Immersing children in conversation and simple life experiences is more valuable in preparing them for school than teaching them to write or count, Western Bay principals say.
Children who have not been exposed to trips to the beach, kicking a ball at the park or interaction with other children, both at home and preschool, could struggle to adjust to school, experience delays in their learning and be disruptive in class.
Western Bay of Plenty Principals' Association president and Kaimai School principal Dane Robertson said preparing a child to learn was more important than ensuring they knew every letter of the alphabet, how to count to 100 or recite 20 key words before stepping into a classroom.
"I think there's some more fundamentally important skills that students should be more prepared for, to give them strong foundations in learning."
They needed a curiosity, love and interest in learning, which could come from simple life experiences, he said.
Reading a story to your child every night developed an understanding that books contained words, which could bring meaning, new understanding and a desire to ask questions.
In New Zealand, about 70 per cent of what a child was able to achieve came from influences outside of school, he said.
Bellevue School principal Dave Bell recommended all children attend an early childcare centre, starting at age 2 or 3, where they would experience discovery and collaborative learning.
Discovery play - which continues at his school until age 7 - involves children collaborating over an activity such as sand or water play, sharing and discussing ideas, and learning respect and responsibility.
Children who had not been exposed to this often found it more difficult to settle into a classroom environment, their learning could be delayed and they could be disruptive, he said.
"It's unfamiliar for them and takes some adjustment because they're not used to the routines. It can impact on the child and their desire to learn.
"Children learn best when they feel safe and happy within a structured environment."
His school still advised nearby preschools about its preference for children to be able to write their name, the letters of the alphabet and the numbers one to 10 before starting school, but most important was a hunger for learning, he said.
Merivale School principal Jan Tinetti said the greatest challenge at her school was students arriving with a narrow vocabulary and low oral language skills.
Some had been exposed to only limited conversation and few life experiences, meaning school staff focused on introducing them to new words and experiences to bring them in line with other 5-year-olds and spark their enthusiasm for language and learning.
"Once they get that, they're away. I think they don't know what they don't know.
"Within six weeks we're getting there," Mrs Tinetti said.
Greerton Village School principal Anne Mackintosh agreed social skills were more important than knowledge for new entrants and school visits with parents made the transition from preschool smoother.
Preschools that provided information on what the student had learned, their abilities, interests and challenges provided teachers with a good overall picture of a new student, she said.