Definining School Readiness

Since the day I agreed to start sending Aristotle to pre-school, I have been trying to decide if he is physically and emotionally ready for school.  There are many recommendations based on exactly when a child should go to school – age cut-offs and specific signs.

On Today’s Motherhood – an online parenting magazine published in Singapore – there is an article entitled “Is Your Child Ready for Pre-School?”  It lists 8 signs to determine whether your child is ready for pre-school. The article is not available any more so here are the main points…

1. Is your child independent enough?

This really depends on the school that you send your child to.  Some schools require that your child be potty trained, able to wear his own shoes, put on his own clothes, feed himself, etc.  However, there are now some other schools that are partly like daycare in the sense that they offer extended hours after school where they will bathe your child and give him an afternoon nap.

2. Your child is bored at home and needs more stimulation.

As your child grows older, he may seek more activities and engagement. If you cannot provide these for him at home, for whatever reason (e.g. new baby on the way, Mum works, etc.), school may be a good option.

3. Your child has spent time away from you.

Also, most teachers and child-carers are usually pretty experienced at handling separation anxiety anyway so this one can be gotten around.

4. Your child is emotionally ready.

I thought this point was rather ambiguous.  At first glance, I’d say my son wasn’t emotionally ready for school.  That said, he was pretty articulate by the time he went to school and he could also understand that I would be back to pick him up.  I found that giving him a watch and telling him the time when I would come back to pick him up was helpful.

5. Your child is engrossed with his own projects.

Although my son was often engrossed in his own projects, there were still days when he needed me to be around him – not to participate or do anything specifically, but just to be there sitting next to him. The need for Mum’s physical presence to be near can raise difficulties when contemplating school readiness.

6. Your child has the physical stamina required.

Again, this one can be adapted to by rearranging your child’s sleeping patterns around school.  In my son’s case, he was really fighting the afternoon sleep.  Being at school and having lots to do helped him wind down for the nap.

7.  Are you ready to put your child into pre-school or childcare?

Rather an apt question since it is sometimes the parents who are less ready for their children to be attending school than the child. It marks a coming of age and the growing up of our children when we would hope to cling on to their baby-hood for longer.

The real significance of this point is that children can sense your emotions and Mum’s negative state of mind can influence the child’s reaction towards school.  Being rather apprehensive and feeling like I was abandoning Aristotle probably didn’t help him adjust to school.  This is clearly something we need to work on ourselves.

8.  Your child shows an interest in learning.

Since I’ve been studying Vygotsky’s Tools of the Mind, I thought it was interesting to note that this was his only consideration for determining whether a child is ready for school.  He described it as a child’s readiness to take instruction.  A child who cannot take instruction is not ready for school because he will be less receptive to the learning environment.

Based on the last criteria alone, it would appear that my son is not ready for school.  His participation in class is variable depending on his mood and interest.  Having attended two classes at Heguru, I’m beginning to see some of the problems arising.  Although Aristotle may be considered intellectually advanced for his age, his attention span and ability to concentrate on materials not of his interest is poor.  Sure he can spend ages at his Thomas table playing with his Thomas trains, but when it comes to other things that don’t hold the same interest for him, he can’t. This is the reason why the teachers are having such a hard time with him.  It isn’t so much whether he can or cannot do what is required, it is whether he has the ability to put aside other things and focus on the task at hand even if it is a task he doesn’t particularly enjoy.

In other words, children need to be able to avoid distractions and delay gratification.  This is exactly what the Tools of the Mind program aims to achieve – to help children develop their executive function so they can override their impulses and remained focused long enough to finish the task before moving on to other things. Children by nature are easily distracted.  They cannot remain long at any particular task because they want to be in on the action for everything.  If they are playing with the toy cars and suddenly see another friend playing with the building blocks, they will drop the cars in favour of the blocks.  For a child to be able to learn, he needs to be able to avoid the distraction of the blocks and remain with the cars long enough to complete the lesson.

More on school readiness from the Vygotskian aspect.

Published by Shen-Li

SHEN-LI LEE is the author of “Brainchild: Secrets to Unlocking Your Child’s Potential”. She is also the founder of (a website on parenting, education, child development) and (a website on Right Brain Education, cognitive development, and maximising potentials). In her spare time, she blogs on Forty, Fit & Fed, and Back to Basics.

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