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Is my child ready to start primary school?

by Tia

“Will my child be able to keep up in class? Will they make friends? Will they be able to go without me for a longer school day? Will they enjoy school and feel confident to try new things?” These are some of the questions that parents may have as their children near school-going age.

Starting “big school” is a major milestone for every child and something that’s both exciting and potentially scary. But how do you know if your child is ready?

According to Dr Jenny Wright, Pre- and Primary School Curriculum Head at Curro Holdings, it is important that preschools prioritise their school readiness approach. This will ensure that children and parents navigate the transition from preschool to primary school with ease.

She cites Dr Melodie de Jager, founder of the Mind Moves Institute and early childhood development specialist, who says there are three major milestones that signify readiness for primary school:

  • The child can sit still and sit straight. Dr Wright says that this requires core strength, achieved through hours of physical play. Children also need to be able to manage themselves (to self-regulate) for long enough to learn from their seat in the classroom
  • The child can listen to instructions and make a connection between a sound and a picture. This will have come through hours of listening to stories, songs, rhymes and exercises focusing on the ability to work with sounds in spoken language. 
  • The child can grip a pencil with ease. This is learned through fine-motor development play, such as tearing paper, playing with blocks and lego, creating art and patterns, with various media, and manipulating playdough, sand and water. 

Beyond these milestones, Dr Wright says the most important thing a parent needs to check is whether the child feels confident. “Are they sure of their ability to problem solve and do things independently?” she says. “Children should not begin Grade 1 before the age of six because they need to be socially and emotionally ready as well as physically and cognitively. All of these factors play a crucial role in learning, coping and belonging at school.”

Parents have an important role to play in building a child’s confidence. “Parents need to build a child’s sense of belonging,” says Dr Wright. “A child’s need to feel loved unconditionally is fundamental to their ability to achieve independence and self-confidence. Parents can assist in building a sense of achievement when children manage tasks independently, listen to and follow instructions, or show emotional control and consideration for others. All of these “skills” can be fostered and developed at home and stand a child in good stead for a positive start to primary school.”

Grade R is for “ready”

Dr Wright says that preschool focuses on early childhood development and that this continues in Grade R. During this ‘reception’ year many multi-sensory activities help children to learn concretely, and thus prepare them for the world of symbols and numbers in Grade 1.

“At Curro, we understand the significance of Grade R in a child’s schooling journey,” she says. “When approached correctly, this foundation can have a major impact on the child’s life-long self-confidence and future academic success. The play-based, skills-based approach followed in our Grade R classrooms is designed to prepare children holistically for the transition to formal learning in Grade 1. The emphasis in Grade R is on purposeful, often teacher-directed play intended to build physical, social, emotional, and cognitive skills. This approach enables children to think, plan, make decisions, and problem-solve; all the while building the essential core strength and physical agility that will be required in a formal, paper-based setting.”

She adds that it’s important to allow children to progress and reach their milestones at their own pace. “Some children are developmentally ahead of their peers at the start of Grade 1, but their friends soon catch up. A child should never feel that they are ‘behind’, as a knock to their self-confidence at this stage can be very damaging to their future confidence – even at Grade 12-level. It is important to remember that children starting in Grade 1 are still effectively Grade R learners and should be seen as such. Children learn at their own pace and have their own individual learning styles and needs. Parents and schools should recognise children’s individuality.”

For more information about Curro’s preschool and Grade R offering, visit curro.co.za.

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