By Kylie Dawson

When early childhood educators think about whether a child is ready to start school, they consider four key areas:

  • Social and emotional skills,
  • Academic interest,
  • Language skills, and
  • Physical skills.

In this article we are going to focus in on the social and emotional skills that your child’s early childhood educators will be trying to help them develop, and you can use this information to think about ways in which you can support your child, and whether they are ready for school.  

Social and emotional skills

Children need certain social and emotional skills to thrive and flourish in all aspects of their lives, and school is no exception.  Classrooms and schools can be busy places, there are lots of different people, new challenges, and different expectations.  

In terms of social and emotional skills, children need to be able to, or need to have the ability to develop the skills to:

  • Separate willingly from their families to start the day.  Each child will differ in their ability to do this, some run off without even needing to say goodbye, whereas others may need a specific and trusted routine each morning.  If your child consistently struggles to separate, you can develop a trusted and supportive routine at home, making sure you get your child’s input and ideas into what this routine should be.  Also ensure that you talk with your child’s educators and work together to develop a routine so your child can build their confidence and skills in saying goodbye to you.  And make sure you and your child talk with their Prep teacher about how they can help them in the mornings as well!  
  • Children need the skills and abilities to make friends and play cooperatively with others.  Knowing how to join in a game, take turns, share, and look after our friends, is very important.  For some children these skills are learned incidentally; they just seem to pick up on social cues and easily navigate their social world. For other children, these skills need to be intentionally and specifically taught to enable them to build relationships and create friendships.  Play turn taking games, such as snap and memory (and don’t always let them win; knowing what losing feels like and that it is ok is very important!), and games that build self-regulation skills, such as Musical Statues and Simon Says. When you read books or watch TV together, ask your child how they think a character might be feeling, and what clues they used to figure that out; this encourages discussions about feelings, body language, and promotes the idea that each one of us have an internal world that can be impacted by the choices and behaviours of others.  
  • We need to give children opportunities to recognise and attempt resolving conflicts when they arise, and we need to be aware of our child’s level of skill and ability in this area.  As adults, we can be observers who step in if and when needed, teaching specific skills in the moment.  It can be very hard to let your child have an argument over a shovel in the sandpit with another child, but our job is to take some deep breaths, observe and monitor, and if needed, step in.  For example, you might let the two children argue and try and resolve it themselves; sometimes they will succeed (yay!), and other times, if things perhaps get physical, you need to intervene and help the children organise their feelings (“I can see you are both getting very upset about the argument over the shovel.  I think you both want to play with the shovel but there is only one, and it can make us angry when we don’t get what we want.  It’s ok to be upset and angry, but it is not okay to hit our friend. How can we let our friend know we are sorry about our choice to hit?”) From here we can help them determine a kinder and more respectful solution to the issue (“How do you think we can solve this problem? We only have one shovel and you both want to play with it? What would be a kind and helpful way to sort this out?”).
  • Children need to be able to persist and continue trying when they encounter a challenge, remembering that challenges can, and often will, bring frustration and difficulty. Some children’s temperaments will see them try and try with little or no adult involvement, whilst other children will need us to help them build a growth mindset and related skills.  If your child becomes really frustrated, give them time and space to calm down before you support them with trying again.  Use real life examples to remind them that they are someone who can try and try, and fail, and keep trying! Remind them that the first time they walked, they only took one or two steps and fell, and they kept falling down for quite a while; but they kept trying and trying, and all that practice made them the strong runner they are today! And remember, you are their greatest role model, so let them see you try, and try, and fail, and keep trying! 
  • Children need to be able to follow simple rules.  You will have family rules, there will be rules at their early learning centre, rules at swimming lessons, and their friend’s house.  When they transition to school there will be new and different rules and expectations for them to follow.  When we help children understand the WHY behind a rule this can help them with accepting and supporting the rule.  You can drive along and ask your child why we have to stop at the red light.  You can ask why they must wear a hat when they are outside.  And why you have a rule that you don’t pull the cat’s tail!  And continue these discussions as more rules come into their life. 
  • And we need to see our children growing and developing in their independence.  Do they carry their own bag into kindy?  Do they try and open their lunch box on their own? Can they change their own clothes if they got all wet during water play? It’s ok if they can’t do these things yet; the key is to encourage them to try and to help them build their skills and abilities to do these things.  At home you could set them the task of being the person who sets the table for dinner (without worrying about which spots the knives and forks end up in!) Or they could be responsible for making sure the dog’s water bowl is full each morning, or that the pot of mint gets watered each afternoon.  

Remember that kindy is the year where they build and further develop skills like the ones above, and they will continue to grow in these areas when they are in Prep, Grade 1 and beyond; the learning doesn’t stop! Our job is to accept, and celebrate, where they are now (knowing that their friends will all be at different places in their development) and support them to take that next little step on their life long learning adventure. 

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