Five important skills for starting school (that have nothing to do with pencil & paper) 

You might be surprised to know that there is more to school readiness than writing the alphabet and counting to 100! Early years teacher and mother of two, Lauren Hunt, gives us 5 important skills for starting school that have nothing to do with a pencil and paper!

WORDS: Lauren Hunt 

As we embark on a new school year, hundreds of tiny humans across Adelaide will be eagerly awaiting the start of their school journey. Naturally, most parents will want to ensure they have done everything they can to prepare their little person to step out into this big wide world and start a new chapter. You might be surprised to know that there is more to school readiness than writing the alphabet and counting to 100! 

Fine Motor

Fine motor refers to the small muscles in the hands and fingers, and well developed fine motor skills are so important before children begin writing. Activities such as squishing play dough, threading with beads, tying up laces, doing buttons and zippers are just a few examples of ways to develop fine motor skills. Using tongs to pick up small objects, using the “pincer grip”, cutting with scissors, tearing paper are all simple everyday tasks which provide the perfect opportunity to practise these skills. 

Core Strength

Did you know that a child develops from the inside out? Meaning their inner core strength comes before their arms, and the final part to fully develop is the fingers? So in order for the optimal development of fine motor skills, core strength needs to come first. This sets children up to be able to sit at their desks/floor at school and avoid slouching all over their table! Once the core strength is there, the fine motor will follow.

One way to foster the development of core strength is good ol’ fashion tree climbing! With so many amazing nature playgrounds around Adelaide at the moment (including schools and pre schools), this type of development is being recognised as so important. Kindergyms and play groups which provide opportunities for balancing beams, stepping stones and climbing also assist children in developing their core strength. 

school readiness quote


One of the most important skills for starting school is independence. Can your child zip up and unzip their school bag and lunch box? Can they open containers? Can they open packets and yoghurt lids? If the answer is no, then get practising! Of course your child’s teacher will assist them if needed (we know that they need to have full tummies), however with a large class that could be up to 28 kids (depending on the school), it certainly makes a big difference if the children are self sufficient. 

We also aim to encourage children to be independent with organising their school belongings, changing their readers, putting their lunch order in, unpacking their things, remembering their drink bottles. Most schools also conduct annual swimming lessons and children will likely be expected to dress themselves. 

Finally, is your child confident to speak up when they need help?

Oral Language

During a recent teacher professional development day, I took away this quote; 

“If they can’t say it – they can’t write it”. 

This is why oral language is an important piece of the school readiness puzzle. If your child is about to start school, and their speech is difficult for others to understand, then you may want to speak to your GP for a referral to a speech pathologist for some advice. Early intervention is key, and many kindergartens are already on top of this. 

Some key tips:

  • avoid “correcting” your child or telling them that they are saying it wrong, rather model the correct word or sentence by repeating it back to them. Child: “me go out”, Parent: “you want to go outside?”
  • expanding their vocabulary by describing everyday objects and introducing new words
  • telling stories, as well as reading books to your child (familiar/repetitive and rhyming books are a great way to encourage language development)
  • old fashioned nursery rhymes that you may recall from your own childhood!

Kindness and social skills

A natural progression in early childhood development is that 3-4 year olds are egocentric, meaning they can only see things from their point of view and have not yet developed the sense of empathy, or the ability to see things from another person’s perspective. By the age of 5-6 is when we typically see these skills develop. 

Some children innately display kindness towards their peers, however others may experience difficulty with turn taking and sharing at school. Positive reinforcement, modelling, and gentle support are my top tips for tackling this skill. 

Talk to your child about ways they can show kindness when they start school:

  • if you see someone on their own, invite them to play
  • if you see someone upset what could you do?
  • if someone is hurt, go and find a teacher
  • share the toys in the classroom, ask for a turn before taking or snatching

A final piece of advice from a Reception teacher who has been around the block once or twice (or 16 times!!), your child will follow your lead. If you are anxious, they will pick up on it. So be positive and reassure them that they are going to have the best time – and so much fun at BIG school!

Lauren Hunt is an early years teacher and mother of two beautiful children. Lauren loves all things Adelaide and is passionate about supporting students in their first year of school with a play based learning approach.

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