Shock horror, talking about transitions to school when the year has just begun! Well now is the time we should be talking about how children are prepared for school in a cohort entry system where children can start from the age of 4. Within one class teachers may have children with a wide range of ages and development, with varying readiness for the types of learning they will be required to attempt in primary schools.
I have a short confession to make here. I was a free range country child, I didn't go to any sort of early childhood service. I started school, as kids did a while a go, when my mum sent me to school with my brother when I turned 5. I don't remember that first school, I was only there a few months. I do remember the second one. I wasn't ready to sit still, actually I'm still not, and my teacher did not appreciate my skill of being able to write equally well with both hands. So out came the ruler for my left hand writing. I was also a precocious reader, able to manage the early readers really well after devouring them with my brother and being read to, and was kept repeating these until some other kids caught up. Suffice to say I didn't really enjoy school very much initially.
My point in sharing that story is that things have really changed for our children. There seems to be much more pressure on children to achieve highly and achieve early within a narrow set of academic skills. Supposedly to prepare them for their next stage in education while they should be enjoying their early years. Many more children are attending early childhood services where the Early Years Learning Framework and children's interests are intended drive the programme.
Children learn in their own ways and at their own pace, and too much too soon can really affect children's future learning, social skills and emotional and physical development. The conversations I've had with educators, leaders and families show there is currently a disconnect between parental expectations and best practice in early childhood education, especially for children in their final year before school.
So what can educators and leader do to challenge this disconnect and ensure families understand how their children are benefiting from their time engaging with their peers and adults in a stimulating play-based environment? It's just playing isn't it?
The research is in. While children are engaged in quality early childhood education, they have the opportunity to socialise and interact with other children and adults, developing dispositions for learning that will set them up for future success. Research shows children's learning in their early years makes a big difference to the rest of their lives, lets quickly look at brain research.
Children's brains develop rapidly from birth until about 6 years of age, with the brain going through cycles of growth and pruning. The experiences children have at this time play a key role in engraving the circuits that will endure, for example engaging in discussions, enjoying stories and playing games develops children's language circuits and experiencing unconditional love, acceptance and joy enables their temporal lobe to develop the capacity for hearing, emotions and future learning. Children's developing brains is a whole blog post on its own.
Educators and leaders can feel pressured to offer a 'school readiness programme' to appease parents. This can be to the detriment of the other things children should be doing, and educators and leaders can make the decision about what to include within that programme. The key skills children need to develop to be successful at school are the ability to:
- make friends by engaging with children and learning to get along with others
- listen to others and talk about their own ideas, thoughts and feelings
- be creative, engaging in experiences where they paint, draw, build, design and make to develop their writing skills
- be independent and able to do things for themselves, such as take care of their belongings and hygiene and say no when they need to assert themselves or keep themselves safe
- take turns, negotiate and share with others and support and encourage their peers to do this too
- think, problem-solve and reason as they begin to understand and make sense of the world around them to develop their science and maths skills
- understand their own feelings, manage these, and develop empathy for others, being a friend to their friends
- use language to entertain and delight and develop a love of books, stories, drama, music and role play to develop their oral language and reading skills
- understand and develop their own capabilities to be confident, competent learners and communicators.
Research shows quality early childhood education supports a child to develop these skills so they can thrive at school and develop into a positive, confident and capable person with a love of learning. Educators and leaders provide a stimulating environment for children to:
- engage in playful experiences with their peers, indoors and outdoors
- develop their curiosity by exploring the environment
- exercise their muscles so they can stretch for their bones to grow
- take risks to test themselves and picking themselves up and having another go when that doesn't work
- communicate with their peers and adults, playing with language and humour.
Here is an extract from an article I developed for the ACECQA newsletter, the link is below. In their early years, children develop powerful and positive dispositions for learning and these include:
- Enthusiasm: Children actively initiate and engage in investigations and interactions and are keen to try new things
- Curiosity: Children explore, ask questions and problem solve as they make sense of their work
- Commitment: Children show focus when engaged in activities that interests them
- Persistence: Children engage with an activity until they are satisfied with their progress. This also links to a child’s resilience, that is, the ability to bounce back after a setback and make another attempt
- Confidence: Children are willing to take a risk in exploring the unfamiliar and are able to ask questions of and form relationships with adults and children they don’t yet know
- Cooperation : Children are able to work in groups, sharing, taking turns and listening to others while engaging in collaborative problem solving
- Reflexivity: Children are aware of their relationships with others and can reflect on their own learning, often sharing this with their peers and adults
The dispositions we nurture in children contribute to their life-long learning toolkit. Dispositions, such as curiosity and confidence, support children to adjust to the school environment and develop the relationships that are important for their success at school. The ability to make meaning by applying what they already know to this new place will support children to develop their own learning strategies and become confident in their ability to learn. https://www.acecqa.gov.au/newsletters/acecqa-newsletter-issue-9-2015
So how do we prepare children for school? By fostering all of the above and enabling children to develop their dispositions for learning.
How do we let parents know this is what we do, how we do it and why we do it? Please share this article with them by adding the link to your sharing platform, such as StoryPark, or print this for your parent notice board.
Your feedback is always appreciated and I'm always happy to talk with you about all things early childhood. Please contact Julie on 0452 374 733 or at firstname.lastname@example.org
PS I sent out messages to my primary school teacher friends about the top things they want children to know when they start school. I'll share this in my next blog post.
PPS Here is some further reading;