Is Your Child Ready for Grade 1? Here are 5 Key Areas to Assess

by | Dec 5, 2016

You’ve applied, and maybe your child has been accepted into Grade 1, but you don’t feel as confident as you should.

It’s that time of the year when parents of preschoolers (Grade R) are asking if their children are ready for Grade 1.

It is a major decision for a parent, but remember that your child’s teacher should have the best idea of whether your child can meet social and academic expectations. Listen to the advice given by them as they have been trained in early childhood development.

These feelings that you have, maybe even anxiety, are to be expected because they reflect the intense emotional bond you have with your child. Elizabeth Stone said: “Being a parent is to decide to have your heart go walking around outside your body.”

Some questions you may have:

  • Will my child become bored if I keep them in Grade R another year?
  • Is my child emotionally mature enough to handle all the requirements of Grade 1?
  • Will my child be able to keep up with the pace in Grade 1?

The first five years of life are critical to a child’s lifelong development. Young childrens’ earliest experiences actually influence brain development, establishing the neural connections that provide the foundation for language, reasoning, problem solving, social skills, behaviour and emotional heath.

Therefore, it is of utmost importance that we prepare and develop our children’s potential and ability to learn during this phase (Simone Pieterse, 2012).

So what is school readiness actually?

In a nutshell school readiness involves two types of readiness: a readiness to learn (which is continuous) and a readiness for school (which is associated with a fixed age). School readiness is thus a measure of how prepared a child is to succeed at school.

No single factor determines whether a child is ready for school. School readiness depends on both emotional maturity and scholastic ability. It is split into different areas and, although these areas are separate, they do interact with and reinforce each other. Children need to develop across all of the areas.

The 5 key areas of school readiness are:

1. Physical and Motor Development:

  • Gross motor e.g. running, skipping, standing on one leg.
  • Fine motor e.g. comfortable using a pair of scissors, successfully doing zips and buttons, is able to use cutlery.
  • Perceptual development: both visual and auditory.
  • Taking care of themselves e.g. manages to go to the toilet by themselves.

2. Emotional and Social Development:

  • A child who is emotionally well-adjusted has a significantly greater chance of early school success.
  • Gets along with peers – can interact within a group or shows an interest in other children, willing to help a friend.
  • Can express feelings and needs.
  • Can share.
  • Can sit still e.g. long enough to listen to a story.
  • Can concentrate on a task for a reasonable amount of time.
  • Able to deal with frustration in an acceptable way.

3. Cognitive Development:

  • Can make independent decisions and follow through.
  • Have ideas of their own.
  • Can follow simple directions or instructions.
  • Shows an interest in learning.

4. Language Development: (this includes literacy, listening, speaking and vocabulary)

  • Should be able to communicate effectively in home language.
  • Be able to sequence (retell a story or a set of events).
  • Identify similarities and differences between objects.

5. Emotional maturity:

  • Independence.
  • Reasonable control over emotions.
  • Basic problem solving skills.
  • Confidence.
  • Shows responsibility.
  • Handles separation well.

What can you do to prepare your child for this new phase in their lives?

  • Read to your child.
  • Teach your child songs, nursery rhymes and poems.
  • Take your child on excursions e.g. to a museum.
  • Make regular opportunities for play-dates.
  • Play games so that your child starts recognising colours, numbers, letters.

In the words of Dr Melodie de Jager at the Mind Moves Institute, Johannesburg. 2014:

“School readiness is not a means to discriminate against some children. On the contrary, it is a way of giving all children an equal opportunity in life …”

However, children should:

  • Have minds crammed with concrete and semi-concrete experiences.
  • Have been exposed to abstract concepts in concrete ways for years.
  • Use the language spoken in the Grade 1 classroom spontaneously to converse, learn and reason.
  • Have had ample opportunity to play outside, so that they are now ready for and eager to experience the primary school adventure.

Is your child ready to tackle Grade 1? Post your comments or share your experiences below.

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About the Author

Adele Keyser has 27 years experience in teaching pre-primary, foundation phase, intermediate-senior phase and adult education. That's 27 years experience in dealing with children (and parents!). Currently teaching in Cape Town, her major focus is building classroom environments that foster healthy self-esteem and help children realise what they're capable of.


  1. Annemie

    My twins were born on 13 December 2013. we are currently holding them back a year as the kids in their age group looked so much older than them. my question is, is it better to hold them a year back when they have to go to grade 1 as they are currently a year behind.

    • Kayleen Olivier

      Hi Annemie

      Thank you for your message.

      It will certainly be beneficial to “hold” your twins back if they need more time to acquire adequate skills to help them when going to Grade 1. Grade 1 is a very important year, as it is the foundation on which all further schooling is built. So, if the extra year is used wisely and to the benefit of the twins, it can only make the transition to Grade 1 that much easier.

      Thank you
      Adele Keyser

  2. Ma-africa

    Hi my son was born in 2012 and in grade RR so I also like t prepared my son for grade r ,the problem is he’s epileptic end he’s losing concentration sometimes pls help what can I do ?

  3. Rolene

    Hi Kayleen

    My son is currently in Gr RR and was born on 6 December.
    His teacher informed us that he is battling emotionally as he doesn’t want to share and cry when he doesn’t get what he wants. She wants us to be prepared for him possibly having to repeat Gr R next year as she has concerns over his emotional readiness.
    What can we as parents do to help with school readiness?
    He is very active and love sport, hence I want to do everything possible to avoid holding him back a year if possible at all.

