After dropping out of a politics degree when I was 21, I became a DJ and spent the next 18 years on the club circuit. During this time I taught DJ production to teenagers in Rotherham youth centres. Once I had my own children my partner went back to work and I stayed home to look after them. It was then that I realised I loved working with young children and for some reason they took to me. I began to volunteer at my son’s school and applied for a teaching degree at Sheffield Hallam. I was rejected and it ended up being the best thing that could have happened! I ended up doing an Early Childhood Studies degree at University Centre Doncaster with Early Years Professional Status alongside and it has changed my life.

During my studies and placements I have written several activity programmes based on the “Get Ready for School” DVD (Cox, 2008) and I have gained confidence from a new understanding of its in-depth explanation of child development, which has supported me in my new post as a teacher of year 1 in a school in Sheffield.

This article was inspired by a workshop Jason gave at the 5th Early Years Communication and Language Conference held at University Centre Doncaster in November 2014. The focus was on supporting practitioners to develop a greater understanding of what ‘school readiness’ really looks like.

If a child does not have all of the foundations for learning when starting school they may struggle with literacy. For a child to be able to read, near vision is needed however most children cannot focus until they are aged 7-8.

Children need the following foundation skills in order to be ‘ready’ for school:

Foundation Skills for Formal Learning

The foundation skills can be split into four tiers.

First tier

  • Inhibition of baby reflexes
  • Maturation of postural reflexesAt birth a baby has no control over voluntary movement. The baby responds to environmental stimuli through the primitive reflexes which are automatic stereotyped responses.

    It is only as postural reflexes replace primitive reflexes that the infant begins to gain control of the body and body movements.
    You might notice retained baby reflexes when children open their mouths when they concentrate or tip their head and paper when they write.

Second tier

  • Vestibular (Balance) – This system co-ordinates eyes, muscles and joints and is seen to play a crucial role in a child’s emotional and muscular development as well as the development of vision, language and the ability to learn and concentrate.
  • Vision (Tracking) – Necessary skill for writing, reading, doing maths and playing sport, as well as copying from the whiteboard.
  • Hearing – The potential is innate, but listening is a behaviour and a learned skill.
  • Proprioception/ Kinaesthetic – sensory receptors all over the body feed information to the brain to create a mental understanding of location, movement and posture of the body. Without this sense movement and balance become impossible.
  • Smell/ Taste/ Touch – sensory learning

Third tier

  • Language skills:Oral language – The ability to express themselves and be understood.

    Concept and Directional Language – Concept is the understanding of between, beside, middle etc. Directional is integrating into everyday use. This is a necessary skill for writing on the line, starting at the top of the page, numbers before and after etc.


  • Motor Skills: Body Awareness, Image and Rhythm – awareness of the body’s shape, size and what it looks like.Directionality – awareness of left/right, over/under, above/below, inside/outside.

    Eye-Hand Co-ordination – using the eye and hand together.

    Eye-Foot Co-ordination – using the eye and foot together.

    Fine Motor – aids proficient handwriting. Competent spelling is aided by fluent handwriting.

    Gross Motor – Development of large muscle movements to give locomotion, balance, fitness and eye/hand co-ordination skills; which give the perception of self, time and space.

    Integration of L & R Brain Hemispheres – ensures whole brain involved in thinking.

    Laterality – awareness that the body has two sides and aids ability to use one side independently from the other.

    Dominance – establishment of preferred hand and foot.

    Midline – We have 3 midlines: Centre of our body – Separates right to left.

    Middle of body – separates top from bottom.

    Side of body – separates front from back.

    Spatial Awareness – knowing where body begins and ends, how wide it is and whether it will fit. Includes knowledge of how objects fit.

Fourth tier

  • Auditory Skills:Auditory Association – is the ability to associate spoken words with current knowledge. Dependent on experience. Essential skill for reading, comprehension and spelling.

    Auditory Completion – the ability to fill in missing pieces of auditory information, so the whole is understood. Can relate to filling in missing components of sound in a poor listening environment. Helpful skill for prediction in reading and spelling.

    Auditory Discrimination – the ability to detect similarities and differences in sounds and words and to identify where one word ends and another begins. Similar sounds can be f and ths and fm and np and bsh and ch. Necessary skill for correct articulation, spelling and reading.

    Auditory Figure Ground – the ability to focus on the important sounds (figure) and discard background noise (ground). A learner with poor figure ground appears to lack concentration.

    Auditory Sequential Memory – the ability to remember, then repeat or act on oral information. Essential skill for carrying out instructions in the correct sequence. Necessary spelling skill.

    Auditory Synthesis and Analysis – blending and segmentation. Essential for sounding out unfamiliar words in reading and spelling.

    Auditory Pattern – the ability to recognise words/sounds in auditory information, to allow a sentence to broken down into words. Links to awareness of rhyme and rhythm recognition. Necessary skill for correct spacing of words in writing and for mental maths.

  • Visual Skills:Visual Association – the ability to relate new information to current knowledge, classify and organise in visual memory. Necessary skill for comprehension and understanding new material. Similar to Piaget’s Assimilation and Accommodation.

