continue the conversation about starting school and help you to identify if there are any anxieties.
  • Go on visits to the school even if it is just walking around the outskirts or driving past. Maybe coincide a visit at the beginning of the school day and at the end so your child can see the human activity as well as the physical environment.

How will you feel on your child’s first day?

Starting school is a big step for your child and for you. Prepare yourself, organise your routine and be sure to give yourself time to adjust. Hopefully you are feeling confident with all your decisions around starting school and you can assure your child. It’s also okay to let your child know that you are nervous for them and for yourself, just try to keep the messages positive. If possible have a reliable and understanding friend or relative that you can phone to off load your thoughts and feelings especially on the morning of the very first day.