When to begin school? Readiness is the key

The journey of education begins before birth and continues throughout life. Deciding when a child is ready to begin the schooling journey is an important and personal decision for parents and carers. Aurora invited the principal of St John the Baptist Primary Maitland, Mandy Sanderson, to offer some tips to assist with this important decision. Catholic schools in the Diocese of Maitland-Newcastle are now open for enrolments for the 2014 school year.

When to begin school? Readiness is the key

When I chat to parents about their child’s readiness for school I often hear, “But they’ll be fine!” Actually, we as teachers don’t want them to be fine, we want them to flourish in the school environment, we want to give them the best possible introduction to their school lives. Significantly, that means starting them when they are ready for the challenges they will face.


My thoughts on school readiness come from many years of experience as a Kindergarten teacher and a principal. There is no text book answer but these simple and practical questions may help you to make the right decision for your child.

  • Is your child equipped to cope with the physical challenge of kindergarten? Spending six hours a day at school is physically exhausting for a little child; they have to sit, listen, interact, concentrate, play, follow a schedule for eating and toileting, all without rest time or a parent to help them manage.
  • How well does your child interact and socialise with adults and children? Kindergarten is a huge year in which children’s social abilities develop markedly. Their social skills base is critical to school readiness. They are familiar with relating to their family group; imagine how much more complex it’s going to be when their ‘group’ becomes a class of 30 children, a teacher, perhaps class assistants and other school staff.
  • Does your child have the words to articulate a problem, ask for help or tell someone how they feel? Teachers are very adept at deciphering a child’s needs and helping them but it’s problematic to assist an upset child if he or she can’t adequately express the difficulty.
  • Can your child recognise the written form of his or her name? It isn’t imperative that they can actually write their name but it is important that they can identify their own schoolbag, lunchbox, workbooks and especially their hat because that will go missing on a regular basis!
  • How comfortable is your child being separated from Mum or Dad? If they are not used to having periods away from their regular carer, a six hour separation, five days a week, is a major shock and can be genuinely traumatic for a 5 year old. Experience with separation is essential. Mums and Dads, a question for you: are you ready to be separated from your child? Now that’s a hard one!
  • Is your child able to manage his or her personal hygiene? Teachers will nurture your child and look after their personal needs by showing them how to use the school toilets, where to wash their hands, how to use bubblers, what to do if they feel sick and need the sick bay (or Sick City as we call it at my school!), but Kinders must be able to toilet themselves without assistance. It’s also great when they know how to blow their nose properly, use a tissue and wash their face and hands if they are messy after eating.
  • Is your child ready to be one of a group of 30 and share the attention of one teacher? This is so hard for littlies when they have been accustomed only to sharing Mum and Dad, or perhaps another regular carer, with one or two siblings; now there are all these other children who really want to be the centre of the adult’s attention and there’s only one of them to look after everybody! Are they able to take turns, negotiate in a game rather than respond aggressively if things don’t go their way, share toys, take their turn ‘out’, do they have to be the winner?
  • How able is your child to sit still for periods of time? Being able to settle to a task, listen to a story, listen to and follow instructions, concentrate without being distracted easily are all attributes that will place pre-schoolers in good stead for their arrival at school.
  • How independent is your child with routines? Getting used to the school routine with morning tea and lunch procedures can be a stress or a thrill for little children! They need to be familiar with taking lids off containers, undoing wrappers, peeling their banana…all these things we automatically do for our children yet they should have some proficiency with these tasks when they get to school.
  • Is your child excited about learning and going to ‘big school’? Does he or she enjoy being read to, are they interested in what signs say, do they constantly ask questions, do they always ask ‘why?’, are your answers never quite enough and so they have another question? All these are promising signs.

There are so many things for parents to think about and when to begin school is such an important decision. Parents want only the best for their children and by giving deep thought to the question of school readiness, you will make the decision that’s right for your child. Talk to your preschool, talk to your enrolling school but most importantly, listen to your own instinct because you know your child better than anybody else. If in doubt, be cautious and know that another year at home might be just what they need.


Considering these questions now gives parents and carers plenty of time to develop skills and confidence in children who may begin Kindergarten in 2014.


Remember: age is a number; readiness is the key.


All the best with your decision-making.


To learn more about enrolling your child in a Catholic school, please visit www.mn.catholic.edu.au/parents-community/how-to-enrol

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