What does a child being 'school ready' really mean in today's world?

Only About Children
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School readiness is a huge deal for parents and their little ones. How do you know if your child is ready? And how can you help get them get ready?

While we used to spend a lot of time focusing pretty much solely on counting to 10 and learning the ABCs, these days it’s all about the overall wellbeing of our kids as well.

With my eldest heading off to school this year, I sat down to talk with someone with experience in this space: Anna McCauley, the Head of Health at Only About Children Early Learning and Preschool (Oac), which operates more than 75 centres across Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane.

As an occupational therapist who has worked with kids for over 25 years, Anna certainly knows her stuff, and shares how high-quality early learning centres like Oac approach ‘school readiness’ in today’s world.


My ‘baby’ is off to school this year so I was keen to get some advice from an expert about school readiness. Image: supplied.

OK Anna, let’s start with the big one - how can you tell if a child is ready for school or not?

As occupational therapists, we look at what a child needs to do and what they want to do in terms of every day skills and activities. With regards to school readiness, we’re looking at their independence and their social and emotional skills. Are they able to initiate play with others and negotiate during play? Are they able to regulate their emotions? Can they manage in social situations with large groups of children? Can they concentrate for extended periods of time? Or do they need lots of movement breaks to help with concentration?

We want your child to be confident and socially ready to manage in the classroom and the school playground. It’s about supporting the child as a whole,  focusing on a love of learning and all the developmental skills they need for school and beyond.

As parents, what are three things we can do at home to help our child get ready for school?

Sharing mealtimes is great for your child’s social and emotional development and can improve their language skills. Family dinners give your child the chance to talk about their day, reflect and decompress. At Oac we encourage children to self serve using tongs and big spoons. It sounds simple but it develops their fine motor skills and teaches them to wait their turn.


I would also encourage families to spend time exploring different parks and playgrounds. This gives kids the opportunity to play with children they don’t know, navigate a new space and use unfamiliar equipment, like they’ll have to do when they start school.

At Oac we also use social stories to help kids with the transition to school. It involves creating a simple story with pictures, photos and age appropriate language showing what will happen at school. You can include a photo of your child in their school uniform along with details like where the playground is and who their teacher will be. Reading through the story at bedtime will help familiarise your child with the school environment and expectations.

The Oac Grow Curriculum focuses on the whole child. Image: supplied.

I love the idea of creating social stories. Can you talk me through other ways you and the team at Oac prepare children for school?

We have a big focus on play-based learning because there is ample evidence to suggest that this is the best way for kids to learn. Through pretend play, kids take on imaginary roles and learn to work creatively together using different equipment. Oac has also invested in having occupational therapists and speech pathologists in-house which is pretty unique. If parents have any concerns about their child’s progress, we work with them and the educators on specific strategies.

For example, if a child stutters, we analyse whether it’s age appropriate and likely to resolve itself or whether intervention is necessary. We then link families with the right people so their child can be as ready as possible for school.

Can you tell me a bit more about this 'holistic' approach to child development?

Our holistic approach is all about having a whole team around the child. Oac families have access to a range of health professionals either through screenings or direct advice who can advise on their child’s development and skills. Our educators also draw from our in-house OT, speech, vision and nutrition specialist as needed. I love the energy and passion our team gives to the children and their parents.


If parents have a kid born in the 'you decide' zone and they have doubts about whether to start school or wait another year, what advice would you give them?

Definitely talk to the educators and your centre director. They see your child frequently in a group environment so would be able to guide you on the pros and cons of sending your child to school versus waiting another year. At Oac, we are always available to parents to offer advice.

Thanks for your insights, Anna.

Starting school is a big step for kids and their parents. I’ve already shed a few tears at the thought of my ‘baby’ starting school next year. Not because I’m sad, but because it means he’s growing up (too fast in my opinion).

If, like me, you’ve got a child heading off to school soon, I hope Anna’s advice helps with the transition. All of us at Mamamia and Oac will be sending positive vibes your way.

Have you got any advice for helping with school readiness? We’d love to hear it. Share it in the comments below.

This content is brought to you with thanks by our brand partner, Only About Children.

Only About Children

Only About Children (Oac) offers a unique approach to childcare that gives children the platform they need to thrive. Oac uses an approach that exceeds high quality education to include the overall health and total wellbeing of the child, in exceptional age based learning environments. It operates 65+ early learning and preschool campuses in Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane. Click here to find out more about Oac’s holistic approach to early learning and development. Tour today.