The Ultimate School Readiness Guide - Sticks & Stones Education

The Ultimate School Readiness Guide

The Ultimate School Readiness Guide

When I started this guide I didn't realise how complex it would be. I mean how simple should the topic of school readiness be? Pretty simple right? I mean it's about children's play afterall and I'm a veteran early childhood teacher with years of teaching preschool. 

In early childhood we talk about something called "intentional teaching". This is often misconstrued as instruction or direct instruction where children are drilled to learn certain information or skills. Instruction is only one of many teaching strategies, and it should be one of  the least used in an early childhood setting. 

So why the segue to intentional teaching? Well, the true meaning of this concept is that teachers make thoughtful informed decisions with intent. We think about the possibilities for children's learning and then we design dynamic learning environments and experiences that will support this holistic learning and use thoughtful teaching strategies to guide children on their path. 

Once I open the Pandora's Box of School Readiness EVERYTHING came spilling out and something that I thought would be a simple article has expanded into a mammoth of an article. So make yourself a cuppa of whatever strikes your fancy, maybe get some snacks and let's go!

This article is still a work in progress and I will add to this beast as I go. 

The Ultimate School Readiness Guide: A Holistic Play Based School Readiness Approach.

“Why do we give young children tasks, standards, and environments that are not appropriate to their developmental readiness? Why do we ignore the fact that the parts of their brains needed for these tasks are still under construction? Why do we impose timelines that turn a blind eye to developmental processes and a deaf ear to individual differences?” 

That excerpt came from Amanda Morgan's blog “Not Just Cute” where she compares teaching children before they're ready to pushing them down stairs. When I first read this article many years ago I remember wanting to applaud her.

How do you support children’s skill development, so they are ready for school?


Let them play.

I know that play is a very simplified answer. It’s actually a complicated process, and one that we can’t force because it’s internal. It is brain development. It is physical development, both large and small muscles. It is growth and the transformation of cartilage into bone. It is the formation and connections of neurons in the brain. It is also the pruning of extra and unnecessary connections. It is the complex relationship between the eyes, the hands and the brain. The connections between the feet and the legs and the brain. The deep connections between all the senses. It is relationships. It is self-belief and autonomy and independence.

School readiness is a complex holistic maturation of a child that evolves through play and relationships.

It can’t be forced. It can only be supported and nurtured. And this is what I’m going to explore with you here.

So, why is a toy store owner writing about school readiness? Well, for one thing, I am a veteran early childhood educator of 25 years experience (at least at the time of publishing this article) and an Early Childhood Teacher of 18 of those 25 years. I have worked across the ages, but the majority of those years have been in the long day care setting often in a pre-school with children aged 3 years and up. For the last 5 years I’ve been working in primary school with children from preschool through to upper primary. All of this pretty much makes me quite a bit qualified to weigh in on the subject.

child colouring in

I know that using the term “school readiness” is giving the icks to many of my early childhood colleagues and mentors. I need to use the terms that people are using and searching for.

I am using the term School Readiness because it is the colloquial term. It is the phrase that people use when they search the internet either as a nervous first time preschool educator or a parent who is keen to support their child as best they can. The term that the National Quality Framework refers to is Transition to School. Don’t worry, I will also be referring to that! But for the sake of Google and getting as many eyeballs on my writing, I will be using School Readiness.

The general consensus from the ECE world is that schools should be more ready to meet children where they are at rather than push a “be ready for school” agenda. I’ve found my school to be quite supportive. They know that children who attend an early learning service bring with them sound foundational skills and abilities.

I can’t speak for all schools, and I know that some private schools do have particular expectations when they interview prospective students. I know that my school supports children of all abilities and prior to school experiences. Not all children have the early childhood education that they deserve or need.

Word of warning. I am not pushing an academic agenda here. If anything I’ll be pushing a play based approach that follows children’s interests, needs and supports their challenges.

Are you ready?

Let’s begin.

The cold hard truth is that you are not a Kindergarten teacher. It’s not your job to be teaching what children will be learning in their first year of primary school. While I hold the qualification, I'm also not a Kindergarten teacher. It's not my job either. 

It is not our job to teach children what they will be learning in their first year of school. 

