Briefing paper

Rethinking school readiness

1 Apr 2008

This brief focuses on what the research tells us about the nature of and pathways to school readiness. It emphasises the importance of schools, services and communities supporting children and families and providing the conditions and experiences needed to ensure that all children reach school able to take advantage of the academic and social learning experiences that schools provide.

Conceptualising school readiness

School readiness has traditionally been thought of as a simple outcome of maturation or chronological age, and has focused on particular qualities and capacities in the child (Crnic & Lamberty, 1994; Kagan & Rigby, 2003). Once these were demonstrated (or achieved), the child was considered to be ready for school. The implication was that early childhood services and communities did not have any role to play in promoting school readiness, nor did schools have to do anything about getting ready to meet the child’s needs.

This 'individual child maturation' view of school readiness has been shown to be too limited. Readiness does not reside solely in the child, but reflects the environments in which children find themselves – their families, early childhood settings, schools, neighborhoods, and communities (Kagan & Rigby, 2003). School readiness is now seen as having four interrelated components: children’s readiness for school, school’s readiness for children, and the capacity of families and communities to provide developmental opportunities for their young children (Emig et al, 2001).

This has been represented as an equation: Ready families + Ready early childhood services + Ready communities + Ready schools = Ready children (Kagan & Rigby, 2003; Rhode Island KIDS COUNT, 2005).

In addition, there needs to be a ‘ready society’ - a society-wide understanding and acceptance of the importance of investment in the early years of childhood, backed by government programs, policies and funding (Dickens et al, 2006; Lynch, 2006; Mustard, 2006). 

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