Basic Skills Needed For Starting School



1.       Getting along with others – “Social Development”


At school, the child needs to have appropriate social skills at two levels:-


a)      The child needs to be able to mix with adults outside the family.  In particular they need to be able to listen to the teacher, tell and ask things and do what is asked.


b)      The child needs to be able to get on with other students.  At school this means:

  • participating in groups
  • Cooperating
  • Playing without adult supervision
  • Taking turns
  • Sharing
  • Caring for belongings and respecting those of others
  • Respecting the rights of others.


Even though the student has spent at least one year at kindergarten with 25 or so other children they may not have mastered many of these social skills required for school.


Social development can be enhanced by encouraging the following activities:

  • Playing games with other students/adults
  • Sharing activities, e.g. passing things
  • Helping around the house
  • Having visitors
  • Being minded
  • Shopping
  • Talking to postmen, doctors, etc.


Turning off the television and playing a game with the family automatically encourages sharing, taking turns, following directions, abiding by rules, helping  the student come to grips with losing and winning and so on.


2.       Growing maturity – ‘Emotional Development’


Children must be emotionally secure if they are too confident, happily and successfully tackle the new challenge of school.


a)      Able to separate easily from parents.


The student who cannot will not be able to concentrate and settle easily into the activities of the day.


b)      Able to control themselves and cope with feelings.


Temper tantrums are not appropriate behaviour for a school student and good peer relations will be difficult for the student who has not learnt that their needs cannot always be met immediately.  They need to be able to share attention and not be afraid of day to day issues.


c)       Condifident and secure


Self confident students are more likely to be able to meet challenges of school.  The confident student keeps trying because they know they have been successful in the past.


d)      Responsible


The students, who take no responsibility for their own clothes or their own mess, etc., make problems for themselves and their teacher.


e)      Independence


Students who can work independently at school are able to attempt far more and hence learn more.


Emotional development can be encouraged by:

  • Preparing the student for school
  • Being positive about school
  • Not putting pressure on the student to miss the parent and asking, “Did you miss me?”
  • Not giving into tantrums
  • Expecting the student to wait
  • Not giving the student everything they want
  • Not overdoing assurances about being there when school goes out
  • Showing and telling the student that they are loved
  • Building up self confidence as much as possible
  • Giving the student tasks they can complete
  • Teaching the student to wait until the parent is able to attend to them
  • Listening to the student
  • Letting the student decide where appropriate and respecting their decision
  • Giving the student experience and responsibility
  • Giving the student autonomy where appropriate


3.       Growth in Ability to Understand and Know – “Intellectual Development”


Students come to understand things by seeing, hearing, touching, tasting, smelling and doing.  For example, before students can understand what they read, they need to have heard the words and know what they mean.  Similarly, before they can work out sums, they need to know about ‘more’ and ‘less’, ‘bigger’ and ‘smaller’, etc.  Children are better prepared to learn at school if:

  • They have a good grasp of language
  • They have had a broad range of experiences upon which to build
  • They have been stimulated by their parents through interactions such as having stories read to them, visiting different places, being spoken to and listened to, having questions answered, etc.


Knowing and understanding can be increased by:

  • Drawing the students attention to signs, advertisements and explaining what they mean
  • Reading to the student
  • Telling stories to the student
  • Talking and listening to the student
  • Giving reasons for actions to the student
  • Helping the student count a few objects around the house
  • Talking about time
  • Letting the student buy things
  • Helping the student build things
  • Letting the student play with water, sand, dough, etc.
  • Joining the library


4.       Physical Growth


The student who is beginning school should:

  • Be out of the habit of an afternoon sleep
  • Be used to eating a cut lunch and feeding themselves, (unwrapping, peeling fruit, etc.)
  • Be accustomed to using public toilets and able to manage themselves at the toilet. (Dressing: buttons, zippers, etc.  Hygiene: washing and drying hands)
  • Be able to blow their nose
  • Have developed eye-hand coordination
  • Be able to put on/take off jumpers, coats and shoes
  • Have parents who will advise the teacher of any health problems


Most of the above can be enhanced with practice and appropriate training by parents.


Beginning School


As the time gets close for the student to start school there are a number of things which parents can do to help the student settle in easily.  Here are some ideas:

  • Point out the different school buildings and playground areas.
  • Once school starts, make sure they know where to meet you.  If students are to feel secure, it is important they they are met on time.
  • Give them practice in saying their names and addresses.
  • Label any clothes that may be taken off, together with things like lunchboxes, school bags, etc.  Show the student the label and say something like, “see, I’ve put your name here in blue pencil”
  • Talk about the difference between playtime and lunchtime.  Show them what food you have packed each morning and say when you expect it to be eaten.  Make sure they can easily open the lunchbox and drink container.  Sandwiches that are individually wrapped area easier to handle.
  • Choose a schoolbag that is a suitable size for the student.  Bags that are too big are awkward and tiring, but they need to be large enough to fit all their belongings.




The decision about when any particular child should begin school must always be an individual one.  Parents should listen to the advice coming from their pre-school staff and avoid being influenced by friends, relatives or neighbours.  If in doubt, remember the ideal better late than early.


To assist parents and teachers in making this difficult decision, the Australian Council for Educational Research has published a checklist for school beginners.


Checklists of this kind are not examinations and are not used to exclude a child if it cannot perform every item.


Satisfactory performance comes with time and experience.  Pressurised coaching before the child is ready will only delay readiness for school and should be avoided at all costs. 


Students may be ready for school when they are able to:



Say their full name


Tell someone their correct address and telephone number


Recognise their name in print


Understand the dangers of traffic, electricity, fire, water and high places


Recognise their own belongings


Talk in sentences


Communicate needs


Remember little songs and rhymes


Dress themselves most of the time


Wash face and hands unassisted


Manage toilet visits unaided


Enjoy drawing and painting


Manage scissors reasonably well


Can go on short messages alone


Assist with little household tasks


Choose their own TV programs


Interested in looking at books


Listen carefully to stories and read alone


Play happily with other children


Are careful when using other people’s belongings


Listen without interrupting another child who is talking


Take turns on playground equipment


Make friends reasonably easily


Readiness may also be indicated if they do not:


Cry for lengthy periods when upset


Avoid play with others


Have frequent temper tantrums when upset or corrected


Constantly move without rest


Become anxious in the absence of parents


Most Children begin school at five years of can also


Stand on each leg alternatively


Walk voluntarily on a balance beam


Hop on one leg


Do up buttons


Draw reasonably straight line of about 10cm in length


Draw a recognisable picture of a house and a person


Colour in without crossing the lines


Cut out a simple shape neatly


Count to 10 without error


Name from memory, in any order four objects shown briefly


Can go on with other work when finished, without direction


Speak in complete sentences


Understand simple concepts such as is/is not,  small/smaller, large/larger, high/higher