May 17, 2023

What is School Readiness, and is my little one 'ready'?

Jane Magnani
Jane Magnani
What is School Readiness, and is my little one 'ready'?

School readiness is essential for children's development. It impacts a child's future learning; therefore, boosting these skills early on is the best way to ensure your little one gets the opportunity to reach their full potential by getting all the support they need to succeed.

School readiness can confuse parents; school readiness is vaguely described in the EYFS (Early Years Foundation Stage) as "Children reaching a good level of development in the prime areas (Personal, Social, Emotional development, Communication and Language and Physical development) and Literacy and Mathematics". However, school readiness goes much deeper than this; a school-ready child should display many other characteristics.

Early Years Educators, parents, and teachers interpret the term 'school ready' in different ways and contrasting to that often stated by the government policymakers and regulators in England. 

Early years professionals agree that the term should be defined as children who: 

  • Can emotionally cope with being separated from their parents/carers

  • Have strong social skills 

  • Relatively independent in their self-care 

  • They demonstrate curiosity about the world and a strong desire to learn. 

What does being 'school ready' really mean?

Children who are showing school readiness display some of these characteristics:

  • Independent in toileting.

  • Able to dress themselves.

  • Able to feed themselves.

  • Understands expected levels of behaviour.

  • Confidence and self-esteem.

  • Can take turns and share.

  • Can sit still for a short period.

  • Can separate from parents/carers.

  • Uses communication and language skills needed to communicate needs and listen to others.

  • Can actively learn and creatively and critically think.

Please remember all children are different, with different personalities and abilities and develop at different times and paces. Some of these attributes may be difficult for all children to achieve before starting school, but this shouldn't leave you concerned that your little one isn't ready yet. Instead, as you become aware of these factors, you can implement steps to ensure your little one develops the skills.

Going to school

As a parent/carer, what can I do to support my little one's 'school readiness'?

Personal, Social, and Emotional development

It can be so complex for us to accept that our children are growing, gradually becoming more independent and starting to require less from us. However, this process is crucial for their self-image and emotional and social development. 

Babies rely on their parents and carers for many different aspects of their care. However, as they grow and attempt to do things independently, they realise that their voice and actions affect the world around them; this gives them the desire to do even more things for themselves and their confidence and independence blossom!

Practise social skills

Social development is all about how your little one interacts with others and how they build relationships. 

They have been learning about the world around them from the moment they were born by observing you and other carer's movements, expressions, gestures, words, sounds and interactions. They look at you as a role model before looking at and watching others. 

  • Being a good role model to our children is critical. 

  • Use please and thank you's constantly; your little one will soon pick them up and repeat them, becoming embedded in their manners.

  • Use meals for social interaction with your little one, and take turns talking about your day, the food you are eating, what you would like to do after lunch, etc.

  • You can promote your little one's social interactions with other children by going to public places such as the park and soft play areas.

  • Get together with parents with children relatively the same age as yours. 

  • Why not arrange a playdate with another child? It could be your friend's little one or someone from nursery etc.

  • Practising social skills such as turn-taking, inviting others to join in the play, and displaying empathy will also benefit them when they start school.

Emotional Development

Children develop emotionally by first learning to understand their feelings and emotions before moving on to understand the feelings of others.

  • Talking about feelings and emotions allows your little one to recognise different emotions, understand why they are feeling a certain way, and develop coping strategies. 

  • Share your feelings and encourage your little one to share their feelings too.

  • Talking and labelling them will support your little understanding that it is ok to feel the way they do. For example, I can see you are clenching your fists and stomping your feet; you must be feeling frustrated or angry; tell me, what is making you feel like that?" 

As well as understanding and managing their feelings, empathising with others is a fundamental aspect of emotional development and school readiness. 

  • You can enable your little ones to learn to empathise with each other by telling them stories and giving scenarios of emotional situations and asking a child how that would make them feel. 

This allows your little one to recognise and understand others feeling the same emotions they do. 

  • Role play is another great way for children to explore their feelings and act out scenarios that enable them to learn and display empathy. For example, "Teddy fell, oh no! how do you think he is feeling? What can we do to help and make him feel better?"


We follow routines in our daily lives. They are there to assist us in making sense of the day, helping to keep anxieties at bay, and to create good habits.

The same applies to your little one, no matter their age. Routines are much more powerful than just being the daily tasks that help you organise your day. Mealtimes, tidying up, getting ready for bed, etc. promote relationships and repetition to help your little one develop self-confidence, curiosity, social skills, self-control, communication skills, and more.

