Academic journal article Australasian Journal of Early Childhood

Readiness for School: A Relational Construct

Academic journal article Australasian Journal of Early Childhood

Readiness for School: A Relational Construct

Article excerpt

Introduction

Readiness for school is a contested and controversial term. Yet it is also a term invoked regularly in discussions on the transition to school. Parents and educators anguish over whether or not a child is ready for school as they try to make decisions they believe will best support children as they move into formal schooling. Even when those involved recognise that an individual child's readiness is but one element of a successful start to school, the focus on children's characteristics remains.

Readiness means different things to different people (Meisels, 1999). Sometimes, readiness is described in terms of age or stage of development. At other times checklists of readiness skills and knowledge are used to identify what children should be able to do or know before they start school (Dockett & Perry, 2006). Still other definitions of readiness emphasise social and emotional aspects (Peth-Pierce, 2001). The common factor underpinning these approaches is the focus on the individual child and whether or not the child has reached a particular point that constitutes readiness.

While it is particularly important to consider children as individuals as they start school, it is also important to acknowledge that children do not exist in isolation--they are members of families, communities, cultural and friendship groups, and so on. Neither are schools culturally neutral spaces--schools and those within them have a range of expectations that impact on how readiness is defined and enacted (Graue, 2006). Definitions of readiness will be influenced by family, community and school expectations, as well as by children's attributes. Relationships involving children, families, schools and communities will also have an impact on perceptions and expectations of readiness (Dockett & Perry, 2007).

The US National Education Goals Panel (1997) identified three components of school readiness:

1. Children's readiness for school (enabling them to participate in classroom and learning experiences).

2. Schools' readiness for children (schools responding to the children enrolled).

3. Family and community supports and services that contribute to children's readiness (promoting family and community environments that support learning).

These elements indicate that children's characteristics are one, but not the only, factor to be considered in discussions of readiness.

Children's readiness for school

Five dimensions of children's readiness for school have been identified (Kagan, Moore & Bredekamp, 1995):

* Physical wellbeing and motor development (including health status, growth, physical abilities).

* Social and emotional development (children's ability to interact with others, their perceptions of themselves, and ability to understand and respond to the feelings of others).

* Approaches to learning (including children's dispositions towards learning).

* Language development (including the ability to communicate effectively with others and emergent literacy).

* Cognition and general knowledge (including knowledge of specific cultural and social practices).

Several researchers have described these dimensions in detail (Emig, Moore & Scarupa, 2001; Halle, Zaff, Calkins & Margie, 2000), noting the importance of considering all areas of development, not just cognitive and language skills or curriculum areas such as literacy and numeracy, in determining children's readiness for school.

North American surveys of kindergarten teachers have indicated that many children are deemed to not have the necessary prerequisite skills to succeed in school (Rimm-Kaufman, Pianta & Cox, 2000). One consequence has been to focus on remediating these deficiencies to ensure that children do develop the skills and knowledge regarded as necessary (Niemeyer & Scott-Little, 2001). …

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