Ready for school?
I often get asked by expat parents what are the criteria for school readiness in local Swiss schools. Parents who are new to the Swiss school system might worry about the assessment process and whether their children are ready for entry into the first grade of their local Swiss school. This article aims to shed some light on the process.
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.
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 attending KG).
Social and emotional prerequisites
- Ability to deal with groups and social situations (for example, appropriate contact, consideration, having friends, knowing and following group rules, asserting oneself, solving conflicts without use of violence, conducting group work, waiting for one’s turn)
- Emotional stability and competence (such as expressing feelings and needs, realistic self-esteem, being able to differentiate between the world of play and the real world, trying on new things, not being discouraged by failures, enjoying success)
- Working attitude and understanding of tasks (for example, ability to dress independently and to complete age-appropriate chores, completing tasks and activities independently, reliably and within the given time, understanding and applying the rules of the game, sticking to the end)
- Interest and curiosity for school related-topics
- Recognizing, understanding and distinguishing symbols (letters, numbers, characters)
- Can draw from memory and remember simple shapes, letters and numbers
- Sorting objects or situations according to specific characteristics (for example, big / small, round / angular, fast / slow, longer / shorter …)
- Ability to compare amounts (more / less) and perform simple counting exercises (count forward / backward)
- Observing and imitating, e. physical activities, crafts and painting
- Use language with correct, albeit simple grammar
- Good listening comprehension (age appropriate) and distinguishing of certain sounds (b, p, g, k)
- Memorize and accurately repeat simple sentences and sequences of numbers
- Recounting facts, experiences and planned projects in the correct logical and chronological order
- Ability to focus, endurance, frustration tolerance.
(Source: Schulärztlicher Dienst. “Bereit für erste Klasse”)
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!