Ready for Swiss school?

Ready for school?

I often get asked by expat parents what are the criteria for school readiness in local Swiss schools. Children should met most of the below criteria, as otherwise your child could feel overwhelmed at school.

Usually, in the second year of Kindergarten, teachers start to assess your child’s readiness for school. Teachers might use observation or more formal assessment techniques. Most of the assessments are quite informal and, in most cases, your child will not even notice that she being assessed. Your child’s teacher will then discuss her findings with you at the annual parent-teacher conference. Most of these conferences take place in the early year or spring.

“Getting it right” matters because a successful start to school is a solid foundation for a successful school career. If your child is overwhelmed early on because she is not yet ready to meet age-appropriate standards, this overload can have a very negative effect. The joy of learning at school will be lost, your child will suffer and her self-confidence can easily be affected.

Readiness checklist

Is there some sort of readiness checklist? The answer is yes but the below set of criteria is meant as a guideline rather than a definite checklist list. Below is a summary of the guidelines issued by the Zürich school health services.

Physical and health conditions

  • Age appropriate height, strength and physical ability (able to carry the school bag, walk to school on foot unaided, fit enough for gym lessons …)
  • Mastering gross motor skills (jumping, cycling, balancing, climbing …) and fine motor skills (for example, drawing, crafting, cutting with scissors, handling small building blocks).
  • Stamina (does not need a midday sleep after a morning in KG, is not showing signs of tiredness, exhaustion or aggression after a day in KIndergaten).

Social and emotional prerequisites

Social maturity is the ability to form relationships with people and to express one’s own feelings appropriately and to interpret the emotional expressions of others correctly. 

In kindergarten, children can often choose for themselves what they want to do. At school, the tasks are set by the teacher and should be completed in a certain amount of time. A school-ready child should be able to

  • Put aside his or her momentary needs for a moment and complete a task independently.
  • Show perseverance and the motivation to finish a piece of work.
  • Be attentive and able to concentrate for extended periods of time.
  • Approach a task with confidence and curiosity.

Intellectual requirements

A school child must have a certain intellectual maturity in order to be able to perform thinking tasks. 

To be able to follow lessons he/she should:

  • Be able to memorize things and reproduce them later
  • Be able to compare, observe, notice differences, recognize small details, etc.
  • Be able to recognize and name colors, shapes, and differences in size.
  • Be able to recognize and create sequences, sequences of action
  • Being able to deal with quantities in a playful way
  • Listening and concentrating well

Language skills

Thinking is closely related to the development of language..Therefore, language development should be completed before your child starts school, because learning at school almost always takes place through language. Teachers will look for the following:

  • Can your child tell something he has experienced? Does he have the appropriate words at his disposal?
  • Can he express his own wishes, ideas, feelings?
  • Can he retell a story?
  • Does your child understand the kindergarten teacher’s instructions and answers the first time without additional explanations?

Some skills matter more than others!

You might be surprised to hear that teachers in Switzerland will place more emphasis on social/cognitive than on intellectual skills! In other words, intellectual ability is not the most important factor for school readiness. In fact, teachers in Switzerland might hold back a child even if she is able to read and write if the child is considered not independent and socially and emotionally mature enough to start school!

Do you need advice and guidance on starting elementary state school in Switzerland?

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