Each year, we like to re-visit and discuss the overly used ‘school readiness’ term as our parents and children wait to find out what school they will be attending in September. ‘School Readiness’ has always been a particularly outdated term in our opinion, and for many people, ‘school readiness’ looks completely different from setting to setting. We prefer the term, and concept of supporting children in becoming ‘life ready’ rather than ‘school ready.’
A common misconception is that children are only deemed ‘school ready’ if they can read and write their own name, have a basic knowledge of phonics and can count to 10. For us, our ‘life ready’ preparations are more practical than academic. Can children put on their own shoes and coat? Can they undress themselves? Can they attend to their toileting needs independently and communicate their needs and hold conversations with adults and peers?
These types of skills will enable to children to access learning and their primary education much more effectively than if we purely focus on their academic achievements in order to decide whether or not the child is ‘ready’ for school.
Transitions are huge part of a child’s journey and development, and for some, whether they are academically or socially ready for this transition, it can still cause some disruption for them, which as both practitioners and teachers, we need to be aware of the impact that these transitions can have on even our most confident children.
It’s also important to note at this stage, that school transitions amidst a pandemic are totally different to previous years, many children transitioning to school this year are doing so from another year of disrupted access to their Early Years education, during a period where socialisation is limited, and many children have only spent time with their more immediate family and so this transition is even bigger for children post-pandemic.
Transitions and the preparations that go hand in hand with moving into reception will ultimately look different for all children, especially this year. In our opinion, there should be no expectations of children’s academic and formal learning skills as they transition into reception, and more focus should be placed upon socialisation and emotional well-being. Are our children emotionally ready to start school? Do they have the social skills and self-confidence to make friends and express themselves within a larger classroom environment?
For us, these are the skills we have been, and will be continuing to focus on for not only our pre-school children, but for all of our children, as we believe these skills and experiences will better support children for a more seamless transition, than if we were to focus on preparing them academically.
We are firm believers that children learn at their own pace and should not be pushed to develop or learn faster than they are ready to or capable of, and so, ‘school readiness’ for us essentially entails providing opportunities for the children to explore and become familiar with their school uniform, dressing themselves and developing a sense of identity within their school environment, which can be easily replicated and introduced at home, should this be the case at the next lockdown review. Introducing books and stories about starting school are also a good way to support the transition, as well as watching the numerous children’s television programmes which depict familiar characters such as Topsy and Tim or the Little Princess experiencing their first day at school (even Peppa Pig covers Georges first day at pre-school!)
In normal circumstances, we would support and prepare our children for the upcoming transition by paying impromptu visits to each child’s school (sometimes pre-arranged where the school allows) to look at the school emblem, become familiar with the physical environment of the school and understand the routine of walking into the school grounds.
With that not being possible this year, we will do all we can to contact receiving schools, make virtual links and try and gather as much information and resources on the school as we can in order to cascade this information to our children and families in a range of accessible and supportive mediums to aid the transition process from a distance.
Similarly, we also find providing a ‘classroom’ inspired role play enables children to become familiar with the idea of how a classroom will look and what expectations might be and explore these ideas and concepts with their peers, through their play.
Activities such as these not only enable children to process the upcoming changes in their own time and in their own way, but also enables them to do so within a familiar and supportive environment; surrounded by familiar people.
’Some parents may also choose to home-educate their children, and so it is important to remember that transitions and early education looks different for all and so this is where your partnership with the children’s parents and families are key. What skills are important to the family? How can we support them in preparing their child for home-education? How can we support the child in preparing for this transition? These are all things to ask and discuss when preparing a child for home-education, as whilst their transition may look different to others, it is essential we support and prepare them for this next stage of education in a way that suits the needs of the child and their family as well as their upcoming journey into home-education.’
Essentially, we are not preparing children for school. We are preparing them for a transition. These transitions are set to be even more problematic for most children this year than normal and as such, as practitioners, this is what we need to focus on; less emphasis on writing and academic ‘readiness’ and more emphasis on change and routines and what we can do as nurturing and supportive practitioners to support the children through this period of change after an incredibly confusing and traumatic period, whilst focusing on the children’s emotional wellbeing and understanding,
In our opinion, academic skills pale into insignificance in this instance and as Early Years Practitioners and for receiving school teachers, we must remain united on this fact to ensure the smoothest transition possible for our children, who have already endured so much prior to this huge transition.
School routines and practices, as well as transitions need to look and feel different this year, and for years to come thereafter. The time is now to place the emphasis on emotional and mental well-being over academic skills and assumptions on what makes children ‘school ready.’