How to know if your child is ready for school

Starting school is a major milestone in a child’s life.  But for parents, knowing when is the right time is often the greatest challenge.

When it comes to school readiness, there is no one-size-fits-all formula.

The transition from kindergarten or preschool into “big school” is a significant step in a child’s life – and determining whether they are ready is a big decision for both parents and their children.

In Australia, children must have started school when they are six, but for children who fall into a grey area because of their birth date, it is very much an individual issue.

And it’s one that is increasingly causing stress and anxiety.

In fact, a 2017 Queensland University of Technology study found a growing number of parents were choosing to delay starting their child at school to enable another year of play.

More than just your ABCs

There are many factors other than age that help determine whether a child is ready for school, says specialist educator and author Karen Seinor.

In her book Is My Child Ready for School? Karen looks at the factors that determine what make a child ready to learn – and whether they will flourish or struggle.

And it is not all about being able to recite the alphabet and count from one to 10.

“The thing about school readiness is that it is not a blanket statement about age or even intelligence,” Karen says.

“It is about their emotional development, their confidence, their literacy and numeracy development, their language and social skills, their cognitive skills and their physical development – they are the key things that really determine readiness.”

The thing about school readiness is that it is not a blanket statement about age or even intelligence

The role of social and emotional intelligence

Karen advises parents to look at the whole child when weighing up if they are ready for school.

“Things like social skills determine how happy a child is at school and we know that children who have friends are more successful in the classroom and outside,” she says.

“Also, confidence and emotional readiness – are they ready to be separated from you or are they fretting and crying all morning?

“The better the oral language skills the child has when they start school will help determine how successful they will be academically – the amount of words they have in their vocabulary, can they put a sentence together, can they understand what is being said and their communication in general.”

Let kids play

Karen says physical play is another important aspect to consider for school readiness.

“Kids who get out and explore and play a lot, that is really important for learning,” she says.

“For instance, pre-reading skills such as looking left to right and even just holding a pencil – the better their physical development, the better off they will be.”

Karen says the last consideration should be whether your child can write their name or understand basic maths – because if they are ready to learn, those skills will be learnt at school.

“There is no checklist. It is important to weigh up all of the pros and cons for your child to ensure you make the best decision for them,” she says.

Reading to kids

Karen Seinor’s top 10 tips for getting your child ready for school:


  1. Read, talk and sing with your child daily to develop their oral language skills such as vocabulary or listening skills. Strong language skills are a good indicator of future academic success. It’s also a great foundation for learning how to read and write.
  2. Give your child time for free play – it assists many aspects of development such as language skills, social skills, fine and gross motor skills and creative thinking and problem solving skills. Try to include lots of outdoor and nature play as well.
  3. Set up regular play dates so your child can develop social skills such as taking turns, joining in and conflict resolution.
  4. Familiarise your child with the school environment. If your child is familiar with the layout of the school it will boost their confidence and minimise anxiety with starting school.
  5. Develop confidence and independence by teaching your child how to pack/unpack their bag, open their lunchbox and how to take their jumper on and off.


  1. Don’t try to formally teach reading or letters and numbers using worksheets and flashcards – you risk creating anxiety around learning or damaging their confidence.
  2. Don’t force your child to sit still for long periods in order to prepare them for school. Movement is vital to brain development. Also, when a child is focusing on not moving then they are not learning.
  3. Don’t make negative statements about starting school such as: “You will get in big trouble if you do that at school!” Talk positively about school and teachers because you don’t want to create fear and anxiety around starting school.
  4. Don’t have conversations about school readiness in front of your child because if you decide to wait another year they may feel inadequate or as if they have failed.
  5. Don’t over-schedule your child with too many activities in the first term of school. They will be physically, mentally and emotionally tired in those first few weeks.

School entry times by state

In Australia, school starting ages vary slightly:

  • Victoria –turn 5 by April 30
  • Western Australia – turn 5 by June 30
  • South Australia – turn 5 before April 30
  • Australian Capital Territory – turn 5 by April 30
  • Queensland – turn 5 by June 30
  • Tasmania – turn 5 on or by January 1
  • New South Wales – turn 5 on or before July 31
  • Northern Territory – turn 5 on or before June 30

Written by Laeta Crawford.