Know all your letter names before you’re 5…it is required!

I recently read an article from the US about some educators lamenting the fact that pre-kindergarten testing showed that many children don’t know their letters and numbers before they enter kindergarten.

My question is why expect them to?  What do we expect children to be able to do before they get to school?

Unfortunately, this pushing of formal academic learning down into kindergarten and pre- prep seems to be a spreading plague amongst many Australian schools.  Some schools are holding meetings with kindergartens and “feeder” centres in their area, using these meetings as a platform to tell early years educators and parents what the schools expect of children when they arrive at Prep.  Some schools are instructing educators that it is expected that children know the letter and number names when they arrive.  I thought that was what school was for.  When my Year Ones arrived on the first day, I wanted them to be happy, enthusiastic, ready to learn; with a broad base of knowledge from lots of play, discussion and interaction with family and friends, not to already know what they were getting ready to learn.  Informal exposure to these concepts in Kindergarten – Yes (that’s why I have school readiness experiences for those children who are very ready, show interest or who are already in Prep, at the request of members) but not instruction on all the letters/numbers as they must know it before school.

I have heard other schools bragging about the expectation of 4.5 -5 year olds in Prep classes to write full sentences by the end of term 1.  I do not think this is raising the bar, I think it is lowering it.  This is not educating our young people for the future; it is educating them for a series of external tests, rating scales and, I believe, bragging rights.  What sort of stress is this causing children and families? Have these schools read the guidelines that guide best practice in early childhood?  Do they know how play can prepare children for lifelong learning? That children naturally learn through play.  Some children will be ready, some will not, this is the nature of child development.

I also believe governments are pushing this agenda. Only today, I saw a government brochure that told parents that playing an alphabet flashcard game is an example of play-based learning.  Apparently, flashcard games are the play-based learning that parents can expect at Kindergarten. I think not.  There are plenty of flashcards in a child’s schooling future, I would prefer that the parents walk outside with their child and chat about anything they see, introducing rich language, descriptive words encouraging children to think about the world around them, not to spend the 10 minutes playing the flashcard game that is limited to just letter names.  Turn off the movie as they drive along in the car and talk about what they see, what interests them, what is the child’s opinion on…well… everything. Literacy is so more than letter names.  Play is so much more than a flashcard game.

I am tired of THE MESSAGE being about the best start to school.  I think this is such a limited view, why can it be about the best start to life!  Happy, well rounded, confident children that love learning is what is required.  Children feeling positive about their abilities, understand that everyone has strengths and weaknesses, utilising their strengths, understanding and working on their weaknesses; constantly developing and growing as people, these are the adults we want for the future.

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