Make school-readiness your New Year’s resolution!

Ruth Birnbaum

Put down the phone and play a game, advises educational psychologist Ruth Birnbaum

In a third of primary schools, more than half of new pupils are below the expected level of school-readiness, according to the State of Education’s 2016 ‘What is the Sector Telling Us?’ report.

The most commonly cited issues are a lack of social skills, delayed speech, lack of resilience, delayed understanding and a lack of world awareness. While it is anticipated that children with special educational needs or a disability could be challenging for teachers, it is comments from schools such as: ‘Four-year-olds know how to swipe a phone but haven’t a clue about conversations’ that are most alarming.

As indicated in the survey, the rise of mobile phones and other mobile technology means parents are often seen on the phone rather than talking to their children. If this sounds familiar, a reality check is needed. If screen time is replacing social interaction time, parents need to get back to basics: story reading, board games, outside activities and play. The Literacy Trust’s latest reading report shows that just 24.1% of pupils at Key Stage 4 say reading is ‘cool’ versus 70.5% at Key Stage 2. It seems we are storing up trouble for later. So what can you do?

PACEY, the professional association for childcare and early years, has created a set of resources to help parents equip their children with important skills in readiness for school (available here). It’s never too soon to look at these.

However, all parents can easily help their children develop social play, which begins when a child responds to an adult’s playful interaction. This develops into reciprocal interaction, with the child taking a more active part. Joint attention is sharing the focus of attention with another person, and is fundamental to all social interaction and learning, particularly the development of communication. So this is a critical area for intervention.

Social play is the priority route to social inclusion, so if you want your child to be invited to parties and play dates, turn off the phone and play.

Examples of types of play (adapted from The Social Play Record by Chris White)

Early social play

Incy Wincy Spider

Row, row, row your boat


Push-button toys

Peer play

Picture Lotto

Snakes & Ladders

Social and imaginative play

Introduce props, such as a box that becomes a train shed

Let’s pretend

Remind your children to:

  • Talk to each other
  • Listen to each other
  • Take turns
  • Wait for their turn
  • Look at each other
  • Check that their friends’ faces are happy
  • Have fun!

Wishing all children and parents a stress-free beginning to the new school year!

Ruth Birnbaum has more than 30 years’ experience in education. She visits schools across the UK to consider provision and advise parents and consultants on which schools are most appropriate for which children. Visit for more information

Keep In Touch

Join the Today's Child community on Facebook