Janine Rees 23 June 2016 http://www.sparkt.com.au
Where did our Early Years Curriculum go? I began my teaching career in 1993, back when children in Queensland started formal schooling when they were turning six. I taught year one for many years and each year I found that there were a handful of children who were just not developmentally ready for school. They struggled. In those days it was common to repeat to allow children who were struggling to have another year to mature a little and adjust to school life. Of course, another year of preschool would certainly have been more beneficial, but not always possible. My hope is that this article will help you with your decision making concerning your own child’s readiness for school.
With the introduction of the Australian National Curriculum we have seen a huge increase in children’s anxiety levels in the early years of school. Asking four years olds to sit still for large portions of the day writing, cutting and gluing is very wrong! Young children need to move and play. We are creating a sea of health problems, with anxiety topping the list. As any preschool teacher of days gone by would tell you, fine motor skills need time to develop and many four year olds don’t have the muscle tone needed yet for writing, cutting and gluing. They do not need intervention, they need time. The Government has lowered the entry age for school and at the same time raised the academic expectations.
When prep was originally introduced in Queensland in 2007 it was still play based. It was quite unstructured and allowed for children to have choice over many of the activities undertaken. In other words it was age appropriate and centred around topics and themes that children traditionally love to be immersed in. There was a strong focus on learning social skills and developing healthy self esteem.
Since the introduction of the National Curriculum in 2012 the Early Years Curriculum has all but disappeared. It seems like a race, from the start of the day to the finish, to fit in all the activities that the curriculum drives teachers to squeeze in. Children as young as four are studying a very disjointed curriculum, undertaking all of the subjects that the rest of the school covers such as English, maths, history, geography and science. With minimal time for the traditional early years favourites of art, craft, music and dance. Most schools have the same report cards throughout the year levels, with four year olds receiving a failing mark for subjects they are just not ready for.
I have never in my life seen such stressed teachers. Many experienced teachers are choosing to take on relief teaching as a way to avoid the overloaded and underpaid role. Most importantly, I have never seen such stressed out, anxious young children and such negativity towards school. Children who are physically and developmentally incapable of undertaking and completing the expected activities are coming away from their first year of school with shattered self esteem and play withdrawal symptoms. There is a one-size-fits-all approach that the National Curriculum requires, which doesn’t allow for teachers to cater to individual needs and interests. Insisting that 28 four to five year olds sit and carry out the same activity is a recipe for disaster as they are all at such varied stages of development. A six month age gap can make a huge difference in the early years.
There are many and varied reasons why a child is experiencing difficulty with their learning and there are a myriad of professionals available to help parents and teachers to diagnose and support specific learning needs. Unfortunately, to gain support you need funding, and to gain funding you need a diagnosis which is often an arduous and expensive task. Even then diagnoses such as dyslexia receive no funding, which makes no sense at all.
When it comes to repeating a year level, the current guru on all things education John Hattie, tells us that repeating has a negative effect on learning outcomes or in other words… it doesn’t help. We need to keep in mind that Hattie’s research is a meta analysis or a synthesis of over 800 previously undertaken research studies. At times the education machine has been known to throw the baby out with the bath water and put all their eggs in one basket and common sense flies out the window (how many idioms can you fit into one sentence). Of course it would be wonderful to never have to make the decision to repeat and to have a framework that caters to each child’s individual needs. Sometimes we need to remember that a child is not a tally mark or a ranking number and every story is different.
Parents, when researching schools for your child, ask if they have a play based philosophy in the Early Years. Visit the classrooms prior to your child starting. Ask if they are focusing on the transition from pre-prep to school life. It is a huge change for the children and the more pre-prep like to start with the better. If you are at all concerned that your child isn’t ready for the more rigorous schedule of prep then definitely err on the side of caution and wait a year – especially if they are only four when starting, as they are really undertaking activities more similar to the old year one level that was directed to five and six year olds.
Please don’t underestimate the damage that can be caused to a child by constantly comparing themselves to other children who are more developmentally ready. Also please remember that there are alternative schools to look into such as Montessori, Steiner or Waldorf schools and schools based on the Reggio Emilia philosophy. These schools share similar philosophies and are non-profit independent schools. They are not governed by a centralized administration structure. Their aims are to educate the “whole child” and I would strongly recommend theses schools and their philosophies.-
Ask your prospective school if they have Early Years trained teachers in the all important prep year. A prep teacher should be nurturing and understand how to support young children in developmentally appropriate ways. Ask about the school’s philosophy on supporting young children behaviourally. How does the school focus on discipline? Are their policies underpinned by a punishment model or work on developing respectful relationships? There should be a focus on modelling appropriate behaviour and using inappropriate behaviour as a teachable moment for that child rather than a public humiliation.
My message is to wait if you are at all concerned and feel your child may not be developmentally ready for school. It cannot hurt them to have another year to play as young children so desperately deserve to and to strengthen all of the skills that will help them to be successful at school. It is ultimately your decision, even if the schools make you feel that the decision is not in your hands. You know your child best. We want our kids to thrive at school, not just survive their primary education.
If you have any questions regarding your child’s school readiness Janine can be contacted on 0416 096 756 or firstname.lastname@example.org