Interesting research around school readiness

Blog Image for article Interesting research around school readiness

The preschool year has begun, and as we move through 2021, many parents will be looking for signs that their child is ready to start school in 2022.

A child’s thinking and language skills, emotional maturity and physical health are all used to determine their preparedness for big school, but new research suggests that these individual capacities shouldn’t be the only focus.

A Telethon Kids Institute study says that a child’s home life and local community should also be considered when deciding if they’re ready for school – and whether they need extra support once they get there.

Here, we look at school readiness, and the study, in more detail.

What is meant by ‘school readiness’?

The government describes school readiness as, ‘A measure of the knowledge, skills and behaviours that enable children to participate and succeed in school.’

It’s about the development of the whole child (not just their academic ability), and school readiness includes the following skills and capabilities:

  • Social skills, e.g. a child’s ability to play independently and in a group, assert themselves and show basic manners
  • Emotional maturity, e.g. being able to focus on tasks, follow instructions and manage their emotions
  • Language skills, e.g. a child’s ability to talk and listen to others, communicate their needs, understand stories and start to identify some letters and sounds
  • Cognitive skills, e.g. a child possessing basic number sense and thinking skills, and being able to take turns and wait
  • Physical health, fine motor skills and coordination, e.g. being able to grip a pencil, turn book pages, run, jump, climb and play ball, and
  • Independence, e.g. a child’s ability to go to the toilet without a grown-up, unwrap their lunch, and manage their belongings and clothing.

The Telethon Kids Institute researchers say school readiness is, ‘Often thought of in terms of formal assessments made at the start of a child’s education,’ and although this focus on children’s individual skills and capabilities is important, they say school readiness also includes, ‘How well families, schools and communities can help children transition to school.’

The research suggests that a ‘big picture’ approach to school readiness is needed, and we should look at factors outside the child, such as parental health and stress and neighbourhood connections, when deciding if they’re ready for school.

Why is school readiness important?

The government says there’s evidence that children who start school when they’re developmentally ready to learn, tend to do better in school; and instead of just making their first few days or weeks smoother, school readiness also has a positive effect on their years of primary education.

The Telethon Kids Institute describes school readiness as an ‘important predictor’ of a child’s future success, and they conducted this recent study to better understand the link between school readiness and later outcomes (such as school attendance, reading comprehension, and emotional and behavioural difficulties at ages eight to nine).

The researchers wanted to see all the factors that make up ‘school readiness’ to help us work out how ready a child is for school and whether they’ll need extra support to thrive in the classroom, schoolyard and life generally.

What did the school readiness study involve?

To gain, ‘A rich insight into the complex factors that impact a child’s preparedness to start school,’ the researchers reviewed the experiences of 4,000 families with pre-school aged children, using data collected via the Longitudinal Study of Australian Children.

When the children were aged four to five years, the researchers studied their:

  • Individual characteristics – how they did on tests of their emotional maturity, language and cognitive development, and physical health
  • Family characteristics – such as parental health and stress, parenting consistency and effectiveness, and whether parent-child reading was part of family life
  • School factors – like the learning environment and teacher-child relationship, and
  • Neighbourhood characteristics – such as the social support and connection the child had to their local community environment.

The researchers then looked at follow-up data to see how each child was going (academically, emotionally and behaviourally) at the age of eight to nine years.

As a result of all this work, the researchers concluded that a child’s capacities are important components of school readiness, but that these individual strengths and weaknesses aren’t the only factors that predict later outcomes.

Factors like a child’s parents and family, their home environment and local community were found to be ‘just as important’ as a child’s skills and capabilities; and the researchers say these factors should be, ‘Part of the mix when working out how ready a child [is] for school and whether they need extra support.’

One good reason for this is that a child could do well on standardised school readiness tests, but still be at a higher risk of problems – and need different support – because of their home life.

What other conclusions can we draw from the school readiness research?

The Telethon Kids Institute study provides a positive picture of where the majority of preschoolers are at, and also flags some areas for concern and special attention.

Overall, the study found that 70 per cent of pre-schoolers were well-prepared for big school and, later on, these children ‘tended to perform better’ in relation to:

  • Reading and comprehension
  • School absenteeism, and
  • Emotional and behavioural difficulties. 

Researcher, Daniel Christensen says, ‘The majority of parents are supportive and nurturing, providing an environment which helps their child to thrive,’ but some children and families do need extra support.

Certain risk factors at ages four to five point towards problems later on, and the researchers found that:

  • A mix of parenting risk factors was found to be the strongest predictor of emotional and behavioural problems at ages eight to nine (e.g. where parents lacked consistency, were uncertain about their parenting skills and were more likely to have a mental health problem).  
  • A mix of child, parenting, school and community risks was the strongest predictor of lowest reading comprehension in a child’s third grade of school.

The takeaway from all this is that school readiness is more than just being able to hold a pencil or listen to a teacher. It’s also about how well families, schools and communities can help children transition to big school and succeed once there.

Consistency, confidence and connectedness go to the heart of this more holistic view of school readiness, and the researchers are calling for a wider viewpoint when determining whether a child is prepared for school and what support they need.


Telethon Kids Institute

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