Over the years my answer has changed, take me back only a few years ago my answer would probably have centred around counting, letters, writing their name etc, along with the usual looking after belongings, tying shoes, social skills and manners.
Over the past few years I myself have been on quite the journey...I have challenged my own assumptions about what makes a 'good' learner and in turn have changed my answer to this question.
I now believe it is not the children that need to be 'school ready' but it is the school that needs to be 'children ready.' This can be done by embracing play-based learning and discarding any programmes that are solely based on children getting to a certain standard. The reality is there is nothing standard about our children, therefore there should be nothing standard about the education we give them...they deserve more than that.
Many people at a management level will demonstrate a reluctance to make this change, because they are fearful results will drop...in fact the opposite is true...our results academically have improved in that first year or two, but much more importantly the improvements in learning dispositions (which can not be measured with data) are tenfold. Any reluctance is born from fear...if we are afraid to take a risk, to trust, then nothing will change.
Anyway...back to the question....what does my child need to be school ready?
Firstly this is a question that needs to be reworded....what does my child need to be learning ready?
Here is where my little diagram comes in....I have two versions, one for writing and one for readiness, not a lot of difference. These are simplistic diagrams with a lot of depth of thought behind them.. We will be using the top diagram just to check in with our learning ready our children are and to make sure we know early on what foundations have not yet been put in place.
So, how can parents help their children to be school ready?
1) Play, develop motor skills like hopping, balancing, crawling, skipping, rolling, jumping, climbing etc by self-directed outside play. Glorious, gadget free play. As simple as that. Their body needs to move, this movement is crucial for brain development. Through this play children are developing not only gross motor skills, but also will be taking responsible risks which are so important for effective learners. I emphasise gadget free, I simply don't believe preschoolers have a need for devices and this exposure needs to be closely managed. Removing devices from our classroom has been one of the best things we have ever done.
2)Provide invitations to develop fine motor skills. Painting, hammering, using tongs to pick up small items, twisting, turning, using a screwdriver, negotiating chopsticks...hand strength is vital for children to be able to use a pencil and to experience success and not frustration.
3)Talking....this is perhaps the most forgotten thing in our world today. Indulge a young child's wonder about the world. Talk a lot, describe, discuss. Let them explore their urges and interests, indulge their fabulous imagination. Talk, talk, talk and talk some more. Read frequently to your child, talk about the pictures, have fun with rhyme, tell jokes and let children make up their own jokes! Early number sense comes from talk. Baking with your child, talking about patterns they see around them, sharing concepts like taller, shorter, faster, slower, counting everyday objects...these are all the starting points of mathematics. A child's oral language ability is crucial for later progress in all curriculum areas.
4)Words and sounds...too often children sing the abc, but they have no idea what this is. They have friezes up on their wall, but have no idea what they are. The sounds letters make are much more important than the name or look of a letter. Explore sounds, talk about the environmental sounds around you....be silent, what can you hear? Explore rhyme, talk about how words sound the same. Letters are simply the symbol for the sound. Talk about the sounds children can hear in words and then if you really want to, show them the letter that writes that sound. Encourage children just to listen, to notice and explore, this will lead them beautifully into letter awareness at school. If you really want to explore letters, this song is a great one for linking a sound to a letter. Short programmes like the alphablocks are on youtube and are fabulous at linking the letter to the sound and to start to explore how sounds go together to make words.
Thats it....along with the usual, look after belongings, toilet themselves, have manners, share and take turns, that is all a child in my opinion need to have in order to be learning ready. It is then up to the school to be ready for children.
To me, items 1, 2 and 3 are the most important. If we have children that need extra attention at school it is usually in one or all of these items. Often we have to fold right back to gross motor skills.
I see learning readiness as a brick wall...we need to lay these initial bricks really solidly so that the wall will be able to stand and that knowledge that is built on top will have strong foundations.
At school those termed reluctant, or struggling will often be found to be missing part or all of these initial foundations. How can they build a strong wall without solid foundations for it to be built upon?
Parents should not feel a burden to get children ready for school. It is however a parents job to be helping a child's brain develop to its full potential and to simply spend time....time is a beautiful thing and an absolute gift.
"There is no gadget that can replace the pure power of play." - Leslee Allen