The law is South Africa states that a child can go to school at 5 years old, providing they turn 6 by the end of June in grade one. If you feel your child is not yet ready for school, you are allowed to admit them at an older age – five turning six for grade 0, and six turning seven for grade 1. But it is compulsory for all children to enter school in the year they turn 7.
What makes this decision particularly difficult is that development in the early years is adaptable, with variation within normal development.
School readiness is about the intellectual, social and emotional maturity levels of your child, which are influenced by many factors; her ability to concentrate, his motivation to learn, health and nutrition are determining features, as is the environment in which your child grows up, giving advantages or disadvantages when it comes to school. Most children have developed these skills by the time they finish preschool and are ready to start grade 1.
It is important that your child is mature enough to be receptive to the teaching of reading, writing and numeracy but there are other skills that they need to have in place to be successful in grade one.
Following are some of the different skills your child needs to have established as well as suggestions to help a child develop these abilities;
Language: Sing songs, tell stories, make up stories together, encourage your child to talk about himself and how he feels
Pre-reading: read to and with your child, encourage them to talk about pictures in books and ask them to predict what will come next in the story, play “I spy”
Cognitive: talk about different concepts - size, shape, weight, colour, quantity - build jigsaw puzzles, encourage them to ask questions, ask questions like: birds fly, fish …? What can we eat/ride on? You see with your…?, create patterns and your child must add the next in the sequence - use numbers, shapes, letters, colours, etc., limit TV time
Organisation: give chores, they should help around the house, tidy up after themselves, have a routine in place
Numeracy: Count, separate blocks into different coloured piles or different size piles
Social skills: use please and thank you, take it in turns doing things, arrange social activities with other children, tell stories so they learn to sit, listen and pay attention
Physical: games involving different ways of moving – hopping, crawling, rolling, etc., give sequences of movements for them to copy, jungle gyms, trampolines, hopscotch, construction toys, plastic bottles and jars with lids to screw on and off
Emotional: teach them to ask for help, encourage them to work independently, give suggestions not commands, encourage them to make friends, teach them to make choices and learn from the consequences of those choices
Sometimes a school readiness assessment is required in order to get a comprehensive, independent evaluation of your child’s readiness to start school. These assessments are fairly similar between practitioner and will all include a cognitive or IQ component as well as a comprehensive developmental assessment that looks at the child’s level of skill and ability in comparison to expectations for their age and grade. The assessment includes a multitude of different tasks that your child has to complete, as well as questionnaires (for parent, child and teacher) and observations.
To break this down further, the cognitive task considers your child’s attention, memory, problem solving, reasoning and verbal skills and will provide an indication of your child’s fluid intelligence, verbal and non-verbal IQ, as well as processing speed and working memory ability.
Additional elements would include asking your child to draw a person or perhaps draw their family, to cut out shapes, to colour in, to count, to identify basic concepts such as their full name, date of birth, address and school details. A practical component of the assessment would look at your child’s balance, muscle tone, ability to cross the physical midline, as well as the way in which they hold their pencil.
Visual tracking, auditory memory, story sequencing, identification of facial expressions, knowledge of the days of the week, months of the year, position in space, the difference between left and right, speech and language skills and the ability to throw and catch a ball or bean bag may also be components of the school readiness assessment.
Finally, there would be consideration of your child’s ability to manage their behaviour, to separate from their caregiver, to follow instructions and participate as expected, in addition to which, their level of participation, cooperation and perseverance would all be taken into consideration.
While this sounds like an awful lot of information, most children have developed these skills by the time they finish preschool and are ready to start grade 1. Assessments are conducted in a comfortable environment so children do not feel under stress but they’re also being monitored to see how they cope with the more formal learning environment that is seen from grade 1 upwards.