Making the move from early childhood into compulsory schooling is a ‘big deal’ here in New Zealand. Everyone talks about turning five and starting school and every child is well aware of this significant landmark in their lives. Turning five means going to school. When you turn five you suddenly become a ‘big school girl’ or a ‘big school boy’. No longer are you just mucking around at kindy (not my opinion), now it is time for the serious learning.
Every parent I have ever worked with has loved their child beyond description and wanted only the best for them and their future. For a lot of parents this is expressed through trying to ensure their child’s success. Get them a head start, make sure they are ready, make sure they have everything that they need, try and protect them from failure, from heartache, from sadness. Fair enough, I say, I am a parent too.
Every now and again, as a kindergarten teacher, I get questioned about our transition to school programme. How is my kindergarten preparing children to be successful at school? This is always a tense situation because we are a free play kindergarten and I do believe with my whole heart in free play as a valid way of learning (living) for young children. Still, this is an area we want to develop as a kindergarten, but probably not along the same lines as a parent might hope.
As always, when I have got something on my mind, I like to think it out though pen and paper (I even have a special pen that I chose for the job).
I thought about who transition matters to. Children, families, ECE Teaches and Primary Teachers.
I thought about what each group might want. Readiness… For the child to be ready.
But what does readiness mean? I think this is where things get complicated. These are my thoughts on what readiness means…
- Comfortable in the school environment.
- Independent, able to manage themselves.
- Follow instructions.
- Lots of varied experiences to draw upon.
- Positive attitude to learning and to themselves as a learner.
- Ability to work alongside and with others.
What about content knowledge and skills? These are the things parents are most interested in. Should they be our priorities too? Things like:
- Recognise Colours
- Recognise Numbers
- Recognise Letters
- Recognise their own name
- Ability to hold a pencil correctly
- Ability to write their own name
- Ability to use scissors
I am sure there are plenty more to add to the list but should this form the basis of our transition to school programme? Or perhaps renamed, school readiness programme (I am sure parents would love that!). I am concerned that with too much of a focus on knowledge and skills we are doing the job of a new entrance teacher for them. Consequently when our children arrive at school and find that the lesson is something they have already mastered, they get bored (sounds like trouble to me). Or maybe they ace the lesson and feel great, but how is that preparing them for learning at school? Easy success is more of a curse than a blessing. What happens when the next lesson isn’t something they already know? I am not saying that our programme is not teaching children the knowledge and skills found in my second list, but I do think the first list is the one to be concentrating on when we are talking about school readiness or transition to school. For example how can we make our children feel confident in a primary school classroom environment? That is a huge question! Especially when our children feed into five or six different primary schools, each with their own unique ways of doing things, their own unique identity and culture. But we know when children feel safe and secure, they are able to learn. This sounds like a good priority to me.
How about you? Parent, ECE teacher or Primary teacher, concerned citizen? What are your thoughts about starting school? What makes a child ready in your opinion? Or are you one of those, the school needs to get prepared for the child types? I would love to hear your thoughts too.