Is my child school ready?


School readiness is a term used when a child is ready to take a leap from learning playfully about real things, to learning in a more controlled way about symbols (abc; 123). Readiness means a child has developed in more ways than one – a child needs to be physically ready (body), emotionally ready (heart) and cognitively ready (head) to learn in a group of children speaking the same language.  

Physical school readiness means a child has moved and played enough to develop a strong and willing body that can sit still and straight on a chair. This is only possible if a child has run, caught and kicked balls, cycled with a two-wheeler, skipped with a rope, climbed numerous jungle gyms or trees and rolled down a hill enough times to have control over his muscles and can STOP moving for short periods of time. It is only once the body can be still and straight, that the fingers and eyes learn to work together so a child can learn to read and write with ease.  

Emotional school readiness is evident when your child can eat, wash, dress, use the toilet and go to bed without any help or constant prompting from you. A child who is emotionally ready for grade 1 doesn’t cry or sulk when he doesn’t get his way, he accepts NO when you say no and he does simple tasks like tidying up his toys or feed his dog without a fuss.

Social school readiness means a child is more focussed on WE than on ME. A child who is socially ready for grade 1 enjoys being with children his own age. It is fun playing games with others because it no longer has to be all-about-ME all the time, he can wait his turn, follow the rules of the game, negotiate and share.

Cognitive school readiness means a child speaks well, reasons logically and is enthusiastic about learning something new. Cognitive readiness does not mean a child can read and write, it means your child is ready to learn to read and write, because he or she has endlessly played: “I spy with my little eyes… something starting with a m�? while driving, or “what do you see that you can’t eat?�?, “why can’t you eat it?�? Cognitive readiness implies that a child can think, reason and express himself clearly in language.

Sending a child to grade 1 who hasn’t developed the most basic skills needed to learn to read and write successfully, is a form of child abuse, because it is emotionally painful for a child to start a 12 year journey through school feeling: I am not good or clever enough. School readiness does not start in grade R, it starts when a baby reaches each milestone in sequence and continues to reach age appropriate milestones every year for the first five years, and when he turns six, he or she is ready to leap from the world of concrete learning, to the world of symbols and abstract learning with shiny eyes.

Quick school readiness quiz

  1. My child can sit up and still for 11 minutes doing an activity he does not necessary like doing (build a 36 piece puzzle / complete a  pattern (for example ○□◊) around the edge of a page) yes / no
  2. My child knows where is - on top, next to, behind, under, in between, and can show me body parts on the left & right of his/her body (where is your right ear, left knee, etc.)  yes / no
  3. My child understands and fluently speaks the language spoken in grade 1  yes / no
  4. My child listens the first time – I do not have to repeat an instruction yes / no
  5. My child’s fingers are agile (he can handle a knife & fork with ease; cut neatly on a straight line; holds a pencil with thumb and index finger while resting on the middle finger) yes / no   


For a more in-depth school readiness assessment visit an educational psychologist. You may find handy tips and guidelines in Ready to learn, Ready for school by Melodie de Jager.

You might want to read more about when school readiness starts.