by Celesté Jacobs
What is it that teachers, with an average of 30 children per class each year, know that parents often fail to understand or believe?
Dr. Melodie De Jager, in her book Ready to Learn Ready for school (2014:9), states that:
School readiness means your child is prepared for tuition that is abstract and expressed as symbols; and this readiness is linked to children aged five to seven.
This means that children between the ages of five to seven must be ready for formal schooling. They should have acquired skills offering them a level of independence and should be able to sit still and do work that requires abstract thinking (De Jager: 2017).
Furthermore, De Jager (2018) asserts that:
School-readiness, in a nutshell, means that your child is able to concentrate on a task for at least 11 minutes, even if he does not want to; listens the first time; speaks the language used in the grade one classroom fluently and, most importantly, has played outside enough to be able to sit still and is ready to master abstract and symbolic learning activities (to write and read the alphabet and numbers).
The South African Department of Education states that admission to a public school Grade R programme is permitted if the age of a learner is four turning five by 30 June in the year of admission; to Grade 1 if the age of a learner is five turning six by 30 June in the year of admission. School readiness assessments can ascertain if your child has adequately developed the following skills: Physical-, Emotional-, Social- and Cognitive skills, to prepare them for formal school activities such as sitting still, reading and writing (De Jager: 2014). Some assessments, like the Aptitude Test for School beginners (ASB) tests primarily for Cognitive skills. To find an answer to the earlier question as to whether the sooner the child goes to school the better he / she will be prepared, I will share some insights from a recent study.
I recently did a Cognitive school readiness assessment of a group of Gr. R’s. Interesting insights emerged that I would like to share with parents in an attempt to help to reassure them about this issue. The Aptitude test for School Beginners (ASB), a standardised test, was used. As indicated earlier, the test assesses the child’s Cognitive ability.
All the learners were in Gr. R who attended the same school and the same curriculum was utilised. The ages of the learners ranged from 5 years 9 months to 6 years 9 months on the day of the assessment. As in other standardised tests, the scores of each individual test were processed and assigned a value or standard score. In the ASB, the standard score of 3 to 5 means the learner is Cognitive ready for Gr. 1. Any score lower means the learner is not cognitively ready for Gr. 1.
It was interesting to note that learners scored higher on some skills than on others.
Visual perception SKILLS delivered the highest average score between all learners. The lowest average score between all learners was on Coordination.
The child’s motor skills are tested in the Coordination subtest and according to the ASB manual, this gives an indication of motor maturity and skill in handling pencil and paper. A range of motor skills are mentioned by de Jager (2014) in her book ‘Ready to learn, ready for school’. These include fine motor skills, perceptual motor skills, visual motor skills specifically linked to coordination as well as hand-eye coordination. These skills are specifically tested with this subtest and low scores could suggest a physical developmental delay.
If we consider the above chart, we can see the age of the learners from youngest to oldest on the vertical axes, given as year:month and the standardised score on the horizontal axes from 1 to 5 as indicated by the ASB. What I find interesting, is the fact that despite the average in the middle, the general tendency of the graph is leaning towards the higher the age, the higher the score (indicated by the linear line). The youngest testee on the specific day was emotionally immature, needed a lot of assurance and was very impulsive in answering the questions. Moreover, the older learners were generally more able to sit still, concentrate and listen to instructions and the observation supports the results of the test.
According to above findings and my experience in the whole process, I will say that age does matter. To sit still and concentrate are all physical-, emotional- and social skills that are developed before cognitive skills receive priority (De Jager: 2019). Even if they tested to be COGNITIVELY ready for school at age 5 years 9 months, my recommendations are always, and now strengthened by above data, that it can never harm a child to take extra time to further develop physically, emotionally and socially. In school, the focus is on Cognition and some parents may feel that if they send their child to school early, they will still finish school in time should they have to repeat a grade. However, Dr. Melodie De Jager writes that chances that a child who is ready for school and fully developed physically, emotionally, socially and then cognitively, rarely has to repeat a year (2014). Therefore, parents should give their children the opportunity to fully develop maturity of skills before forcing them into formal schooling. Dr. De Jager likens ‘developing readiness to learn’ to the ripening of an avocado: both need time and the right conditions. If you try to force it, you cause harm (2014).
Department of basic Education, 2021. Admission of learners to public schools. [online]. Available from: https://www.education.gov.za/Informationfor/ParentsandGuardians/SchoolAdmissions.aspx [accessed: Feb 2022].
De Jager, M. 2014. Ready to learn, ready for school: a practical guide for parents and caregivers. Metzpress: Welgemoed, South Africa.
De Jager, M. 2017. When does school readiness start. [online]. Available from: https://www.mindmoves.co.za/2017/04/11/when-does-school-readiness-start/ [accessed Feb 2022]
De Jager, M. 2018. Learning ready, school ready. [online]. Available from: https://www.mindmoves.co.za/2018/11/30/learning-ready-school-ready/
[accessed Oct 2021].
De Jager, M. 2019. De Jager Model of Development: A Neuroscience perspective. [online]. Available from: https://www.mindmoves.co.za/2019/01/31/de-jager-model-of-development-a-neuroscience-perspective/ [accessed: Nov 2021].