Making the transition to an online school can be overwhelming and a daunting experience for some children (and their families), if they are not physically or emotionally ready to conform to the expectations placed upon them. Yes, they may be able to count to 20, write their name and even recognise a few words, but how does this prepare them for the reality that is entering the schooling system, and all that that brings? So many physical and emotional skills and attributes are needed as a foundation to being truly ready to learn.
What is online school readiness?
School readiness refers to whether a child is ready to make an easy and successful transition into school. The term ‘preschool readiness’ might be used in the same manner in reference to starting preschool. School readiness can be actively facilitated with a little forward planning to ensure that children regularly participate in activities that develop the appropriate skills required to help optimal learning when they start online schooling. While many people think of academics (e.g. writing their name, counting to ten, knowing the colours) as the important school readiness skills, school readiness actually refers to a much broader range of skills. In addition to some academic basics, school readiness skills also include self-care (independent toileting and opening lunch boxes), attention and concentration, physical skills (e.g. having the endurance to sit upright for an entire school day), emotional regulation, language skills and play and social skills.
According to an educational journal published in Australia, published by Dr Ursula Walton, Head of an Early Years Development School; vital skills for ‘online school readiness’ include:
- Resilience, self-esteem and self-regulation, in order that the emotional challenges and frustrations that arise can be managed in a calm and rational way, so that the child is confident that even when things go wrong, they can work it out. Children need to be aware of when they are feeling stressed and learn the techniques to manage this. Self-regulation will lay the foundations for online school readiness.
- Self-awareness, self-care skills are required in order for them to be able to look after their physical and emotional needs; children need to be able to identify when something is not right, what they might do about it and how they can ask their parents / guardians or tutors for help.
- Good listening and communication skills, to help them process what they are being asked to do and knowing when to ask for help.
- A strong physical core and spatial awareness so they can sit with a good posture and hold their heads up to listen to the recorded teacher; look at the online lesson and navigate their new online platform.
- A healthy body and good physical skills in order that they can feel comfortable throughout the day, take part in private sport and cultural activities with confidence and get themselves dressed and undressed as needed.
- Prosocial skills such as empathy, cooperation, respect and kindness will help children to see the world beyond themselves and understand that the experience of others is often different and that’s fine; helping others doesn’t take something away from them but will make them feel good.
- Ability to be inquisitive, recognise risks, problem solve, speak up and challenge what is not right – even in an online environment.
It goes without saying that we are not suggesting children will have mastered these skills by the time they start their first online class; these skills will need to be built upon and developed throughout their formative years. However, the pressure on schools to demonstrate progress in mathematics, literacy, communication and language through the Baseline Assessment sends the message to parents and many teachers / tutors that these areas of learning need to be the priority.
In the midst of the COVID-19 crisis and pandemic, a mental health epidemic and a climate where many people are fearful of others who appear different from them, we want to ensure this is not the experience our children have as they become young adults. This requires a focus on children’s health and wellbeing as the priority, rather than formal assessments. To achieve this, we must ensure that children have plentiful opportunities to be active, get fresh air and spend time in natural environments. We need to enable them to celebrate diversity, build their confidence through experiencing the arts and being creative, alongside other students and adults who understand and care about them. Children should be encouraged to read, write and know how to count in order to have the best opportunities as adults, but we believe that all these things and more will arise when the priority is placed on the children’s physical, emotional and neurological wellbeing as an indicator that they are ready for any type of school – online or the traditional brick and mortar.
Why are school readiness skills important?
The development of online school readiness skills allows tutors and parents to expand and further develop a child’s skills in the specific areas of social interaction, play, language, emotional development, physical skills, literacy and fine motor skills. Without these basic skills already established upon entry to online school, children can very quickly find themselves playing ‘catch up’ compared to their peers that are advancing more quickly. Students that begin school with the build block (or foundation) skills in place advance quickly as opposed to those that start school only to then begin the slow process of developing school readiness.
What are the building blocks necessary to develop school readiness?
- Self-regulation: The ability to obtain, maintain and change emotion, behaviour, attention and activity level appropriate for a task or situation.
- Sensory processing: Accurate processing of sensory stimulation in the environment as well as in one’s own body that influences attention and learning that effects how you sit, hold a pencil and listen to the online lesson.
- Receptive language (understanding): Comprehension of spoken language (e.g. the online teacher’s instructions).
- Expressive language (using language): Producing speech or language that can be understood by others (e.g. talking to friends).
- Articulation: The ability to clearly pronounce individual sounds in words.
- Executive functioning: Higher order reasoning and thinking skills (e.g. What do I need to successfully complete the task that has been given to me?).
- Emotional development/regulation: The ability to perceive emotion, integrate emotion to facilitate thought, understand emotions and regulate emotions (for a child’s own responses to challenges).
- Social skills: Determined by the ability to engage in reciprocal interaction with others online or physically (either verbally or non-verbally), to compromise with others and to be able to recognise and follow social norms.
- Planning and sequencing: The sequential multi-step task/activity performance to achieve a well-defined result (e.g. a cut and paste task or a simple maths activity).
If left untreated what can difficulties with online school readiness lead to?
When children have difficulties with online school readiness, they might also have difficulty with:
- Disliking school, learning and sometimes even the teacher who is the bearer of the school demands (in traditional brick and mortar schools).
- Accessing the curriculum being instructed because the building block (foundation) skills are not yet developed sufficiently to allow task performance.
- Peer rejection and social isolation where children feel overwhelmed or socially uncomfortable.
- Following instructions from others in a position of authority at school (e.g. online success coaches/tutors).
- Poor academic outcomes as the child may be in a negative state that is not conducive to learning.
- Not only might the child become stressed and anxious as they realise their limitations, but as a result, so may their parents and/or tutors.
What type of therapy is recommended for online school readiness difficulties?
If your child has difficulties with online school readiness, it is recommended that an Occupational Therapist, Educational Psychologist and/or a Speech Therapist is consulted to address the functional areas of concern.
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