“My son is born a couple of months prior to the cut off date for them to start school. I think I will give them a second year at kindy”. As a school principal I have heard these comments many times in my 20+ year career as a primary school principal. It has prompted me to analyse the various factors that may contribute to parents and educators what are the factors that may determine how we should decide if a child is ready to start school. Are age and gender enough to determine if a child is ready to start school? I think NOT! There is a general belief that young boys should have a second year of kindergarten to assist them to be more ready for school. Age and gender are not enough to make that determination. There is no one perfect process to determine a child’s readiness to start school.
At the outset let me live on the edge by making some assumptions.
Assumption one: Both parents and educators want what is best for the children.
Assumption two: Parents know their children in the home and social setting.
Assumption three: Parents are the first educators of their children.
Assumption four: Educators have the training and knowledge to formally teach children.
Assumption five: Early childhood educators prepare children to start school.
For a child to be successful in their first year at school, ideally they will come to school with an age-appropriate level of skills in communication, socialisation and independence. Does being a young boy preclude a child from being ready to start school? Or are there other factors that may influence a child’s readiness to start school. I have met some mature four year old boys who appear ready for school. I have also met some immature five year old girls who have struggled when they have started school. Age and gender are only a couple of factors that parents and educators must consider when determining if a child is ready to start school.
[If determining what is the best age for a child to start school was easy, then there would be a consistent age and criteria for parents and educators to follow. In Australia each state determines what age a child must be to start school. And they are different. Coupled with that is the issue of early entry into school. Again, the states determine if a child can start school early, according to their own criteria (That’s a topic for another occasion). As a country with Australia’s population and governance structures can’t agree on when children should start school, there will be more opinions from overseas countries. With our world being more accessible (pre and hopefully post pandemic) a percentage of families have their children educated in more than one state and occasionally more than one country.]
Factors that may influence a child’s communication, socialisation and independence include experiences that their parents/ carers provide and experiences that their kindergarten/ pre-school/ daycare educators provide. Further factors include the family background from which a child may come.
Communication for a four or five year old child is the ability to express themselves, mainly through oral speech, to get their needs known (expressive language). Communication includes the ability to follow instructions, comprehend (receptive language). Speech and language skills are also a part of the communication skills. Being exposed to letters, words, stories, literature are key to a child’s development. And the parents and carers are the first educators in ‘teaching’ children these initial skills.
Socialisation for a four or five year old child is the ability is mix with their peers, and to practise behaviours that promote social engagement with children and adults in an age-appropriate way. Practices include sharing, waiting, taking turns, joining groups, making friends; all important skills for engaging at school and being ready to attend to learning; and being successful.
Independence skills for a four or five year old child include the ability to manage themselves with life-skills at an age-appropriate level. These life skills may include dressing and feeding themselves, looking after their belongings, recognising their name, carrying their school bag.
There are many conditions that provide children with the experiences to have them prepared for school. It is these conditions that must be considered when determining if a child is ready to start school.
If a child has been at daycare since they were a few months old, they will have had a variety of experiences that children who have never been to an early childhood setting may have had in their early years. The opportunity to share, wait, take turns, make friends, join groups, are available at social settings such daycare or kindergartens. Maybe parents who don’t send their children to daycare provide social experiences in other settings. Parents who provide social experiences for their children, opportunities to meet and play and engage with children their own age are important.
Children who have siblings may have been exposed to experiences at home that an only child may not have experienced. Eldest children, youngest children and middle children may all be exposed to unique experiences. Being the eldest child in a family, with a few younger siblings, may see the eldest child be more independent as their parents are busy with the younger siblings. Conversely being the eldest child may mean the child isn’t given the time and exposure to literacy if the parents are too busy with the younger children.
Being an only child may mean the parents have more time to spend with their child, giving them the foundational skills necessary for school. Living in an adult world for a child may mean greater exposure to language and communication. It may mean less exposure to social environments with their peers.
Children with parents who both work may have different experiences from children who have one or both parents at home for the majority of each week.
Children whose parents believe in negotiating with their children and giving the child autonomy for their decisions, at the age of four or five, will influence how a child copes with the structure of a school. School is a setting where rules are designed to keep all students safe, and designed to be followed by all students, with minimal debate and minimal negotiation.
Children who have early childhood carers/ teachers at daycare or kindergarten that provide experiences in communication, socialisation, independence skills along with exposure to literacy and numeracy foundations will influence a child’s readiness for school.
Children who have parents that value literacy and numeracy, language and communication development will give their children opportunities that give them the foundations for the building blocks for learning.
The genetic make-up of a child may also have an influence on a child’s readiness. The great debate about nature (genetics) versus nurture (upbringing) is relevant when determining a child’s readiness for school.
Then there is the cultural background of a child that may influence their experiences, relevant to giving them the foundational skills for school. Some cultures have different beliefs about early childhood education; or how parents should ‘raise’ their children. This may influence the child’s exposure to language in their native tongue or in the language in which they will be taught.
Transition and Orientation programs also influence a child’s readiness for school. Some schools are introducing School Readiness programs to ensure that children, and parents, are as ready as possible to start school. Such programs are designed to give children a brief experience of Prep and give the school staff the opportunity to make observations of the children.
There are transition statements from kindergarten that give the primary school staff and parents some indication as to the child’s readiness for school. Primary school staff are encouraged to discuss each child with the feeder kindergarten staff, as they have worked with the children in an educational setting.
What this indicates is that there are numerous factors that influence a child’s grounding in communication, socialisation and independence, the factors necessary to support success for children in starting school.
There are many factors that determine a child’s readiness for school. Age and gender are only two factors. When a boy is born in one of the months before the cut off date for enrolment at school, parents and educators need to consider many factors to determine readiness. Generalising that boys should have a second year of kindergarten or pre-school or daycare based purely on age and gender, may be doing the child a disservice. Parents and educators need to make informed decisions.
Written by Andrew Oberthur from Creative Collaborative Solutions – Executive Coach/ Educator / Author/ Speaker