Routines teach your little ones to manage their behaviour and learn boundaries. School is all about routines and boundaries; therefore, setting up routines early will benefit you and your little one significantly!

Support your little one with separation anxiety early

Separation anxiety can be concerning and frustrating for parents, but it is a normal part of your baby's development.

  • Play games to support the development of object permanence.

  • Peekaboo is a great game for helping babies develop this vital concept. It is fun and easy to play! Start using a cloth to hide your face, then suddenly remove it to come back!

  • You can experiment by quickly leaving the room while singing or talking, so you're out of sight, but they can still hear you.

  • As your little one becomes more confident, try to leave the room without making a sound. Then, give your baby some time to respond and come back.

  • Try playing hide and seek with a toy to help your baby understand similar concepts.

Practice separating from your little one

  • Begin practising short separations from your baby. Gradually, they'll learn that if you leave them, they'll be fine, and you will return.

  • Leave them with someone they know well, so they feel comfortable and safe.

  • Gradually extend separations a little bit longer. Your little one's confidence will grow as time passes.

  • Begin by leaving them for short periods in less familiar places or unfamiliar people, such as a nursery or babysitter. 

  • Arrange a play date with the person looking after your little one to help them get to know them first and feel comfortable and safe.

Communication and Language

The first few years of a child's life, and the communication environment they develop in, are critical for school readiness and success.

When language and communication skills are lacking at an early age, children may struggle to keep up with their peers in literacy and other academic subjects throughout their primary school education.

  • Language is formed by a back-and-forth of communication, response, and reciprocation. As adults, we must respond to our babies by talking to them and meeting their needs, gently introducing them to language and how it can be used. 

  • Through watching, listening, and participating, young children subconsciously learn that when adults hold conversations, they take turns speaking. As they grow older, they begin to cleverly recognise this pattern of turn-taking and understand how intonation, pitch, speed, volume, and body language all play a part in how you express your thoughts and feelings.

  • Follow your little ones' lead by discussing something that has caught their eye and curiosity. 

  • Encourage them to converse with you by repeating their words and sounds and mirroring their movements. 

  • Give your little one time to make links and respond.

  • Talk throughout the day! Describe what you are doing, and talk about colours, textures and shapes to help them extend their vocabulary.

  • Role-play and dressing up can help your little one express situations; getting involved with their role-playing and modelling language will support their language skills immensely! 

Books, stories, and songs are fantastic language tools! 

Not only do books support your little one understanding of the world, but books expose them to many new words because they:

  • Include unfamiliar words.

  • Repeat the exact words in a variety of sentences throughout the story, which helps children understand the words.

  • Offer opportunities for children to hear the exact words repeatedly with repeated readings.

  • Your little one can relate to stories and enjoy listening to them with interesting pictures and tones of voice.

  • Sing, sing, sing! Songs are not only fun, but they are also great at stimulating language development. In addition, there are songs to support every area of your child's learning. For example, there are songs about the body, families, animals, emotions, the world, etc.

Family reading

Physical development


Encourage your little one's independence by giving them opportunities to help with self-care. For example, young children are still figuring out their bodies and often overlook their physical needs, such as a runny nose or dirty hands. When your little one can identify and understand their physical needs and how they can be looked after, they will have made a massive step towards developing independence. 

  • You can support their understanding of self-care by gently alerting your little one of their needs and inviting them to take care of the issue themselves, e.g. "I can see your nose is running; why don't you grab a tissue from the toilet to clean your nose."

  • Let them feed themselves early; if you help them, that is fine but still provide them with their spoon or fork to try for themselves; as they grow in confidence, let them do it independently. 

  • Provide them with an empty cup and a small jug with some water so they can begin pouring their drink; they will need support from you at the beginning to know how much to pour in and avoid spillages.

  • When using the toilet or potty, encourage your little ones to wipe their bottoms and wash their hands. 

  • Using a routine widget strip can be helpful to remind your little one of the necessary steps when toileting, such as using the toilet, wiping, flushing and washing hands; these are very simple to make and extremely helpful.

Allow enough time in the bathroom, toilet, meal times and when getting ready in the morning or to sleep to support your little one's autonomy.

Dressing and undressing

As your child grows, they will eventually learn to dress and undress themselves. But this process starts slowly! 

  • A good task for your little one, to begin with, is pulling off their socks. 

  • Then, as they grow more confident, you can encourage them to help you at other points. For example, enable your little one to take off and put on their jumper or cardigan; it can be easier and quicker to do this for them, but supporting a child to do it themselves will help them to learn the skills needed to be school ready. 

  • This can also be done by putting on their shoes and socks.

puttting socks


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