How to know if your child is school-ready

Published on Wednesday, 06 November 2019
Last updated on Tuesday, 31 December 2019

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In this country, most children start school when they're five and every child must attend a school or kura by the time they turn six.

This leaves some wriggle room, and while one child might be ready to embrace new challenges in the school setting, another will benefit from a bit more time at their early childhood education (ECE) service or kohanga reo.

Here, we look at some of the things you can consider when deciding whether to enrol your five-year-old in big school or wait a little longer.

What skills and behaviours are helpful at school?

Every child is different, with their own personality traits and abilities, but there are certain skills and behaviours that will help them focus, learn, and navigate the next step in their education.

School involves long days in class and increased autonomy, so when you're weighing up your child's readiness, think about:

  • Emotional maturity - can they follow simple instructions, mostly control their impulses (like interrupting others or getting angry), pay attention and sit on a chair for a short time to finish an activity?
  • Level of independence - are they comfortable being away from you and can they look after their belongings?
  • Social skills - can they cooperate with others?
  • Cognitive skills - do they know the names of colours, the letters of the alphabet and the numbers one to nine? Do they know how to take turns and wait for things?
  • Physical coordination - can they hold a pencil properly, use scissors, write their name, hold a picture book and turn the pages carefully?
  • Language skills - can they listen to adults, understand stories and communicate their needs?

The above skills and behaviours may make it easier for your child to participate in class, and practically-speaking, the Ministry of Education says it's helpful for your child to be able to do these six things when they start at school or kura:

  1. Do up their shoes
  2. Put on and take off their coat
  3. Go to the toilet and wash their hands
  4. Blow their nose
  5. Unpack and hang up their bag where they are told
  6. Recognise when they're thirsty and get a drink of water
  7. Ask for things they need

Who can provide advice about your child’s school readiness?

Each child develops at their own pace, with some things coming easier than others. For example, a child might be reading words independently, but still struggling to spend time away from Mummy.

If you're not sure how your child is tracking and don't know whether to enrol them now or wait till they turn six, then the best thing is to seek advice from your ECE service or kohanga reo, as well as from your child's proposed school.

Educators understand the skills and behaviours that are helpful at school, and if you do decide to keep your child in ECE until they celebrate their sixth birthday, then they'll play a key role in preparing your child for the transition.

How can you help your child prepare for school?

Whether they're starting very soon or in a little while, there are many ways to prepare your little one for this transition.

To help your child feel ready for class and positive about the experience, it's important to:

  • Promote their independence and practice life skills
    This means encouraging your child to do more things by themselves, like going to the toilet, washing their hands, opening their lunch box or putting on their own shoes; and also organising days at child care and short visits to relatives or friends without you.
  • Nurture their learning and development
    There are physical, cognitive, social and emotional aspects to big school, so think about all the skills and behaviours that will help your youngster when school starts and ask educators for ways to extend their learning and development at home.

    You can practice your child's pencil-grip and scissor-handling, teach them basic number and letter skills, promote listening skills through book-reading, and model good social behaviours (like turn-taking and patience).
  • Build familiarity
    Forewarned is forearmed, so teach your child what to expect by reading books about starting school, talking about what happens at school and responding to any questions or concerns they might have.
  • Visit their future school or kura
    To help your child get ready for their first day, take part in any transition-to-school programs offered by your child's ECE service or kohanga reo, tour the school with your child and meet their future principal and teacher.

    The Ministry of Education says, 'When teachers know children well, they are better able to support their learning,' so share information about your child's special needs, interests, strengths, challenges, feelings and home life with their new teacher.

    You can also arrange play dates with other children who are starting at the same school or kura, so that your child sees some familiar faces when they start.
  • Plan the practical side of things
    To make sure their first day is a smooth and stress-free experience, purchase your child's school supplies and any uniform ahead of time, then label anything that needs to be labelled (e.g. their hat, bag, lunch box, water bottle and stationery). Think about what they'll need to be comfortable (e.g. sunscreen in summer or back-up clothing in the case of a toileting accident).

    Do a 'dry school run' too, practising how your child will get ready in the morning (including a healthy breakfast) and how they'll travel to and from school, allowing plenty of time.
  • Organise Out of School Care and Recreation (OSCAR)
    If you're working nine to five, or just not able to do every school drop off and pick up, then before and after school care is a great way to fill in the gaps.

    You can read more about OSCAR here and now is the time to contact your OSCAR service and enrol your child in writing for next year. Demand can be high and if you're not sure which service to approach, your child's future school will be able to point you in the right direction.

All in all, the move to primary education represents an exciting change in your young child’s life, and whether they're keen or cautious, you can help them prepare for the challenges and seize the opportunities that lie ahead. Get ready, get set and go!


Ministry of Education: Moving on to school
Ministry of Education: Enrolling and starting your child at school

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