Recently, I have had the privilege of spending time with some very dedicated groups of educators, giving up their Saturdays and evenings to improve their practice. As the Rose3 workshops continue, I learn more and more about the pressures that educators, centres and schemes face when making decisions about their learning environments.
These groups of educators are determined to “get it right” for the children and families in their care, however, I am constantly told of the many unrealistic expectations that are being placed on the skills and knowledge children apparently MUST come to prep with (in Queensland). One centre told me that their local state school were “testing” children at interview on some basic literacy and numeracy skills (such as writing their name, counting and sequencing) and telling the parents the areas that must be improved before coming to prep. Remember, some of these children are only 4 years old!
My experience of this interview process is quite different. When my daughter went to her prep interview, her prep teacher already knew her from Kindy. My local kindy sends letters to all the schools the children are going to and invites the teachers to come and visit the children that they will have in Prep (QLD system). In our area, only one school responded, my daughters. I find it interesting that many schools may expect children to arrive with a certain set of skills, but do not take the opportunity to get to know the children before they arrive. Isn’t that the idea of continuity of care and transition to school?
At interview, the teacher asked Livi to do some basic things: How high can you count, write your name, draw a picture of your family, that sort of thing. This was not a test!!!! This gave the teacher a little knowledge about where each child was with regards to development…that’s all. Now whether it is not explained properly to parents that it is not testing or whether some schools are using this as a test and instructing what are minimum requirements, is all very worrying to me for children at such a young age. Another centre told me that parents at her centre expect ALL children going to prep (4/5 year olds) to be able to write their full name, count and understand numbers to 20 and read short sentences! Early Years Educators know that this is unrealistic and a frightening demand to place on young children. Where did these expectations come from?
To be a successful creative, life-long learner, children need to try many things (everything?) for the first time. When did you last try something for the first time…How did you feel? If certain skills are forced on them too early, they may not experience enough success to try new skills again…and all of a sudden a reluctant learner is created. I’m not saying children should not and will not experience failure, actually, quite the opposite, however children need not be worried about getting it wrong, because a successful learner will try over and over again. Successful learners (and successful people in life) are persistent and resilient, they keep practicing until they get it. They understand you just try again.
The reluctant leaner has learned that it’s just too hard for them. Usually, these children have not been allowed to problem solve or risk take through play. Things are done for them or taken off them to be “fixed” or changed by an adult when it’s not quite right. They have few successes to celebrate, many times because the skills are pushed on them too soon. In a play-based environment, children have control of their learning and this gives them confidence and success. The environment supports their level and skilled educators extend their skills and knowledge at a pace dictated by the child.
It would be great if schools had a greater understand of the ideals, changes and expectations in the early years, not just the other way around. We all (educators, teachers and schools) need to get together on this. On one hand, all the knew Early Years documents are saying the curriculum comes from the child, support where the child’s at, play-based learning is best. On the other, certain schools placing downward pressure on what is required before school. No wonder parents are confused!
Now, there are skills that are helpful for children to have before getting to prep (remember helpful, NOT required). Having taught in preschool and Year 1 here are some skills I have found helpful – writing their first name, knowing what words and numbers are, maybe counting to ten (remember counting to ten does not mean understanding of the amounts to ten, it just shows a developing knowledge of sequence and number), knowing that when you read a book it is a left to right progression to name a few. Also a broad wider knowledge of the world children live in and an interest it, is extremely helpful.
However, there is something much more important required than just a set of basic skills. That is the excitement to learn. That amazement in the world around them. That never ending “WHY”. That spark in a child that says “I can do this”. That willingness to try. That dogged tenacity that we all see in babies trying to stand and walk. No matter how many times they fall, they get up and try again.
Children are born with this willingness, openness, drive and desire to learn and succeed…let’s not extinguish it.