By Danielle Galvin
As the end of 2020 nears, many Victorian parents will be readying their child to begin their primary school journey next year.
Early education experts have long discussed a child’s ‘school readiness’ as their ability to transition into a more formal schooling environment.
It’s a change from the unstructured play and familiarity of kindergarten or childcare. But it’s not just about whether they can recite their ABCs, easily write their name or rattle off their numbers.
It’s so much more than just surviving in the classroom.
Your child could be ready academically, but are they ready emotionally?
Do they have the maturity to speak up in class – to ask their teacher a question if they’re lost?
And when there’s limited adult supervision around, can they cope in the playground with new friends and an entirely new dynamic?
Renowned education consultant and expert in the field, Kathy Walker OAM, has authored numerous books on the issue in her long career in early education.
“Essentially, it’s having that developmental maturity particularly in the area of social and emotional,” Ms Walker explained.
“It’s not really about writing and the reading, they get that at school.
“Most principals and prep teachers will tell you – it doesn’t matter how smart a child is – you can pick those emotionally immature ones out immediately.
“It’s not that there’s anything wrong with them – they just need another year for their emotional maturity.”
There are a few things that are beneficial for your child to be able to do before they start school, Ms Walker explains.
There should be minimal separation anxiety when you leave them at kinder, they should be able to choose their own activities without too much guidance from the teacher, they should be able to approach little groups and insert themselves into the play, and more practical things like remembering their kinder bag.
For some parents, it can be confronting when told your child may not be school ready, even if their age permits them start prep the following year.
But it’s important for parents to know that while ‘holding them back’ or ‘repeating’ 4-year-old kinder has negative connotations, it shouldn’t.
“I’ve always described it a bonus year,” Ms Walker said.
“I used to say to parents, think about the school yard.
“You’ve got to feel pretty confident they can fend for themselves there.”
Likewise, she uses the analogy that some babies walk at 10 months, others at 18 months.
“It means their own biological clock kicks in at different times, it’s the same with emotional and social maturity,” she said.
So what does an emotionally immature child look like in a classroom setting?
“A prep teacher would say they often look really young, they still have that baby face,” Ms Walker said.
“And they often appear vague, they can’t follow two or three directions at once, because they are so not coping they are not able to listen and relax.
“They are generally followers rather than leaders.
“You don’t want to send your child off for the next 13 years of schooling hoping that they will just cope.
“You want them to feel really confident and to have as much going for them as possible.”
Kathy Walker’s books include Ready Set Go – School Readiness and Preparation, Parenting, What’s the Hurry, Play Matters and Engagement Matters.