PREPARATION: A few months can make a big difference. It is up to parents to make the crucial decision as to when their child is school ready.
EARLY Childhood Development schools that offer Grades 0, 00 and 000 will often divide children into classes based, not just on their age, but the time of year at which they are born.

Children born in January to June may be placed in a separate class from children born in July to December.

Age is commonly understood among teachers of young children, as a denominator for maturity, levels of which vary drastically in the foundation phase of education. (Gender is perhaps another factor.)

However, the point to be made is that when these children enter primary school they are not likely to be placed in classes based on their birthday any longer. Often children in Grade 1 can be five years old turning six, or six years old turning seven.

The issue here is not intellectual ability, but emotional maturity, says Charmain Shuterland, deputy principal at Parkside Primary School in Queensburgh, Durban.

“As teachers we try hard to get children to achieve their potential. It can be frustrating when a child struggles through Grade 1 despite having the full potential to excel, but doesn’t because he or she is just not ready.

"Often these children may scrape through to the next grade and then struggle through the second year in school.”

She says parents then begin to mull over attention deficit while the child’s confidence takes a knock.

“Often a situation such as this could have been prevented had the child been allowed to spend an extra year in pre-primary. Immaturity often looks the same as attention deficit. These children may also be recommended for occupational therapy because they reverse letters and have poor fine motor skills."

Educational psychologist, Lianna Morrison says there are important developmental factors required for a child to be considered emotionally, intellectually, physically and socially ready for the school environment.

“Emotional development includes having self-confidence in front of classmates, the ability to cope with new situations and to be able to not only give their opinion but defend their point of view."

Morrison adds self-control, a sense of humour, patience and compassion are also valuable characteristics and skills.

Socially, the ability to positively interact with adults and children is also an important characteristic.

“Social skills include playing in a group, waiting their turn, sharing, helping, respecting authority and discipline.

“Finally, co-operating with others whether it is as a leader or a follower, friendliness and the willingness to please are all integral to social development.”

Counselling psychologist Rakhi Beekrum adds, “Emotional readiness is as important as academic readiness for school. Some children, who may be cognitively advanced, may not be emotionally ready to enter a school setting. These are some of the indicators to look for:

  • When he/she can separate from you without undue anxiety.
  • Can interact with other children, share and take turns.
  • Can express feelings and needs (e.g. needing to go to the bathroom).
  • Can dress, undress and bath independently.
  • Can follow two or three simple instructions given at once.
  • Can concentrate for 15 minutes (This does not include TV).
  • Can complete a task without constant distraction.
  • Is eager to go to school.
  • Is curious and wants to learn.
  • Often chooses educational activities above playing activities.
  • Is keen to join group activities.
  • Is willing to help other children.
  • Is comfortable interacting with other adults (e.g. teachers).”

Morrison adds, “The first morning can be an emotional experience for parents as well. Unless your child is particularly emotional or there are other specific needs, follow the school and teacher’s policy regarding dropping your child on the first day. The first day is also not the time to discuss your child’s needs with the teacher as she/he is trying to get to know her class. Morrison advises parents to speak positively about the school.

“A new school year can be a chance to participate in different activities, make new friends, learn different subjects and have a new teacher. Acknowledge your child’s concerns regarding the new year and the changes it may bring while focusing on the positive aspects,” she says.