    • Kayleen Olivier

      Hi Rolene

      Thanks for your message.

      School readiness is as dependent on emotional maturity as it is on scholastic/cognitive ability.

      In order to be deemed cognitively school ready, children need to achieve particular outcomes on school readiness assessments. Yet, many children who have scored well on the cognitive side of these assessments, are still deemed not school ready based on their levels of emotional maturity. This happens very often with children whose birthdays fall in the last quarter of the year and are having to compete with classmates who are virtually a year older and more capable, simply by virtue of their age – as in your son’s case.

      There also seems to be a commonly held myth that all children reach the same level of maturity at the same age. Children vary greatly in their levels of emotional maturity. This is partly influenced by parenting but also depends to a large extent on a natural developmental process and will increase with time.

      So what exactly do we look for when we assess school readiness? By no means are we expecting children to act like miniature versions of serious adults. We still expect them to be childlike, to be more focused on fun than anything else and to be largely egocentric in their outlook, but we expect them to display some of the following traits:

      1) Confidence:
      Is your child confident enough to speak up in a busy classroom when he is uncomfortable or needs help? A formal schooling environment does not always allow the teacher to pay individual attention to each child and children who do not speak up may easily fall behind. Children also need to be able to let the teacher know when they need a bathroom break, are feeling ill, do not have the right tools or are being bullied.

      2) Separation:
      Does your child separate easily from you when you drop him off in the morning or are the goodbyes long, teary affairs? Some crying in the first few weeks is absolutely normal and is even expected, but teachers simply will not have the time (and often will not have the patience) to console a tearful child all day long.

      3) Responsibility:
      Does your child take responsibility for his belongings. Does your child remember to put his lunchbox back in his bag and his eraser back in his pencil case or is his teacher constantly running after him returning lost goods?

      4) Concentration:
      Is your child able to sit still at a desk and concentrate for relatively long periods at a time? Grade 1 teachers will allow for many short breaks during the day, but a child who is constantly getting out of his seat can be very disruptive and will soon elicit complaints from his classmates.

      5) Problem solving:
      Is your child able to solve the majority of basic little problems that pop up on a daily basis? For example, will he know to borrow a ruler from a friend if he doesn’t have one, ask his teacher to phone you if he’s left his lunch behind or go to look in the lost property box when he can’t find his jersey? This also relates to social interactions. “Telling on” is probably the phrase heard most often on foundation phase playgrounds and teachers expect to be asked to be both judge and jury in certain cases, but children need at least some basic skills in resolving minor conflicts.

      6) Independence:
      Can your child complete most tasks on his own or is he constantly running to his teacher’s table for approval or intervention?

      Carefully designed lessons include both tasks that are easy to complete, so that learners experience a sense of accomplishment, and tasks that are challenging, to extend the learners. Some children have a habit of simply shrugging their shoulders and repeating the familiar “I can’t do it” without ever really having given the task a full go, thus never progressing to higher levels of academic work.

      As I mentioned earlier emotional maturity is, to a large extent, a natural process and needs to develop over time but there are some things that you can do as a parent to encourage emotional development in your pre-school child:

      – Allow your child to do age-appropriate things for himself and refrain from interfering unless he asks for your help. Also, when he does ask for your help, encourage him to work through the problem solving process with you by asking questions such as: How else could we do this? What do you think we need to do first / next? What could we have done differently?
      – Take a step back when your child is faced with conflict situations in peer relationships (this is very hard, but give it a try) and observe whether he is able to solve the conflict on his own. Only get involved when someone stands to get hurt. Also, once the situation has been diffused offer solutions on how to handle similar conflicts in the future.
      – Play with your child to help develop joint attention, turn-taking, how to handle losing, cooperation and sharing. Board games are great for this!
      – Create opportunities for your child to interact with other children of a similar age through play dates and playgroups.
      – Help your child to understand and display their own emotions and to recognise these emotions in other people. Also help them to understand and recognise how other people are feeling in particular situations. You can do this by talking about/verbalising or modelling these behaviours/emotions. You can also comment on facial expressions when reading books and talk about the way the person might be feeling and why. Talk about ways to express different emotions (e.g. you are laughing because you are happy; you are crying because you are sad).

      I hope this helps. Please let us know if you’d like more information, or more possible suggestions on how to develop your son’s school readiness, we’ll be happy to assist.

      Kayleen 🙂

  4. Bongz

    I have the same problem my daughter is in grade R and a December baby (15) she is confident and a social leader within her circle of friends here at home who are a few months to a year older than her. But at school her teacher says she seems to be overpowered by her friends and always the follower not the leader she is at home.Now they say she should repeat grade R because she’s not emotionally mature for grade 1 yet. She also tends to be insecure in her own work and constantly says she’s tired and wants to play or can she finish tasks the following day.
    My gut says let her go to grade 1 and help to boost her abilities to learn and concentrate cause she adapts easily to situations but I’m scared also to push her to something she’s not emotionally ready for.As her school readiness assessment came her learning capabilities are well most exceeding her age group just maturity that was the concern.


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