Guidelines for school readiness

Dear parents,

Spring is in the air! This means the changing of seasons and the beautiful colours of spring blossoms all around us. It also means that the end of the last term for your preschooler is around the corner.

School readiness is not something that can be forced, practised, or taught in the last few months of the year. Although the focus of school readiness falls on the 5-6-year-old age group, we must keep in mind that the necessary building blocks needed for school readiness already start developing in the first year of their lives. Before a child enters a preschool, he/she must establish secure relationships with their primary caregivers (i.e., their parents), where they learn about trust, and appropriate social and communication skills. This is important for building a positive self-esteem and confidence. Children are naturally curious, and enjoy exploring their environments. Children should be encouraged to explore freely in a safe environment (without expectation) and to make mistakes (without judgement or immediate correction), so that they can learn from their own experience and interaction with the world. This is how they discover how things work (e.g. opening and closing lids), and how to use their bodies (e.g. the ability to feed or dress themselves, or how to ride a bicycle without training wheels). They also learn valuable basic work habits such as packing away their toys after they have played or throwing away their rubbish in the bin. They start developing their perceptual skills, the ability to focus on tasks, as well as fine motor skills such as developing a preferred hand for tool use. They also learn about self-respect, respecting other people, and other people’s property.

School readiness involves the overall development of a child and a certain level of emotional maturity needed to manage challenges and relationships with their peers. This cannot be obtained by a therapist or teacher alone. The parents are the most important role players in the child’s development and “school readiness team”. We should take hands and work together, as we are all striving for the same outcome: that your child has the necessary skills to be able to physically cope with the expectations in class, be happy, and behave in a socially appropriate and emotionally confident way when they enter the formal schooling system in Grade One.

Here are some of the basic school readiness skills a child needs before they can successfully enter the formal schooling system:

  • Age-appropriate cognitive, perceptual and sensory-motor skills so they can keep up with the type of work, and independently complete tasks in the time available e.g., the ability to write their name and surname, cut out a shape on a line, build a puzzle (24 – 50 pieces), know basic concepts such as colours and shapes, as well as copying or drawing letters and numbers, and orientating clothing correctly onto their bodies (e.g. putting shoes on the correct feet and tying their own shoe laces);
  • Age-appropriate language and communication skills e.g. interacting with their teachers and friends, following instructions, participating in discussions, understanding the content of a lesson;
  • Age-appropriate social skills e.g. having a conversation with a friend, sharing and taking turns, not hurting other people’s feelings or breaking someone else’s things on purpose. Children need to have an understanding and develop insight into their own behaviour e.g. what behaviour is OK and NOT OK, knowing the rules / expectations at school and understanding the consequences if they did something that was not OK, e.g. learning to cooperate in a group or team, as well as learning to apologise;
  • Age-appropriate independence and emotional maturity e.g. making eye contact, having confidence to ask questions (e.g. knowing where the bathroom is and going to the bathroom independently), or sharing their concerns (e.g. if they forgot something like their sport equipment or lunch box at home), the ability to handle frustration or disappointment at school, being aware of the routines and adapting to activities accordingly (e.g. eating during break times, washing hands after going to the toilet, taking care of their belongings);
  • Age-appropriate general knowledge e.g. knowing their own date of birth, at least one parent’s cell phone number, or their own address.

At home, parents can ensure that their 5-6 year-old child gets enough sleep (at least 10 – 13 hours per night) and eats healthy food and drinks enough fresh water every day. Limit fizzy drinks and sweets, as sugar has a bad influence on their ability to concentrate. Children in this age group should not be expected to sit still for longer than 20 – 30 minutes at a time. They will benefit from movement breaks e.g. to stand up and stretch, or go and have some water to assist with their regulation if the task takes longer than 30 minutes.

Before one gets concerned about a child’s ability to concentrate or attention span, make sure that the child’s physiological needs are met, and that the environment is optimal for their learning (e.g. consider the impact of background noise and visual clutter on a child’s ability to finish tasks in class).

Children should be encouraged to play outside for at least 30 – 60 minutes per day and have TV-free days. It is important that screen time is limited and that they do not spend more than 30 – 60 minutes per day on a device. Electronic devices emit electromagnetic waves and blue light rays that are harmful to children’s eyes (e.g. irritation and soreness) and can potentially impact their ability to focus. The negative impact on their postures while playing on the devices should also be taken into consideration, seeing that is impacts a child’s physical and mental endurance. It is also recommended that children should not be exposed to screen time from an hour before bedtime.

Although it is good to let children participate in extramural activities such as swimming, pottery, and gymnastics, please do not overschedule their days. They need to rest and have time to do something of their choice and play freely in the afternoons.

Make sure that you spend enough quality time with your pre-schooler to build a safe and trusting relationship. When a child enters the formal schooling system, it is another phase of “letting go”, and trusting that your child will be OK when you are not around. Drive past the school and enjoy buying the new school uniforms, stationery, and school bags, which are also part of the mental preparation for your child. Although each school or schooling system has their own requirements, these are some of the basic guidelines that will assist you to prepare your child for school. All the best for the new season ahead!


Kind regards,

Stefanie Kruger

Occupational Therapist (UP 1997, MOccTher 2020*)


Here is a link for more information on school readiness: