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From Buttons to Backpacks: School Readiness with Self-Care

The first day of school marks a significant milestone in every child's life. It's a day filled with a mix of emotions, from excitement to nervousness, as little feet take their first steps into the world of education. School readiness, encompassing more than academic skills, is a fundamental aspect of this journey.

school readiness

In this blog, we'll delve into the concept of school readiness and its importance, explore the building blocks necessary to develop these skills, discuss how to identify potential problems, and understand the significance of seeking therapy when school readiness becomes a concern.

school readiness skills

Please know that as OTs we know some kids have extra challenges and hurdles they need to manage before starting school and sometimes not everything gets done. This is also ok and please do not stress yourself out over these items if that is the case. Our goal is to have your child attend school and be happy and included and sometimes this feels like a huge hurdle and achievement in itself. For these parents, please know that we see you and are always happy to help if you need some extra support. These skills discussed below are just some things to consider to help each child be able to complete some tasks independently.

What Is School Readiness?

School readiness is a term that encompasses a child's readiness to enter and succeed in an educational environment. It involves a combination of physical, emotional, social, and cognitive skills that allow a child to navigate the school environment confidently and competently.

Why Are School Readiness Skills Important?

The development of school readiness skills is vital for several reasons:

  • Academic Preparedness: Readiness skills lay the foundation for academic success by ensuring a child is equipped to participate in learning activities.

  • Social and Emotional Development: School readiness skills include emotional regulation, social interaction, and problem-solving abilities, which are essential for forming positive relationships and handling classroom challenges.

  • Independence: School readiness promotes self-care independence, enabling a child to handle daily tasks and foster self-esteem.

  • Reduced Stress: Children who are well-prepared for school experience less anxiety and stress when entering a new environment.

preparing for school

Preparing to Practice School Readiness Skills

Imagine we have 3 different cars: a race car, tractor and a family van. There are some days that we don’t have time in the morning, we are in a rush and need to get the kids out the door. On these days, we are driving a race car and these are not the days to try and provide our kids the opportunity to practice dressing or our morning routine, we just simply need to get out the door.

Then there are some days where we are moving really slowly, we might stay in our pyjamas till lunchtime, everyone might not be feeling well and our bodies are feeling really tired or sluggish. On these days, we are driving a tractor and our bodies need these days as well. There may be some opportunity to practice a new skill if you feel up to it.

Finally there are days when we have some time and as parents, the headspace, to provide the opportunity for our kids to have a bit of extra time to practice their goals for dressing or putting our shoes on and we can still continue with our routine afterwards. On these days we are driving the family van.

As OTs at Beelieve, we know that we could be driving any one of these cars each day we wake up and some days this practice isn’t going to happen and that’s ok. We just need to make use of our family van days and provide opportunities for practice and developing independence when we can.

kids and independence

The Building Blocks of School Readiness

School readiness involves various essential skills that set the stage for success in the classroom. These building blocks include:

  • Dressing Independence: The ability to dress and undress oneself, which includes skills like fastening buttons, zippers, and snaps.

  • Toileting Skills: This includes recognising the urge to go to the toilet, managing clothing, and practicing good hygiene.

  • Lunchbox Independence: The capability to open and close lunchboxes, ensuring that children can access their meals with ease.


The morning rush before school can be a whirlwind of tasks and emotions, both for parents and their kids. Amidst this flurry of activity, one crucial aspect often stands out: getting dressed in the school uniform. For many kids, it's a task that comes with its fair share of challenges, from navigating buttons and zippers to ensuring they're wearing the right uniform for the day. Teaching them this skill is not just about convenience but also about building their confidence and independence. One effective technique to help your child learn dressing skills is "backwards chaining," a method that breaks down the dressing process into manageable steps, gradually moving towards full independence.

dressing skills

Backwards chaining

Backwards chaining involves breaking down a complex task or skill into a series of smaller, more manageable steps and then teaching those steps in reverse order, starting with the last step and working backward until the entire skill is mastered. The idea behind it is to build confidence and independence by allowing your child to experience success at the end of the task, which can be motivating and reinforcing.

Here's an example: Let's say the skill to be learned is putting on a t-shirt, in backwards chaining:

  1. Start with Step 5 (Final Step): Begin with the t-shirt already placed correctly on the child's shoulders, with the sleeves and the front/back properly oriented. Have the child practice pulling the t-shirt down to cover their torso. Praise them for completing this final step successfully.

  2. Add Step 4: Once the child is comfortable with Step 5, introduce Step 4. This step involves having the child put one arm through the t-shirt's sleeve. Assist them with the other arm as needed.

  3. Add Step 3: Move on to Step 3, where the child now needs to place their other arm through the remaining sleeve. You can still assist with guiding the second arm if necessary.

  4. Add Step 2: Progress to Step 2, which involves the child putting their head through the neck opening of the t-shirt. At this point, they should already have both arms through the sleeves.

  5. Begin with Step 1 (Initial Step): Finally, introduce Step 1, which is having the child take the t-shirt from you and hold it in front of them, ready to put it on. They should now be able to complete the entire process from Step 1 to Step 5 independently.

Backwards chaining can be particularly helpful for individuals who may find it challenging to grasp complex tasks or who may become discouraged if they struggle with initial steps. It provides a structured and gradual approach to skill acquisition, allowing learners to build on their successes and progressively gain mastery of the entire skill. As you guide your child through this process, consider their sports uniform as well as their regular uniform. The sports uniform might have different fasteners or be made of different materials, so it's important to ensure they can handle both with ease.

learning how to tie your laces

Another important consideration for school uniforms is the fabric. Pay attention to their preferences regarding the fabric of their uniform; comfort plays a vital role in how they feel throughout the day. If your child doesn’t like the feel of the fabric there are a few things we might be able to do:

  • Where a short sleeve or singlet top underneath

  • Sew their preferred fabric onto the underside of the shirt, particularly over embroidery, school logos or seams (check to see if this is ok as sometimes the edge of this fabric may also cause some discomfort.

  • Wash the uniforms multiple times before the school year begins to help soften the fabric. Additionally, consider using fabric softener or dryer sheets to make the fabric feel smoother and less abrasive.

  • If the fabric is causing a significant issue for your child's comfort and well-being, don't hesitate to discuss your concerns with the school and seek potential modifications or accommodations. Schools are generally interested in ensuring students are comfortable and able to focus on their studies.

sensory issues

  • If the uniform fabric remains a persistent problem, explore alternatives such as different brands or suppliers that offer uniforms with more comfortable fabrics. Some schools may allow variations as long as they meet certain dress code criteria.

Remember that comfort is essential for your child's well-being and ability to focus on their learning. While you may not have control over the uniform fabric, you can employ these strategies to mitigate discomfort and make the uniform-wearing experience more manageable for your child.

tying shoes

Finally, don't forget about their shoes. Can they confidently put them on and take them off independently? Can they put on their socks? Are there shoes with velcro so they can do this independently or do they have laces? If shoelaces are causing an issue, our magnetic shoelaces can help your child achieve independence without the complexity of tying laces when they start school with one less thing to worry about!

All these elements contribute to your child's overall readiness for the school day and their growing sense of self-care independence.


The journey to toileting independence can vary from child to child, but it's a developmental phase that's important to approach with patience and encouragement. It's a process that involves teaching them the necessary skills, ensuring their comfort and safety, and fostering their self-esteem as they gain mastery over their bodily functions. It all begins with a fundamental step:


ensuring that your child is aware of the sensation and urge to go to the toilet. This awareness is the foundation of successful toileting independence. We want our little ones to be able to recognise when they need to go and feel confident enough to let an adult know they need to go. This will be key when they are in PREP.

Once they've mastered this crucial first step, it's time to consider the more practical aspects of toilet training. Can they manage their pants and underwear, pulling them up and down as needed? Can they position themselves correctly on the toilet? Can they confidently handle the task of wiping themselves? These are important skills that contribute to their overall independence.

