For school readiness, parents want confident, mature children with pre-reading skills
A national survey of Australian parents with children aged two to twelve years of age has found that parents believe social and verbal confidence, emotional maturity, and some degree of pre-reading skills are the top three things a child needs to be successful and ready for school.
The findings will be of interest to those in the early childhood education and care (ECEC) sector, with many parents placing expectations on services to ensure children are ready to commence formal schooling, with services responding with “school readiness” programs.
Conducted on behalf of the online children’s reading program ABC Reading Eggs, the national survey found that 76 per cent of parents identified social and verbal confidence as the key ingredient for school success. This was followed by emotional maturity, which 58 per cent of respondents viewed as essential, with ‘a degree of reading ability’ being core for 40 per cent of parents.
Single parents were most concerned about a child’s social confidence, with 88 per cent agreeing on this success factor. It was also an important factor for 79 per cent of Generation X parents (those born between 1966 and 1981).
For Millennial-aged parents (those born 1981 and 1996) having prior reading ability was a big priority, as it was for parents of all ages who held full time positions. Just 8 per cent of parents felt that no child under the age of five should start school under any circumstances.
Speaking to the results, psychologist Kim Shortridge from The Sydney Psychology Centre said being socially confident and verbally articulate can certainly be helpful for children in kindergarten, as it can assist kids to feel more confident in finding and making friends.
Ms Shortridge offered the following cues as to emotional maturity, which she believes may determine a child’s suitability to commence school:
- Children should be able to recognise their own emotions, and regulate those emotions wherever possible, so they’re not too dependent on an adult to help them.
- A child should be able to know what emotions like frustration feels like and be able to implement strategies like taking deep breaths to get back in control.
- Crying readily, shouting, poor persistence when things are tough, and tantrums, are all signs that a child might need some help honing their emotion regulation skills before they are ready to start kindergarten.
In addition to reading capacity, over half of the parents surveyed believed competency in a range of core skills should be used to determine a child’s school readiness.
In addition to reading ability, 34 per cent of parents felt some prior writing skills are needed, and 25 per cent said a child should have some basic maths knowledge.
ABC Reading Eggs literacy consultant Sara Leman, an experienced teacher and literacy specialist, believes “it’s only natural for parents to be anxious about school readiness when it comes to ability.”
“Understandably, many parents feel pressured to teach their child to read and write before starting school,” she said.
“However, these skills are not prerequisites. Teachers are generally more interested in knowing that the child is socially, emotionally and physically mature enough to handle school life.”
According to Ms Leman, who was instrumental in developing both ABC Reading Eggs and the Mathseeds numeracy program, research has shown that being literate is crucial for children’s social, emotional and academic well-being.
“We can encourage future success by teaching key literacy skills whilst children are engaged, motivated and wanting to learn,” said Ms Leman. Core literacy skills identified by Ms Leman include phonemic awareness, vocabulary building and comprehension.
Ms Shortridge emphasised that careful discussion is needed with a child’s pre-school educator to assess whether a child is “ready” for school.
“There are many children who are so thirsty for knowledge, that keeping them at home an extra year is not in their best interests,” she said. “So, if a child seems almost ready for school, in the lead up to the start of school they might benefit from some extra time around same-aged peers [to practise their social and emotion regulation skills].
“Once school has started, parents can also support their child by doing things like arranging play dates with classmates; getting to school early or staying back late to play in the playground; scaffolding them with some support [such as counselling sessions)] and being there to talk through the tough stuff when it happens.”
The survey was conducted by YouGov Galaxy on an omnibus survey between 9–11 July 2019 and was administered online amongst a nationally representative sample of 403 Australian parents aged 18 years and older with a child aged birth to twelve.
For more information on ABC Reading Eggs, please see here.