School Readiness Programs may come from a place of parental fear or educator good intentions or even professional arrogance from a deeply insecure individual who thinks they know best (they are the worst I have to say. Or it may come from a place of “we’ve always done it this way” or “we have to sell our service to compete with the service up the road or even “I see a market for this. Lets make some money.” Regardless of the motivation, none of it matters. It’s not our jobs to teach preschoolers the Early Stage 1 Curriculum. That is purely the role of the Kindergarten teachers. Simple.

It is our role to lay foundations and a love of learning. It’s our role to build capacity and enthusiasm. It’s our job to nurture independence and support natural matuarion and advocate for children being children - nurturing children to be in the moment - and develop from where they are, rather than where they may be in the future.

I am a preschool teacher, well more accurately I’m a qualified Early Childhood Teacher, and while I am qualified to work in the school setting with children up to Year 2, that is not my role. I am a preschool teacher and it is my role to support children in learning what they need to learn now, so that they can become the kickass superhero preschool graduate kindergarten student of the future.

I’m diving deep into School Readiness because I think there is a need for it from my perspective. I've been thinking about this topic for years. I kid you not. And this thinking has been highly reflective and teaching in a school for the past four years has given me a very unique perspective.

What is Big School?

Put simply, big school is the first year of formal schooling. Big school is a big step, and sometimes it is one that we can sometimes make unintentionally intimidating for children. I know that for me it was a big step, moving from early childhood into primary school. But once I found my feet, like kindergarteners I developed my confidence and skills. And for preschoolers it is just the same. I saw children settle into kindergarten and be confident and successful students.

primary school
Over the years I have watched many educators and parents putting a great deal of unnecessary pressure upon children during this transition.

As exciting as starting school can be, it is often a transition that can cause undue worry, both for children and their families. It’s important that children are supported and encouraged. School readiness starts at birth and really needs to be reframed as Life Readiness. Transitioning to the first year of formal schooling is only one small step of a much bigger process.

The first year of formal schooling is called different things across the country. The Australian Government calls it Foundation Year, but each state and territory has their own name for it:
NSW + ACT: Kindergarten.
VIC + TAS + QLD: Preparatory or Prep
SA: Reception
WA: Pre-Primary
NT: Transition

All these names, and yet the overarching government of Australia refers to it as Foundation. Confused yet?

As a preschool teacher I was blessed to be able to see my preschoolers graduate, transition smoothly and then nail kindergarten. My role in helping them succeed was only ONE PART of a much bigger picture. The amazing and experienced kindergarten teachers that transitioned them into primary school with support and great skill were also a big part of it. In time they grew to love my students as much as I did. There is nothing like watching these little people running around in too big uniforms confidently going to the canteen or playing chase with their friends.

What Is School Readiness?

School readiness is often marketed to parents and educators as a checklist or a list of necessary skills and knowledge that children should have when they start school. It’s sold as a downloadable package or a blog of activities usually centred around literacy and numeracy. School readiness is simplified into downloadable packages or workbooks or tutoring sessions.

One of the biggest issues I have around school readiness is the fact that over the years it has been pushed down to younger and younger children. Initially it would have started to support children in their lead up to school - so four year olds. But then it became something to do at the start of a child’s fourth year.

Then it has trickled down to three year olds, because children who are three years old are often in the preschool classroom therefore they should be doing preschool things and of course preschool things are pre-school-things. I am now noticing more and more, people feeling pressured by society and possibly other bragging parents, seeking ideas for their two year olds around academic achievements.

We need to stop pressuring children. We need to stop pushing them down the stairs. We really do. We need to stop skipping critical steps. We need to stop feeling pressured ourselves and say enough is enough.

Let them play as they are. If their brain is telling them to jump, let them jump. If their brain is telling them to make collections of things, let them collect. If their brains are telling them to take things apart or knock them down, then let them do just that - because by taking something apart you are learning how it is put together. These are all schemas - or ways the brain tells us to learn, to organise thoughts and information into learning pathways.

Do you want the ultimate preschool checklist?

There isn’t one.

There is a great deal of fear mongering about these checklists.

I don’t know where all the school readiness rumours started but I think it’s most likely a compound issue from multiple sources. All we know for sure is that School Readiness is a highly marketable concept.

