There are a lot of big feelings surrounding our children starting school. There are also a lot of questions - one main one being "Is my child ready?" What is school readiness? Is it important? What should we focus on?

Do you have a child who is about to start school? How do you feel about it? I am sure you have some big emotions. But what about “school readiness”? That term has probably been used many times as your child has gone through preschool (if they went to preschool). Not everyone knows what it means. And is it really important?


School readiness is simply that – being ready to start kindergarten/first grade (depending on which country you are in). Many people focus on the academic side of readiness, but it also includes the areas of social-emotional development, and the ability to focus on a task and shows interest in learning. 


Have you heard the old rule of thumb about touching your ear over the top of your head? They say that if a child can reach over the top of their head and touch their ear then they are ready to start school. If they can’t touch their ear then they are too young. 

I have a friend from Kenya who said when they were young they were asked to do this to see if they could start school. We really don’t use that test anymore, as it doesn’t take into account other criteria, but it does highlight child development. 

Waldorf schools recognize the advantage of delaying entrance into first grade until a child is developmentally ready for school. They take many things into account, like the touch the ear test and whether the children have lost any teeth. Many children in Waldorf schools actually spend TWO years in the kindergarten program. 

two little girls reaching over their head to touch their ear


When it comes to academic expectations, the list has certainly changed over the years. Back when I taught kindergarten I didn’t expect a number from the list below. But I will also say that I have heard of a number of schools expecting far more than what is recommended (example: knowing 25 sight words before kindergarten). 

Here is the recommended list:

  • Identify some letters of the alphabet.
  • Grip a pencil, crayon, or marker correctly.
  • Write their first name using upper- and lowercase letters, if possible.
  • Learn sounds corresponding to vowels and consonants.
  • Recognize some common sight words, like “said” and “do.”
  • Be able to recognize names of colors and parts of the body.
  • Recognize and produce rhyming words.
  • Repeat full name and birthday.
  • Recite the days of the week and months of the year.
  • Classify objects according to their size, shape, and quantity.
  • Count to 10 (or some say 20).
  • Know how to interact with a book.
  • Listen attentively without interrupting and raise your hand to speak.
  • Follow multi-step directions.
  • Work together with a friend or in small groups on a team project.
  • Use scissors, glue, paint, and other art materials with relative ease.
  • Manage bathroom needs.
  • Get dressed.
  • Clean up after self.
  • Separate from parents easily.

You can look at that list and feel overwhelmed. Please don’t. Remember that every child is going to develop differently and if your child does not know everything on that list prior to starting school, they will learn! 

small boy writing in a school book


It is recommended to focus less on the academics (counting, shapes, letters) and help your child to be socially-emotional ready. 

Here are some things to ask:

  • Does my child know how to make friends? Can they share, take turns and compromise?
  • Can they calm themselves down when they get angry?
  • Are they able to sit and listen?
  • What do they do if something goes wrong?
  • Do they show basic manners?
  • Does my child make eye contact?
  • Do they follow directions?
  • Can they respect personal space?

Work on independence and self-help skills. Can they clean up their own meal? Do they have chores they are in charge of? All these things will help them at school. 

When your child starts school, they will be able to cope if they can’t hold a pencil correctly, can’t cut in a straight line, write their name or open their lunch box. They don’t know all of the alphabet? They will learn! But, they will struggle if they don’t have well developed social-emotional skills. Transitioning to school is a big step and involves a lot of changes. 

If your child is starting school in the next school year, you still have time to work on the social-emotional aspects to help set them up for success. Having taught kindergarten, I know that the early weeks are full of big emotions and a lot of learning. They all get it in the end. 

Do you have questions about reading readiness? Here is a post about it.

Michayla Best

For over 30 years I have worked with children in a variety of capacities, whether as a teacher or tutor, a babysitter, a camp leader, or family advocate. I have always found a way to connect with children, to help them understand themselves and the world around.

I am Mummy to trinational twincesses who keep me on my toes with their questions, their commentaries, their shenanigans and acts of spontenudity.

Wife, world traveler, musician, crafting queen and self-proclaimed nerd; I love to take what I see, glean, know and help families to find their groove and be successful.

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