Right now, you might feel your child is too young for the big step of starting school, but with a reassuring health check and some support from you at home, chances are she’ll be ready to join Reception before too long.
You’ll probably be offered a health check-up for your child when she’s around 3½, usually by letter but possibly by phone. However, although most health authorities offer a check-up at this age, not all do. To find out the policy in your area, talk to your health visitor.
If the check-up is offered, it will almost certainly be done by your health visitor although occasionally your GP might be involved.
The aim of the check is to see how your child’s overall growth and development is progressing, and to spot any problems that might cause her to struggle in school. Of course, if your child has any serious health issues, you, your health visitor and your GP will probably know about them already.
But if you’ve got a niggling doubt, this is your chance to discuss the issues.
1 Height and weight
The first thing your health visitor will do is measure your child and weigh her. This information is plotted on growth charts (which you can see in her red book) and your health visitor will check your child’s growth pattern.
The lines on the growth chart are called centiles, the middle one of which is based on the national average measurements. Your child’s own centile may be above or below this middle line, but what’s important is that it stays steady.
Your health visitor will only be concerned if there’s a sharp alteration (more than two centiles up or down), in which case she’ll investigate further. Once height and weight are established, other physical factors are considered.
The health visitor will watch to see your child is walking well and that her general co-ordination is good. Boys will be checked to see if their testes have descended (though you maybe asked to do this at home yourself). If you’re with your GP, she may also listen to your child’s heart.
2 Hearing and vision
Being able to see and hear well is important for your child to be able to learn and progress at school, so you’ll be asked if you have any worries about your child’s vision and hearing.
If there’s concern about your child’s eyes or ears, you’ll be recommended to visit an opthamologist or audiologist.
3 Hands and drawing skills
Fine motor skills – how well your child can control his hands and fingers – are another key factor for school, as dexterity is important both for drawing and writing.
Your health visitor will probably build a simple bridge of three bricks and invite your child to make one too. She may ask her to slide a pencil under the bridge then to stack the bricks on top of each other.
She’ll see if she can hold a pencil easily, and if she can draw straight lines, a cross and a circle and perhaps name some other shapes. Often, children who can do these things at home, won’t do so in a strange place, so you may be asked if your child usually draws and colours.
4 Language skills
Your health visitor will chat to your child to assess her language skills. Language skill varies widely at this age but on the whole, most children will be using four or five word sentences and be able to describe what they did yesterday, or might do tomorrow.
Being able to communicate effectively is probably the most important skill needed for school. She’ll also check for clarity of speech, to see if people understand what your child says.
5 Behaviour and social skills
Your health visitor will want to know if your child is sleeping well, eating a balanced diet, has mastered potty training and is going to a playgroup or nursery yet. She’ll also ask about her behaviour generally and about her ability to socialise with other children.