Lucky for you I’m writing this absolutely epic play-based guide.

child at table working

In my pondering, I thought it might be smart to actually look at the NSW Early Stage 1 Curriculum/Syllabus rather than make assumptions. So in this guide, we’ll look at the Key Learning Areas or subjects that children will be taking in kindergarten and then we’ll be looking at the Early Years Learning Framework (specifically the Learning Outcomes) and seeing how they relate.

If you have created rich and meaningful engaging preschool curriculums for your students or your children, then you are actually accidentally running a school readiness program without even realising it.

Imagine how powerful and successful we could be if we were more articulate and confident in what we were planning and documenting.

two children working together

Consider social skills like the ability to get along with other children. Or skills like being able to open a zipper or hold a pencil. Without these types of skills, sitting and listening to a teacher and participating in learning activities are all that much more difficult. They can be the difference between a child who thrives and a child who feels overwhelmed by the school experience.

I can tell you what it is like stepping into a kindergarten classroom. Imagine being a teacher with 20 or so young children who range in ages from four and a half to just turning six years old. These students have a range of ages as well as experience. Some children have come from their home environment where they may be one of a few children, or an only child. Some children attended a preschool setting where they were on a ratio of 1 educator to 10 children.

If a teacher is having to juggle children who lack independence with undiagnosed and undisclosed disabilities or diagnoses.

child reading a book in his lap

What Should a School Readiness Program Look Like?

I see this question asked regularly throughout the year when people realise they are going to be working in a preschool classroom. Looking at the answers that Google spits out, they are often checklists and programs. I’m actually being targeted on Facebook right now by a 36 week Preschool Curriculum program. I clicked on the link of course because I was curious what this might look like. It was all templates and printable activities. It couldn’t look any more different to the preschool programs I’ve designed over the years. It couldn’t look any more different to the preschool program I am designing this year.

A school readiness program needs to support children by creating rich learning and play environments that allow children to learn and grow and develop to their full potential, and that potential is as unique as each child.

One of the documents that early childhood educators use is The Developmental Milestones EYLF and NQS document. It goes through traditional and typical developmental stages that children go through according to their ages. This is a good indicator as to whether a child is on track for their age, and this is a good indicator that they will be able to transition to school.

classroom with teacher and children in a small group

What Do Children Learn in Their First Year of School?

I think when we think about school readiness and what children will be learning in their first year of primary school we get caught up in what they will know by the end of their first year of primary school.

In order to support children’s next steps we should really know what those next steps are going to be, but to NOT teach to them. It’s our role to support children in the here and now, meeting them where they are and then allowing them to move towards the next step at their own unique biological, emotional and psychological pace.

When I see posts about school readiness the answers often given usually relate to fine motor skills, numeracy and literacy skills and knowledge. While many of the answers are 100% well meaning and play-based, what strikes me now is that they leave out all the other learning areas that children will be immersed in during their first year of formal schooling.

My wonderings around school readiness is why don’t we ensure that children have a rich dynamic early childhood education both at prior to school settings and at home, so that children are surrounded by many little wins that not only builds their knowledge but their confidence.

During children’s first year of formal schooling, their FOUNDATIONAL year, they have the following subjects or Key Learning Areas (KLA):

  • English
  • Mathematics
  • Science and Technology
  • Human Society and its Environment (HSIE)
  • History
  • Geography
  • Personal Development, Health and Physical Education (PDHPE)
  • Creative Arts
  • Languages

Stay Tuned ... There is more coming:

  • What does a Kindergarten/Foundation classroom routine look like?
  • What we can do to support children's learning in a School Readiness Program?
  • We'll look at typical Child Development of 3-5 year olds. 
  • What are the curriculum links between the Early Years Learning Framework Learning Outcomes and the School Curriculum 
  • What happens when a child has a diagnosis or isn't developing as we hoped?

See how epic this is?

children in a circle experience


Further Reading + References:

School readiness at The Spoke by Maree Aldwinckle

School Readiness by Kid Sense

Is Your Child Ready for Big School? | Gowrie NSW

Is your child ready for big school? | Learning Potential 

The School Readiness Debate by CELA

New South Wales:

Transition to School NSW Department of Education

Transition to school: Information for early childhood education and care services

Getting Ready for Primary School | NSW Department of Education


Australian Capital Territory:




South Australia:

Western Australia:




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