If your child is having some difficulty wiping independently, the "wiping game" can be a fun and effective method. This playful exercise involves practicing the wiping action on a laminated handout with a sticky substance like peanut butter or Vegemite. The goal is to ensure they master the technique of wiping without smudging it around in circles. Starting with wipes and transitioning to toilet paper can be a helpful progression as they become more proficient.

toilet skills

As your child improves, move the handout from the front to the side and eventually to the back so they can practice without looking. Always prompt them to check if the wipe is dirty, and if so, dispose of it appropriately in the "toilet" (or a designated bin). The aim of the activity is to keep the sticky area as close to the centre as possible. It's all part of the learning process that will ultimately lead to their toileting independence. Remember, patience, encouragement, and a sense of fun can go a long way in making this journey a successful and positive one for both you and your child.


The school lunchtime can be a moment of anticipation for children, filled with the excitement of opening their lunchboxes to discover what delicious surprises await. While the contents of the lunchbox are undoubtedly important, one often overlooked aspect of this daily ritual is whether your child can independently open their lunchbox. It's a skill that can make a big difference in their school experience.

eating from a lunchbox

Imagine your child eagerly rushing to the lunch area, hungry and excited to see what's inside their lunchbox, only to struggle with the clasp or zipper. Frustration may set in, and the joy of the moment can be overshadowed. That's why it's crucial to ensure that your child can confidently and easily open their lunchbox.

Start by selecting a lunchbox that is age-appropriate and user-friendly.

school readiness lunchbox

Lunchboxes with simple clasps or zippers that match your child's dexterity level are excellent choices. Before school starts, practice with them at home, showing them how to open and close the lunchbox independently. This small but empowering skill can boost your child's confidence and ensure that their lunchtime experience is not just about the food but also the joy of discovery and accomplishment.

Identifying Problems with School Readiness

It's essential for parents to be aware of potential issues related to school readiness. Here are some signs to watch for:

  • Dressing Challenges: If a child struggles with dressing independently, it may indicate a need for intervention.

  • Toileting Difficulties: Frequent accidents or difficulty using the toilet can be a sign of unpreparedness.

  • Lunchbox Struggles: Inability to open lunchboxes can lead to frustration and difficulties during lunchtime at school.

Problems That Arise from School Readiness Difficulties

When a child faces challenges in school readiness, other issues can arise, affecting their overall well-being:

  • Emotional Stress: Struggling with school readiness skills can lead to emotional distress, anxiety, and lowered self-esteem.

  • Peer Relationships: Difficulties with school readiness can impact a child's ability to form friendships and engage positively with peers.

  • Academic Performance: Unaddressed school readiness problems may hinder a child's academic performance, making it challenging to keep up with classmates.

preparing for prep

The Importance of Seeking Therapy for School Readiness

Therapy can play a crucial role in addressing school readiness concerns. Here's why it's essential to consider therapy when you notice difficulties:

  • Professional Assessment: Paediatric occupational therapists can assess your child's specific strengths and challenges, developing a customized plan for improvement.

  • Specialised Strategies: Therapists use evidence-based strategies to address school readiness difficulties effectively.

  • Structured Environment: Therapy sessions provide a structured, supportive setting for your child to work on these crucial skills.

  • Improved Confidence: As your child's school readiness skills improve, they will gain confidence, making the transition to school smoother and more enjoyable.

  • Long-Term Success: The benefits of improved school readiness skills extend well beyond the early school years, setting the stage for a lifetime of independence, self-confidence, and success.

School readiness is a multifaceted concept that extends beyond academic preparedness. It involves self-care independence, emotional regulation, and social and cognitive skills that set the stage for success in the classroom and life. As we prepare our children for the exciting journey of starting school, it's crucial to remember that self-care skills are more than just practical abilities – they're life lessons that lay the foundation for self-sufficiency, confidence, and resilience.

preparing for kindy

Teaching our little ones to dress themselves, manage their toileting needs, handle their lunchboxes, and care for their basic needs is not just about convenience; it's about fostering their independence and self-esteem. By guiding them through these early steps of self-care, we empower them to take on the challenges of the school day with greater confidence. As parents and caregivers, we play an invaluable role in nurturing these essential life skills, setting our children on a path to success, self-reliance, and a lifetime of self-care and self-confidence.

So, let's embark on this journey together, celebrating each small victory along the way, as our little learners take those first steps toward independence and school readiness. Together, we can empower our children to thrive in school and beyond, celebrating each small victory as they take their first steps toward independence and readiness for the world of education.

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