When Is Your Child 'School-ready'?

When Is Your Child 'School Ready'?

CLAIRE TONKS 31.07.2014 12 MINS

With Sir Michael Wilshaw calling for new ‘minimum requirements’ to be introduced for all under-fives to make sure they are ready for school, we asked our KI Mums Board what they feel the key ‘readiness’ indicators are and what they are doing to actively prepare their child. These are the top three things they feel their child needs to be capable of:

1) Fully Toilet Trained


All the mothers mentioned being ‘toilet trained’ as the most important requirement prior to starting school. Although all children in the sample were out of nappies, some concern was shown regarding the extent to which their children were capable of keeping themselves clean and dry throughout the day. Many mothers took responsibility for wiping their child and prompting trips to the toilet whilst at home, and were anxious about the extent to which their child would cope independently:

“They don’t have that sense of embarrassment yet, but they will soon. You don’t want them having accidents at school” (Amber)

“A child I used to look after always came home from school really smelly because he wasn’t wiping his bottom properly” (Susie)

“She still has accidents sometimes, I worry about that…what would happen? Would the teacher sort them out?” (Katherine)

2) Social skills


Evidence suggests that children born in the summer months are not always ready for school and are more likely to face social and emotional challenges. The fact is that some children in their class will be nearly a year older than them. Mums with the younger children expressed increased concern about the extent to which their children were ready for a school environment and the potential impact on relationship building with peers:

“She’s July, so she’s 10mths younger than some of the children. At certain things you wouldn’t know a difference, but certain ways of playing or confidence things I notice…I think she might struggle with making friends” (Katherine)

As children progress through school they become increasingly group orientated, with the groups reflecting most of the problems that exist in all social relationships – inclusion/exclusion, conformity, independence and rejection. A great fear for many parents is peer rejection of their child. Pre-school and play-dates are viewed as crucial preparatory tools for their children. Being one of the eldest in the class or their position within the family structure can also be viewed as advantageous in this respect:

“They are 150% ready [to start school]. Having teenage siblings they are both grown up in their attitudes” (Amber)

“She only missed going last year by 21 days, she’s so ready for it now” (Chris)

3) Independence


All parents feel that their child needs to demonstrate a degree of independence prior to starting school. The ability to do a full day away from parents, put shoes and coat on and go to the toilet independently are perceived as key readiness markers:

“They asked us to practice through the summer to get them to put their shoes on, wipe their own bottoms properly…they said practice” (Harriet)

“It’s a long day for them, he’s absolutely dead by the end of the day [at pre-school]” (Lucy)

“You need to get those Velcro shoes, they need to be able to do their own shoes” (Susie)

What about the EYFS Milestones?

Interestingly none of the mothers spontaneously mentioned ‘ability to write own name’, ‘counting’, ‘alphabet’ or any formal teaching at home in preparation for school. One mother had been given a written list by their pre-school detailing what their child should be capable of. When shared with the others it caused some surprise and alarm! Here’s what our mums had to say…

“I was literally handed this list this morning [from pre-school], I don’t really worry about [my son] because he’s confident and he picks things up when he needs to. But I know a lady from pre-school who is quite nervous and this list will terrify her. Her son doesn’t do most of these things and I don’t know how equipped she will be to teach him these things before September” (Susie)

“Days of the week, months of the year…I’m a bit surprised about that. And pincer grip…” (Michelle)

“Oh god, he’s not doing half of that! But he loves reading, we’re reading Roald Dahl’” (Harriet)

“Surely they don’t have to be able to read or write or anything, that’s what they’re there for!” (Chris)

“Now I’ve read that list, I think I’m going to do a bit more. We shouldn’t have to wait to know these things” (Katherine)

“I think what I’m worried about is that she doesn’t have an interest in learning…I worry that I haven’t done enough and when she gets to school it will really scare her…her attention span is really short and I’ve never really tried to do anything to help with that” (Michelle)

This indicates that provision of a ‘list’ to parents can be very intimidating. It takes no account for the different aptitudes of a child or different rates of learning. Many parents have the view that pre-school is sufficient preparation, so don’t worry about formal teaching or preparation at home. However, it’s clear that preparatory tools that would engage the child themselves whilst informing parents would be well received.

I wish there was something that engaged her so she can get excited rather than a list for the parents. Now I know these things I’m already thinking about how we can do these things together” (Katherine)

“I do quite a lot of Arty and Creative stuff at home…I don’t feel any pressure about what they need to do…I just wish she knew what she needed to know…a more engaging way for children to know this stuff…like a book” (Michelle)

“ What’s the Big Idea on CBeebies is amazing..they pick a different subject each day and talk about different things…I’ve got plenty of those on record now, it’s a genius little show and really educational” (Harriet)

How do you feel about criteria lists being sent out? Is this another catylist in school-gate competitiveness? Does it risk making parents feel that their child isn't as advanced as they should be? Or is this a positive motivational tool for parents and children alike? Tell us what you think.

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