School Readiness Programs Part 2 – More Than Just a Fancy Term

In Part 1 of this article I supported the idea that early childhood services should be moving away from ‘school readiness programs’ which can catch parents and educators in the trap of task oriented learning, and that we should be using a broader concept of ‘foundations for learning’ within our programs. This more holistic approach to learning should be enmeshed within day to day life experiences rather than be in a set time slot or short period in the day.

I recently visited one early childhood centre that was about to implement their ‘school readiness program’ after the children’s lunch. The children were lined up at the door and the teacher was holding a handful of stencils with the letter ‘A’ in bubble writing (presumably for the children to colour in). The teacher leaned over and said to me “we’re learning the letter A this week and we are working our way through the alphabet”.

What does this actually mean…”we’re learning the letter A”? How is this enriching the language skills of the children in the program? What should we be looking for within early childhood programs that lays a good learning foundation and supports children in having a positive experience in their first years of school? I would like to outline 3 areas of child development and suggest some of the foundations we should be looking to support and encourage within a child prior to and during their school experience.

Social Competence
Our learning programs should help to lay the foundations for :
o Independence and self help skills
o Positive social interactions and the ability to make and sustain friends
o Self expression and confidence to communicate needs and ideas
o Sharing and turn taking
o Entering and leaving individual and group play situations positively
o Understanding and following routines and dealing with routine changes
o An ability to remain attentive and work in a group setting
o Respect for others
o Empathy and seeing other perspectives

Language Competence
Our learning programs should encourage children to understand:
o Language is a communication tool
o Language can be fun and creative
o Language encompasses many facets such as verbal, written, and body language
o Principles of symbols and shapes (letter forms)
o The importance of effective listening
o Hearing and identifying differences in language sounds

Cognitive Competence

Our learning programs should support the foundations of :
o Confidence in trying new skills and making attempts at learning
o A thirst or energy for learning
o An ability to think creatively and problem solve
o Good memorization and memory recall
o Attentiveness and concentration
o Listening skills

These are the skills we should be supporting and developing in children when we are preparing them, not only for school, but for life long learning. If these foundations are not laid, it will be harder for children to learn how to read, how to write, and to understand maths and science concepts. Just remember that the tallest, brightest skyscraper won’t stand for long unless it has good solid foundations.

In our preschool and early childhood services, calling a program ‘school readiness’ is just a fancy term if all it includes is extra sheets and stencils that older children do while younger children are having their daytime rest or sleep. In fact, we could call it anything from ‘School Preparation’ to ‘Kindy Starters’ to ‘Prep Class’ and it may ‘Wow’ our parents and educators. But if the principles behind it are not about laying learning foundations throughout our whole day to day activities, then they are all a waste of time and fancy words. Make sure your preschool or long day care centre’s preparation for school learning is more than just a fancy term.

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 latestchildcare staff training available.