The Importance of Starting School Competent and Confident


Is my child ready for school? It is the big question we are asked by so many parents. Unfortunately, there is no single answer; there are multiple factors that determine whether a child is ready to embark on this significant chapter in their life. What we do know is that it is important for a child to not just be prepared cognitively for the academic demands of school, but also to have sufficient physical ability and have developed social and emotional resilience to survive all of the new challenges of ‘big school’.



Social-Emotional Competence

As adults, we can relate to how difficult it can be to focus on a task or maintain motivation when we are feeling anxious, emotional or dealing with conflict. Similarly, children who lack social awareness or emotional coping strategies are more likely to find themselves in a regular social conflict that will impact their ability to focus on the classroom and achieve academic success.[1] Kindergarten teachers have reported that children who have difficulty with emotional expression and regulation are predicted to be ‘less eager to learn about the world, literacy and numeracy and are less likely to persist or participate cooperatively’.[2] Studies have shown that children who are taught social and emotional skills prior to commencing school ‘enjoy school more are able to focus more in class and score significantly better (11% on average) on academic achievement tests’.[3] Evidence also suggests that a higher level of emotional regulation at the start of the school year is associated with better adjustment to school and overall positive outcomes at the end of the school year.

Fine Motor Skills

‘Fine motor skills among pre-school aged children are among the best predictors of later performance on standardised achievement tests in the first grade and at the end of primary school’. [4]

Rather than allocating all of their brainpower to remember how to spell a word or thinking of what to write next in their story, children with a deficit in fine motor skills will be required to use a lot of their cognitive effort just to control their pencil on the page. If a child lacks speed or endurance in their writing, they will take longer than their peers to complete writing tasks, may regularly leave tasks incomplete and subsequently fall behind in class.

Fine motor skills are also essential for children to have independence outside the classroom. A child with poor fine motor ability may have to find a teacher every time they need to unzip their school bag, tie their shoelaces or open a packet of food at recess. Evidence suggests that children with a deficit in their fine motor skills are more likely to demonstrate emotional and behavioural issues as well as low self-esteem often due to being ridiculed by peers. [5]

Gross Motor Skills

Adequate gross motor skills are necessary for children to carry out tasks that make up the school day. These include carrying a heavy school bag, walking between classes, maintaining an upright posture at the table and keeping up in sports class. A deficit in gross motor skills can impact a child’s academic performance. For example, if a child has low core or postural muscle tone, they will find it difficult to maintain an appropriate posture at their desk, slump in their chair, or lean their head on their hand, which will have an impact on their ability to complete tabletop tasks. Poor endurance can lead to a child becoming fatigued early in the school day, which will affect their level of focus and attention in the classroom.

Gross motor ability also has a significant impact on a child’s social development in the early school years. Playground interactions between children are predominantly made up of physical play; so if a child can’t run fast enough to keep up with their peers or return a ball to their friend, they are likely to be left behind. Studies of kindergarten children have concluded that children with well-developed motor skills are more likely to succeed in physical games and activities, which can increase self-confidence and respect among peers. Children with less adequate gross motor skills are more likely to experience aggression, fear-anxiety, hyperactivity, distractibility and victimization.[6]

Kids OT runs School Readiness classes throughout the year to equip preschoolers with the necessary tools to start primary school competent and confident. The classes aim to enhance the following skills:

  • Fine Motor – developing fine motor strength and endurance, maintaining a dominant hand and appropriate pencil grasp, writing letters and numbers, tying shoelaces, cutting and pasting.
  • Gross Motor – developing muscle tone and the ability to motor plan new movements. Run, jump, hop, balance, throw and kick a ball.
  • Social Skills – learn typical playground games, how to introduce yourself, initiate play, take turns and collaborate and build resilience to cope with losing.

Contact Kids OT if you have a child starting school and would like to receive suggestions or advice from an Occupational Therapist to support your child’s development and transition.

[1] Herndon, K., Bailery, S., Shewark, E., Denham, S., Bassett, H. (2013). Preschoolers’ emotion expression and regulation: relations with school adjustment. The Journal of Genetic Psychology: research Theory on Human Development, 174

[2] Shields, A., Dickstein, S., Seifer, R., Giusti, L., Magee, K., Spritz, B. (2001) Emotional competence and early school adjustment: a study of preschoolers at Risk. Early Education and Development, 12

[3] Goleman, D. (2008). Success: The rest of the story. Accessed online 6 Nov 2015


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