Wind back the clock. Its 1995 and it’s your first day of kindergarten. You sit down at your desk and are told to get out your pencil to write your name and the alphabet. Your teacher then asks you to count to 20 and then choose a book off the shelf to read to her. While you are doing this, every other child is sitting in anticipation waiting patiently for their turn. No, wait. Hold on. That didn’t happen! And guess what? That still wouldn’t happen today! So why are we so focused with needing children to read and write before going to school? And so unsure with the term ‘school readiness’? What does that term really even mean?
Let’s really think about it. It’s your first day of kindergarten. You are SO nervous, but also a little excited. You’ve only visited this place once or twice, so rightfully, you’re a little unsure. Where are the toilets again? Where am I allowed to play? There are A LOT more children here than at preschool, but only one teacher (and I’ve actually never seen that teacher before). You start to sweat. You have your favourite yoghurt pouch in your lunch box, but Mum usually opens it for you. You look up at that teacher in the sea of ‘big kids’ and decide you would rather go hungry then weave your way through all of those bodies and ask that teacher you have never met for help to open it. Not to mention, that gross sandwich Dad insists on packing me is less than appealing. You close your lunch box back up and pack it away. ‘I can wait until I get home’ you think to yourself. But then you can’t get your lunchbox into your bag. You’re frustrated but can’t find anyone to help you, so instead you put it on the ground next to your bag. ‘I'll get that later' you think. You get picked up from the school gate and you are HANGRY. You’ve been holding all these emotions in all day, not feeling confident enough to talk to anyone or ask anyone for help. Mum asks “How was your day sweet heart?” and you let rip. You’re finally back in your safe place and free to let go of all those feelings you have been holding on to - the disagreements with peers, the wrong answer you gave in front of the whole class, the frustration when you couldn’t fit your lunchbox back into your bag. (Ahhh biscuits! You forgot to pick up your lunch box.) And now Mum is thinking ‘What is going on!?’
If only we supported children in building social and emotional skills in their early years rather than focusing on them needing to write. Don’t get me wrong, there is absolutely merit in children having a basic knowledge of early literacy and numeracy skills and being able to recognise their name in print is VERY helpful. And we of course support children with this in our ‘school readiness’ approach. But what if the focus shifted to building their confidence in asking for help? In understanding that the teachers are there to help, and if you make a mistake, that’s actually a fantastic opportunity for learning!?
It’s a BiiiiiIG deal starting school. And lots to consider. But one thing you may not have considered, is that children go to school to learn. As well as many other things, they learn to write, to read, to count. There is time for that at school! And often it’s hard to re-teach things that have been taught the wrong way. But do you know what’s more important for children to know prior to going to school? To have skills to manage conflicts. To have confidence to ask for help when they need it. To have communication skills and the ability to follow directions. To keep track of their own belongings. To know how to enter play and social situations with a level of confidence. To build friendships. To be able to say goodbye at the gate and “I’ll see you this afternoon”.
When you really stop to think about it, these children will be asked to sit at a desk and write for the next 13 years. Do you they really need to start doing that when they are four and five years old? So, I challenge you to consider the term ‘school readiness’ and what that should actually look like. Because the last time I stepped in a school yard, children weren’t managing their conflicts by counting to ten, and knowing how to write wasn’t what helped them seek help when they needed it…
Written by Katie Carrington - Educational Leader of Adamstown Community Early Learning and Preschool
Photo by Note Thanun