How do I know if my spirited child is school-ready?

The transition to school from 4-year-old kindergarten is a big one. Starting school brings some new challenges in terms of greater expectations and independence. Fortunately, most children look forward to starting school and often thrive in this new learning environment. 

Parents of ‘spirited children’- that is, kids who experience intense emotions, are incredibly persistent (or stubborn!) and full of energy- can worry about how their child will fare when they start school. If your child is already engaging in some form of therapy (be this speech therapy, occupational therapy, or psychology) or has received a diagnosis of a developmental difference, many of the goals you are already working on will help prepare your child for school. There are however some general tips to help prepare your child for school. Do not forget that their 4-year-old kindergarten teacher has also been working hard (where possible this year!) on preparing them for school and can support you with this transition. 

School readiness is a broad term that includes several factors. Children benefit from having good social skills (such as getting along with other children and be able to assert themselves); emotional maturity (are able to manage their emotions appropriately and can follow directions from adults); language skills (can listen to others and express themselves clearly); motor skills (such as the ability to hold a pencil) and independence skills (such as managing their lunchbox, toileting etc.). Identifying which of these areas your child is likely to have more challenges with can be helpful so you can practice these skills at home. For example, you may engage in more craft activities at home, play games that involve turn taking, help them label their emotions and practice putting on their uniform or opening their lunchbox containers. Whilst kinder has been disrupted this year due to COVID-19, your child’s teachers can help guide you with activities or games to help practise and develop these skills in the home environment.

Beyond these individual areas, it can often be helpful to enrol your ‘spirited child’ into an activity that helps them to channel their endless energy in a productive way, such as swimming or martial arts. Whilst this may not be possible right now, some activities may open up in the coming months or may be able to be accessed online.

Such children will likely benefit from frequent movement breaks at school, which their teacher can facilitate by giving them special jobs (such as handing out pencils to the rest of the class). Your child might need some help in developing strategies to help them cope with tricky situations- like how they can keep themselves occupied when they must wait for something. All children benefit from having a clear routine and being given warnings of impending transitions at home and school. It also goes without saying that your child’s sleep and eating will also have a big impact on their ability to concentrate and engage in learning. 

If you have concerns about your child’s readiness for school, there is support available, including the psychologists at CCD. Some clinics also run ‘school readiness’ groups (many of which are being run online) which can be a good practice opportunity prior to commencing school.  Your intended school will also run transition sessions and can provide additional support if you anticipate that your child would benefit from this. And finally, do not stress- with the proper supports in place your ‘spirited child’ will likely thrive when they start school.

Olivia Smith is an endorsed Educational and Developmental Psychologist and is a strong believer in the importance of working collaboratively with families and other professionals to ensure a holistic approach to child wellbeing. She is passionate about advocating for and working with children presenting with anxiety and/or neurodiversity (e.g. ASD, ADHD and specific learning disorders) and their families. Olivia strives to make therapy sessions engaging, effective and applicable to everyday life, and views the relationship between child and therapist as key to success. She is also a certified SOS-feeding therapist.

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