What Does School Readiness Mean?


Written by Windy Chou MS, OTR/L

Many of the thoughts that race through parents’ heads when choosing a preschool involve wondering what kind of discipline system they have, what teaching philosophy the school provides academically or socially, what are the facilities like, how accommodating or communicative will the staff be about their children’s progress, and at times even the type of food served or educational level of the teaching staff… the list goes on. Usually the questions are about choosing the right school that fits their child and their family. However, the tables are turned when enrollment season begins for public school kindergarten or first grade, as children are expected to go to their “home” school based on their residing neighborhood, and attend a certain grade based on when their child is born. A child is expected to fit into a pre-set school environment and parents then ask “will my child be ready for school?” Most parents believe their children to be automatically ready for school by the time they reach the age of enrollment, and they are usually correct. Or if a child struggles with transitioning into school, they expect teachers to be the ones who will help them get their children ready for school. There is also an unspoken assumption by most school staff and teachers, that a child has attended some sort of structured or organized group that will make the transition into school easier. The ease and success of the transition to school is what is known as “school readiness.”

School readiness doesn’t just involve knowing your name, body parts, ABCs, or 123s but involve also the following:

  • Age-appropriate fine and gross motor skills: Does your child have the motor skills to keep up with the demands of the classroom? Do they excel in one motor area more than the other so that they avoid tasks involving one or the other?
  • Sensory-integration/Self-regulation skills: Is your child able to regulate their emotions, maintain attention to task, transition well between activities, and keep still for minutes at a time?
  • Social-communication skills: Does your child know how to express themselves so that their needs are understood to parents, peers, or in a group setting? Does your child understand, recognize and follow social norms (sharing, turn-taking, appropriate touching, following an adult’s directions)? Does your child have age-appropriate expressive and receptive language skills?
  • Play skills: Is your child able to play independently or with others well?
  • Self-care: Is your child able to manage, organize, or care for the items they will bring or encounter at school? Is your child able to toilet, dress, and feed themselves?

Often a child who has never attended any sort of organized group activity, or spent considerable amount of time with peers or other adult authority figures, may require more assistance during the transition period or the first few weeks of school. They may require explicit teaching by parents or teachers on the non-academic skills listed above to get them ready for school. However, if a child continues to have difficulties even after preschool, or parents anticipate difficulties in the areas above, there are activities that can be done at home to promote school readiness.

We work with children who are struggling to be ready for school for any number of reasons listed above. While it is best if the child can get support prior to starting school, we are often contacted once the child begins attending and things aren’t going so well. We work with families and their classroom to make school less stressful and overwhelming. If your child is getting ready to start school and you worry they are not quite ready or your child has started school and there is a daily battle, I encourage you to get help. Feel free to give us a call and we can brainstorm potential solutions during a complementary screening call. We may not be the correct people to help but we are happy to give you ideas on where to start.

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