He Whakaaro: What developmental resources do our pre-schoolers have approaching the transition to school?

Publication Details

These insights help us understand how children are tracking for further learning and development at school and they indicate some possible areas of concern.

Author(s): Steve Thomas, Kane Meissel (University of Auckland) and Professor Stuart McNaughton, (Chief Education Scientific Advisor) for the Ministry of Education.

Date Published: July 2019


The transition to school is one of the most important periods of a child’s life. A focus on their development as children approach this transition can help us understand how children are tracking towards further learning and development at school. It can also indicate possible areas of concern that we should be planning for.

This paper uses the data from ‘Growing Up in New Zealand’ (GUiNZ) study1 to answer the question – what resources do our pre-schoolers have for starting school? The GUiNZ study measures some core development areas for pre-schoolers and this paper describes these core areas and comments on how development reflects what is valued by the early childhood education (ECE) curriculum (Te Whāriki), as well as the curricula at school (the New Zealand Curriculum and Te Marautanga o Aotearoa).

Key findings

Multiple areas of children’s development relate in complex and interacting ways to learning at school. But in general, developing skills in areas of social and emotional development, cognitive development and language development are important.2 There are also aspects of physical development and motor control that matter too. The key findings are:

  • Children bring many ‘resources’ from their lives before school, in such areas as their language and in their social skills, which contribute to their well-being while at school.
  • Almost all mothers were very positive about children’s readiness for school and had high expectations for what children would achieve at school and beyond. They were more positive about social skills than skills in literacy.
  • Most children were tracking well towards their transition to school and their development across the various areas clearly reflects the learning areas of Te Whāriki; for example, most children were very accurate at judging emotions of others or could count to ten.
  • In every area there was a wide range in skills and knowledge; for example, children varied from not being able to name any letters of the alphabet to rapidly identifying many letters, and there was large variability in the measures of self-control.
  • Differences between genders, ethnicities and socio-economic status (SES) were not apparent in some areas (for example, empathy and self-control), but there were substantial differences in others. For example, while the ratings of levels of hyperactive or inattentive behaviour were low, boys were more likely than girls to be rated by their mothers as having problematic levels.
  • There are specific areas where we could better promote children’s learning through early childhood education (ECE) such as in literacy and self-control, and there is a need to be able to identify those children for whom more targeted guidance and support at school may be useful.
  • Having described profiles of children at 54 months of age, further systematic analyses remain necessary to examine how the various multiple influences contribute to children’s development and how these influences interact with each other.


  1. Further information about the Growing Up in New Zealand study can be found in Morton, S.M.B, Grant, C.C., Berry, S.D., Walker, C.G., Corkin, M., Ly, K., de Castro, T.G., Atatoa Carr, P.E., Bandara, D.K., Mohal, J., Bird, A., Underwood, L., Fa’alili-Fidow, J., 2017, Growing Up in New Zealand: A longitudinal study of New Zealand children and their families. Now We Are Four: Describing the preschool years, Auckland: Growing Up in New Zealand.
  2. Office of the Prime Ministers Chief Science Advisor (2017). Briefing paper to Secretary of Education. Children in the preschool years: areas of development and implications for measurement.

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