I remember vividly our first son’s first day of school. In true Susie-fashion, we were late! I was so flustered I barely kissed my son goodbye, then sat outside in tears, wondering where that last 10 minutes had gone that had made me late for one of the most important moments of my life… then wondering where the last 5 years had gone, that my baby was now a school boy!
Thankfully, B1 took it in his stride, as always, and wondered in and was immediately at home in his new class. Admittedly, he had only moved next door, as his preschool was attached to the school, and most of his friends moved next door with him. It was a wonderful introduction to school, really, notwithstanding my lateness.
How are you anticipating your child’s start to school next year?
Excitement? (I finally get a few hours to myself in the day!)
Anxiety? (How will he cope? How will I cope?!)
Happiness? (She’s going to love it!)
Hi Ho, hi ho. It’s off to school we go!
Seriously though, let’s discuss school readiness. School readiness is how ready a child is to start school. In Australia, this has been determined to be around age 5. I’m going to focus on 2 key studies into school readiness and draw out some significant conclusions. These studies show that communication skills are crucial to being ready for school. The first Australian study followed children from 8 months to 7 years and reported on language and pre-literacy skills, socioeconomic status and school readiness. The second Australian study involved teachers filling out a questionnaire on what skills they thought were important for children to have on Day 1 of Kindy (AKA Kindergarten/Reception/Transition/Prep, depending on what state you’re from).
#1: Language skills are a strong predictor for school readiness
Language skills include ability to use words and sentences to express oneself and understand others. Children with lower language scores tend to be less school-ready. 5 year olds with language impairment are particularly at risk for low school-readiness. 12% of 5 year olds in the first study had a language impairment.
#2: Pre-literacy skills are a strong predictor for school readiness
Sound awareness (AKA phonemic awareness) is the awareness of sounds in words. Can your child identify the first sound in a word? Can she clap out the syllables in a word? Pre-literacy also includes skills such as identifying her written name, identifying what is a word versus a letter in a book, knowing the alphabet and beginning to match letters with sounds (eg. the sound “a” is made with the letter A). Despite this evidence, the Early Years Framework, I think, sets the bar quite low in terms of explicit teaching of pre-literacy skills.
#3: Kindy teachers want their kids to have a range of skills, including age-appropriate communication skills and some pre-literacy skills
Many kindy teachers want their kids, from the first day of kindy to: know the alphabet, recognise their written name, write their name, share and take turns, play with others, engage with adults and children, speak clearly, express themselves with words and follow instructions. Yes, they also want those other things which preschools focus on, such as toileting, dressing and eating independently and separating from Mum and Dad (to name a few). Those skills are important, but many Kindy teachers would like more.
#4: Children from lower socioeconomic households are more at risk of being not ready for school
Children from lower socioeconomic households in particular, would benefit from explicit teaching in language and pre-literacy skills before starting school. Unfortunately, these are the very people who are unlikely to afford or seek out services such as Speech Pathology. (However, there may be free services and rebates available.)
What to do if you have concerns:
- Discuss your concerns with your child’s preschool teacher. Ask particularly about speech and language development.
- Discuss your concerns with a Speech Pathologist.
- Get some tips on getting ready for school in my post, Is Your Child Ready For School?
Prior, M., Bavin, E., & Ong., B. (2011). Predictors of school readiness in five-to-six-year-old children from an Australian longitudinal community sample. Education Psychology, 31(1), 3-16.
Serry, T., Imms, C., Froude, E., Joffe, B., Heine, C., Merrigan, C. (2014). Preparatory teachers’ perceptions of school readiness: a survey of Victorian teachers. The Australian Educational Researcher. 41: 109-124
DISCLAIMER: This advice is not intended to replace the recommendations of a Speech Pathologist for an individual with a communication impairment. If you have concerns about your child’s speech and language development, please contact a Speech Pathologist.