What is school readiness?

For most experts, school readiness is not defined by age, but by social skills, how children cope with change, and their ability to dress themselves, go to the toilet unattended and pack their belongings.

Children don’t all learn to crawl at the same age, learn to speak at the same age, or learn to walk at the same age —they’re also not ready for school at the same age.

In NSW, the Department of Education states that children may enrol in Kindergarten at the beginning of the school year if they turn five years of age on or before 31 July in that year. They suggest that kids don’t need to read or write before they start school and that parents consider the following:

Are they physically ready? Are they socially and emotionally ready?
The Australian Children’s Education and Care Quality Authority, oversees the implementation of the Child Care National Quality Framework (NQF) and works with the state and territory regulatory authorities to implement and administer the NQF. They believe that Children’s social competence is at the core of their readiness for school and effective school transitions. Social skills such as sharing, turn taking and playing well with other children are essential in assisting children’s short and long term success at school. (School readiness and transition to school – ACECQA)

Being able to read or write, know colours or count will be taught at school so they are not a priority for starting school.

It is suggested that children should be able to hold a pencil, as well as crayons and paints and clay and playdough – all those things that will help them write well when they do go to school.

Kathy Walker, Melbourne education consultant and early childhood expert states that “Readiness is really mostly about emotional and social maturity – aspects of development that we cannot fast-track. We cannot make a child who lacks the necessary maturity become mature.”
Yet age is not a determinant of maturity – many 4 year olds are just as mature as 6 year old children.

The following from the NSW Department of Education is a list of skills that will be useful for children starting Kindergarten. It is recognised that not all children will have these skills as everyone develops at a different pace, so this is intended only as a guide so that starting school may be just a little easier.


  • talks to other people about familiar objects and events
  • answers and asks simple questions
  • makes their needs known
  • follows simple instructions
  • uses books for enjoyment or for looking at pictures
  • identifies pictures in books, magazines, on television or video
  • uses a variety of things (pens, pencils, textas, paintbrushes, sticks in the dirt) to draw, to scribble or to write
  • joins in singing familiar songs


  • recognises that numbers can be used to count
  • uses words such as many, a lot, more, less
  • identifies things in a group that are different
  • sees differences in shapes
  • differentiates between opposites – up and down, under and over, in front and behind, day and night

Personal/Social Skills

  • uses the toilet independently
  • adapts to unfamiliar settings and new experiences
  • plays cooperatively with other children – shares and takes turns
  • can sit still to listen to a story for a few minutes
  • is curious about the world
  • can share an adult’s attention with several other children
  • participates in imaginative play

Physical Skills

  • uses scissors to cut along a straight line
  • enjoys a variety of indoor and outdoor play
  • can put on and take off jumpers, shoes, socks independently

Encourage your child to attempt the things mentioned above, but don’t worry if your child can’t do all of them. Talk to the Kindergarten teacher, and together you can support and assist your child’s learning.

About the author: All round go-getter, Susanna Christie, is the Executive Director of Columba Cottage Early Learning Centre, where she leads a passionate team of 50 staff who love what they do, caring for children ranging in age from 6 weeks to 6 years. With a background in teaching from pre-school through to university, Susanna is passionate about all aspects of child development and wellbeing. Her qualifications include a Masters in Education, Bachelor of Teaching and a Graduate Diploma in Educational Studies. Susanna’s aim is to ensure that Columba Cottage remains the best Early Learning Centre on the Mid North Coast.