Is Your Child 'School Ready'?

I am so happy and excited to release the below which is a guest blog written by my friend and early years foundation stage practitioner, Rachel Paton. Thank you so much for this insightful contribution, Rachel and I hope all my lovely readers enjoy it!

Is your child ‘school ready’?

I am an early years foundation stage (EYFS) practitioner, who has had the privilege of teaching Nursery for the past two years, with five years of Early Years teaching. As we are approaching the time of year, where normally I would be completing my pre-school visits and parent consultations, I have been thinking a lot about the term ‘School Readiness’ and what this means for both myself; the children and parents.  

School Readiness is a term that’s often used to describe how socially, physically and intellectually ready a child is, when beginning formal schooling. Unfortunately, I see both parents and pre-school settings focussing solely on the intellectually ready part and thus either forgetting or placing little value on the other skills a child needs to become ‘School Ready’. Without going into too much detail, (I could write another blog on this entirely), children in the current education climate are entering school with a lack of basic prime skills. The impact of this on children, EYFS practitioners and schools is HUGE!

Some schools and parents still hold on to the understanding that School Readiness is based on a child’s academic ability and will prioritise children’s literacy and numeracy skills over anything else. I am telling you now – this is NOT the case. The revised EYFS framework says school readiness ‘gives children a broad range of knowledge and skills that provide the right foundation for good future progress through school and life’. Basically, school readiness is a product of the interaction between the child and the range of environmental and cultural experiences that maximise their learning and developmental outcomes.

The EYFS framework is broken down into Prime areas and Specific areas:

Early Years Foundation Stage Framework

Prime Areas

Specific Areas

Personal, Social and Emotional Development (PSED)

(Making Relationships, Self-Confidence and Self-Awareness, Managing Feelings and Behaviour)

Physical Development

(Moving and Handling, Health and Self-Care)

Communication and Language

(Listening and Attention, Understanding, Speaking)

Literacy

(Reading, Writing)

Mathematics

(Number, Shape Space and Measures)

Understanding the World

(People and Communities, The World, Technology)

Expressive Arts and Design

(Exploring and Using Media and Materials, Being Imaginative)

 

The framework states that the Prime areas are fundamental within the Early Years, and that in order for a child to fully achieve, they must be secure in all Prime areas. With this in mind, I truly value that School Readiness is more about how a child is, in terms of their Personal, Social and Emotional Development; their Physical ability and their Communication skills. This has been at the heart of my teaching practice from the beginning and my children make above average progress every year as a result.

So what can you as parents do to help?

TALK and PLAY!

This is something I stress to every parent I meet. It sounds so basic, but impacts your child so much. And it is something that is becoming more and more of a concern to schools, as children are not developing these key skills. The first few years of a child’s life is of critical importance to their development. A child’s intelligence is dependent on their level of communication skills; their ability to pay attention, to listen, to comprehend what is said, to express their thoughts and feelings and finally to communicate back with words. A child needs to learn the true value of ‘talk’ – when it is used and in what context can it be used. Children who experience a rich environment of talk are much more likely to understand the importance of it, and therefore much more likely to use it themselves. They will learn how to hold a conversation, know how to use it to communicate their needs and utilise it throughout their play. By truly valuing the importance of ‘talk’, you are ensuring that your child is ready for school life.

Playing with your child, whether it be will small world toys (think people, animals, cars etc), using jigsaws or board games or creative/physical games is something I would strongly advise. Playing in this way, and developing their speech alongside, is a vital skill needed. Not only does this play develop a child’s understanding of the world around them, but it develops their imagination; their ability to play with others; their turn-taking skills and encourages them to share. All these skills link back to the Prime Areas (EYFS Framework), and support children’s development in becoming ‘School Ready’. You can find some great examples of these small world toys and jigsaws in Katie's store, here. You can also see a great video below on the Lanka Kade 1-5 giraffe puzzle where the benefits this has to child development are summarised brilliantly. 

When considering a child’s physical skills, in terms of being ready for school, I look closely at both their Gross Motor Skill and their Fine Motor Skills, in which both are of equal value. Children must develop their Gross Motor Skills first, to then have the muscle strength and stability to move on to Fine Motor Skills. Simply put, Gross Motor Skills are physical skills which require whole body movement; crawling, walking, running, jumping etc. They also involve the large muscles in the body (mainly core muscles) to perform everyday functions; sitting upright, balancing etc. Gross Motor Skills also include eye-hand coordination skills, such as riding a bike/scooter and ball skills (throwing, catching, kicking). Children must develop these skills to perform everyday tasks, such as getting themselves dressed, sitting at the table to eat/draw/do, navigating around the home (or the classroom) and getting in and out of places (the car, their beds, the bath etc). Without these skills, a child will struggle with many day-to-day tasks, such as eating, putting their toys away and getting on and off the toilet! Just imagine – spend time really focussing on developing your child’s core strength and eye-hand coordination – and they will become independent in those everyday (somewhat tedious) tasks!

In order to develop your child’s Fine Motor Skills, you have to look closely at their dexterity (their skill/control in performing tasks using their hands, fingers and grip). A lot of online advice tells you to follow Dough Gym activities in order to develop these skills. Whilst dough gym is effective in developing Gross Motor development, it is not specific enough to really support a child’s overall dexterity. Personally, I prefer using a range of Funky Finger activities, whereby I take into account the child’s grip with different sized objects; their ability to use their own fingers and their ability to manipulate apparatus or resources to pick up small objects. I then choose an activity specific to their level and progress from there!

For example, I would begin with developing their Gross Motor development by using a Dough Gym activity. I would then move on to developing their palm strength and pincer grip. For this you could have the child squeeze a (pre-cut) tennis ball open to drop a marble inside. Next I would focus on developing their DIP and PIP joint flexibility (hand joints), by challenging them to tie a knot in a string or fastening paper clips together. And finally, I would look at the pincer movement; using tweezers to pick objects up with or threading beads onto a pipe cleaner. There are hundreds of Funky Finger activity ideas online, and you can be as creative as you like when it comes to thinking of ideas – just remember to match the skill to your child’s developmental level!

Katie sells a fantastic product, the wooden threading game, which would also help with the development I have outlined above and can be found here.

The Early Years Foundation Stage Framework also emphasises the way in which children learn; naming this as the Characteristics of Effective Learning:

 

Characteristics of Effective Learning

Playing and Exploring

(engagement)

Active Learning

(motivation)

Creating and Thinking Critically

(thinking)

* Finding out and exploring

* Playing with what they know

* Being willing to ‘have a go’

* Being involved and concentrating

* Keeping on trying

* Enjoying achieving what they set out to do

* Having their own ideas


* Making links


* Choosing ways to do things

 

The Characteristics of Effective Learning truly value the importance of a child-led, play based approach to learning. They focus on a child-centred approach to learning that encourages every child to take risks, develop their confidence and build their resilience in order to continue to learn. So please, take into consideration these characteristics and my advice towards the Prime Areas (of the EYFS Framework) to any ‘home learning’ you might do with your child.

When children can explore, engage, play and learn (on their own terms and with their own interests), with the Characteristics of Effective Learning developing alongside their play, it will produce learning that is real and meaningful. This will ensure the child grows into an independent, confident, creative and resilient learner. And this is what, I believe, true School Readiness is all about!

P.S. Thanks for reading!

Rachel is happy to answer any questions you may have and you can get in touch via her instagram, here

Photo credit: <a href="https://www.freepik.com/free-photos-vectors/kid">Kid photo created by pressfoto - www.freepik.com</a>