Shiny shoes, smart uniform, brand new suitcase packed with learning materials, all the outward signs of your child’s readiness for school when the new year begins. But, is he ready to cope with the demands of school and start the formal learning process?

A child’s readiness for school encompasses a range of skills which develop during the critical first five years of his life, long before school starts. He needs to be prepared physically, socially, emotionally, and have good cognitive, language and perceptual abilities, in order to achieve and thrive in the school environment. Readiness is not a static state in the child’s development, but is an ongoing process, which is enhanced by the support and stimulation of the people in the child’s world.

On a physical level, the child should be able to perform a variety of gross motor tasks, such as climbing, skipping and catching a ball, with confidence. His fine motor abilities should include cutting with scissors, drawing and being able to use cutlery while eating. Both gross and fine motor abilities are dependent on hand-eye co-ordination.

The child’s social and emotional development is the foundation for cognitive development. Can he adapt easily to new social situations? Can he complete tasks on his own without constantly seeking adult assistance? How does he interact with others, both adults and children? Is he confident and self-assured? Does he show responsibility? Can he solve problems and cope with emotional situations in a mature manner for his age? A child’s school performance has been found to be closely linked to his emotional maturity.

Cognitive development refers to thinking, problem solving, and knowledge about the way the world works. The best way to develop cognitive skills in your child is to offer him opportunities to interact with and explore the world around him, and to learn to express himself creatively.

School readiness in terms of language proficiency includes both speaking and listening. The child should be able to express himself fluently and meaningfully, and to understand and be able to follow conversations and instructions. Early literacy skills should be beginning, such as recognition of the letters of his name, understanding letter-sound relationships, and remembering the details and sequence of stories.

The domains required for school readiness are separate and distinct, but interact with and reinforce each other, and are the building blocks on which later academic success depends. Vision and visual perception play a key role, and are among the top five most overlooked conditions that contribute to problems with school readiness and learning difficulties. Although many schools have vision-screening programs in place, it is strongly recommended that you have your child examined by your Optometrist. The essential areas that he will look for are:

  • Visual acuity - Vision goes far beyond the ability to see clearly close up or at a distance, but it is important to establish your child’s visual acuity before assessing his visual perception.
  • Eye Teaming is the ability to coordinate and sustain the use of the two eyes together effectively at far and near distances. This is vital for tracking and maintaining single clear vision.
  • Focusing - rapid automatic focus adjustments are essential for sustained reading or copying from the board. The eyes must have adequate focusing ability, flexibility, accuracy, and stamina in order to visually inspect, scan, and maintain attention for the length of time required to do schoolwork.
  • Tracking - this is the ability to quickly and accurately move both eyes to smoothly follow a moving object or words on a page of writing.
  • Visual analysis is the skill needed to identify, discriminate, sort, organise, store and recall visually presented information. It is the ability to take in maximum visual information in the shortest amount of time, remember it and apply it later.
  • Visual Spatial abilities (laterality and directionality) –these skills, which we use to understand directional concepts that organize our visual space, are essential for writing.
  • Visual Motor Integration – the ability to process and reproduce visual images by writing or drawing, is necessary for letter formation, spacing, and neatness and organisation of written work.

Knowledge of the child’s strengths and weaknesses when they enter grade 1 may be beneficial for understanding the academic performance of the child throughout their academic career. This knowledge may also be utilised to develop strategies to facilitate effective learning in the child.