School Readiness Programs Part 1 – Are They Just a Fancy Term?

I have spoken to a number of parents about what they look for when choosing a child care centre or preschool for their child. Many parents are ‘wowed’ by the term ‘School Readiness Program’, and discuss excitedly that their child care centre, preschool, or family day carer offers a school readiness program. While I am not against the idea of such programs I am cautious about what they are actually offering.

What does it mean for a child to be ready for school? There are many misconceptions that a child is ready for school when they can recite the alphabet, count to 20, write their name and tie their shoes. These skills are all good things, but these are not the foundations for positive learning experiences in the school environment.

We should consider the child who can’t yet recite the alphabet, count to 20 or recognize a circle, and yet is at an age that the state government requires they must attend kindergarten. Do we say that because they are not “ready for school” they can’t attend?

I would like to suggest a broader, more inclusive term that we should be using in our Early Childhood Services. That is ‘Foundations For Learning’. We can be supporting the essential foundations for learning for all children, regardless of whether they are attending school the next year, and in doing so facilitating a rich learning experience that encourages the overall growth and development of each child. It does not need to be a separate part of the program that sets a benchmark that children must attain to in their development before they can be considered ‘ready for school’.

Let’s consider for a moment a child who can recite the alphabet. What skill/s are they demonstrating in doing this? They are showing good memory skills, having learnt the names and order of the letters. However, it’s not a foundation for reading as some would think. Let’s then consider the child who doesn’t necessarily know how to recite the alphabet but who enjoys spending time looking at books, pretending to read a story to themselves; who makes up nonsense words in rhythms and rhymes; who takes an adults hand when reading, points to the writing and says “read it “. They have an understanding of the function of written print and a love for the richness of language and story telling…all of which are foundations for reading and language. What would you prefer to see in a ‘School Readiness Program’?

Similarly, the ability to tie ones shoes is not an indication of being ready for school, especially in this day and age of slip-ons and velcro! However, an ability to care for ones self and be independent in the tasks that are required for day to day life develop in a child a sense of achievement and independence. These skills, in turn, lay a foundation for achievement in learning and a sense of accomplishment, supporting a child’s motivation for greater achievement and further desire to be challenged and grow. I know the difference can be subtle, but it can cause parents and educators to be caught in a trap of task oriented learning rather than overall foundations for life.

So when you see an early childhood service providing a ‘school readiness program’, don’t be swayed by the term. Look to see what that program actually includes and how it supports the overall foundations and motivation for life learning. Is it enmeshed within day to day life experiences, or is it a program with a set time slot?

What do I believe should be included in a learning experience that lays the foundations for life long learning. Stay tuned for part 2!

Cassandra Eccleston is a dedicated and experienced childcare professional and writes for Onsite Early Childhood Training who produce cutting edge Child Care Staff Training by DVD. You can visit our website for more free resources, downloads, forums and information on school readiness programs and the latest childcare staff training available.