    Visual Completion – the ability to fill in missing parts of visual information so the whole is understood. Essential skill to be able to correctly form letters, numbers and shapes.

    Visual Constancy – retaining characteristics even as the visual image changes. Necessary skill for letters/words to be recognised as the same even though the font, size and colour may be different.

    Visual Discrimination – sorting of details. Necessary skill for seeing differences in letters and words: a/d, b/d, bed/bad, etc.

    Visual Figure Ground – the ability to focus on important information (figure) and disregard unnecessary information (ground). Learners who have difficulty with this may find it hard to keep their place when copying or reading and may find a crowded page of print confusing.

    Visual Memory – the ability to recall what has been seen, classified and organised in memory. Influence every area of reading, writing, spelling, maths, sports and dance.

    Visual Sequence – the ability to sort visual information into the correct order. Necessary skill for working with letters, numbers, words and stories.

    Visual Sequential Memory – the ability to recall and restate in order information presented visually. Essential skill for competent spelling and working with numbers.

    Visual Pattern – the ability to visually perceive, recognise and replicate. Essential skill for reading, writing and working with numbers.

    Sitting on the carpet requires most of the above, this is where a child that has not yet achieved the foundations for learning becomes labelled as a ‘Naughty Child’. However it is just that the child has not built up their foundations for learning. Being aware of these aspects will support you in developing your practice and providing suitable resources and activities to help these children build a sound foundation. So rather than getting children who are under achieving in their literacy development to practise copying over highlighted letters, tear the worksheets up and get physical!

Possible activities to develop the foundation skills and the areas of development

  1. Slow spinning on a chair (lying on tummy) – Reflex Inhibition and Vestibular.
  2. Crawling on all fours – Reflex InhibitionLaterality, Gross and Fine Motor skills.
  3. Arm swinging (monkey bars) – Reflex Inhibition, Laterality, Integration L & R Brain Hemispheres, Fine and Gross Motor skills.
  4. Being spun in a chair: one direction then the other – Vestibular.
  5. Log or pencil rolling: eyes open and eyes closed – Reflex Inhibition, Vestibular, Midline and Fine Motor skills.
  6. Chasing a balloon or feather – Vision, Eye-hand Co-ordination, Gross Motor skills and Eye Tracking.
  7. Catching bubbles with a stick – Vision, Eye-hand Co-ordination and Eye Tracking.
  8. Simon Says – Hearing, Body Awareness and Auditory Sequential Memory.
  9. Walk with knees together/ walk on heels – Vestibular, Gross Motor and Eye-foot Co-ordination.
  10. Walk: one leg cross over other; crouched; tip toes; sideways; backwards – Vestibular, Midline and Eye-foot Co-ordination.
  11. Painting with water – Midline, Fine Motor and Oral Language.
  12. Finger games – Fine Motor, Body Awareness, Concept and Directional Language.
  13. Throwing into a crate – Gross Motor, Eye-hand Co-ordination, Vision- Eye Tracking, Laterality, Concept and Directional Language.
  14. Throw and catch scarves – Vision, Gross Motor, Eye-hand Co-ordination, Body Awareness, Eye Tracking and Laterality.
  15. Bean bag on body parts – Fine motor, Body Awareness, Concept and Directional Language.
  16. Dribbling a football – Laterality, Gross Motor, Eye-foot Co-ordination and Midline.
  17. Hokey Kokey – L & R Integration, Gross Motor, Concept and Directional Language, Visual Pattern and Visual Memory.
  18.  Midline, Gross Motor, Visual Memory and Sequential Memory.
  19. Jigsaws – Visual, Fine motor, Visual Completion and Discrimination.
  20. Chalk shapes on playground – L & R integration, Eye-foot Co-ordination and Visual Figure Ground.
  21. Children back-to-back passing ball over head and under legs – Gross Motor, Midline and Directional Language.
  22. Using tongs to pick up small objects – Fine Motor and Eye-hand Co-ordination.
  23. Playing with sand in tray (possibly tracing letters) – Fine Motor, Visual Completion and Discrimination.
  24. Playing with play-dough (possibly making letters) – Fine Motor, Visual Completion and Discrimination.
  25. Threading beads onto string (Making repeated patterns) – Fine Motor and Visual/auditory Sequential Memory.
  26. Posting – Use a box with a slit and encourage children to post objects ie coins or paper. Use a bottle and let them post beads, dried pulses/beans/peas – Fine Motor.
  27. Being bounced sitting on a gym ball – Vestibular
  28. Prone across gym ball – Reflex, Vestibular
  29. Held standing on gym ball (Caution recommended) – Vestibular
  30. Watching leaves or feathers fall from a height – Vision, Eye-hand Co-ordination

Links to practice:

  • Use the games and activities provided in preschool settings to build upon foundation skills. Altering the age and ability for the age of the children.
  • Give other practitioners the knowledge and understanding.
  • Make learning fun with the activities provided.

Further Information

Shonette Bason’s Digit Dance –

Disco Dough –

Squiggle Wiggle –

DVD Materials – Learning Solutions –