Rethinking ‘School Readiness’

(Article by Early Childhood Australia)

‘School readiness’ programs are advertised across the nation, with some early learning services and preschools promising to provide children with literacy and numeracy skills for a head start in school. On social media, parents frantically seek recommendations on where to send their children to ‘get ready’ for school. Educators arm themselves with worksheets and a ‘letter of the week,’ and attempt to corral energetic 3-year-olds into reciting numbers and identifying colours during mat times, all in the name of ‘education.’

However, for those of us passionate about young children’s learning and development, it’s time to shift our perspective and advocate for best practice in every early learning service across the country. It’s not the children who need to ‘be ready’; it’s the schools.

Those educators who push back against the academic push down often work against their beliefs as “it’s what parents want”, but what about what’s best for the child? If we want to be seen as education professionals, it’s high time we re-educate educators using outdated practices, promote quality learning environments, and enlighten parents about what genuinely benefits their child’s development.

If ‘school readiness’ were indeed paramount to children’s learning and development, it would have a prominent place in Australia’s national curriculum, the Early Years Learning Framework (EYLF). However, a thorough search of the recently updated EYLF, based on extensive Australian and international research, yields zero mentions of this term that has become so important to families, educators, and service providers.

Instead, the EYLF consistently employs the term ‘transition to school’ to describe this crucial step in children’s educational journey. Rather than viewing it as something children must prepare for, the EYLF frames the ‘transition to school’ as a collaborative effort where educators, school teachers, families, and communities unite to support children’s well-being.

In contrast to traditional school readiness programs, which emphasise preparation for the future, the EYLF acknowledges the significance of a child’s present and past experiences and places value on being fully engaged in the moment with the child.

Reframing ‘school readiness’ to ‘transition to school’ involves a change in mindset. It acknowledges that education is not a one-size-fits-all approach, where children enter formal schooling with the same knowledge, skills and life experiences. In contrast, schools, just like preschools and early education services, adapt to meet each child’s unique needs.

Here are some reasons why shifting our focus is so important:

Child-Centred Approach: The ‘transition to school’ approach places the focus on the child. Rather than expecting children to conform to a predetermined set of developmentally inappropriate skills, it recognizes their individuality, cultural contexts and diverse learning styles. Children who begin school with a positive view of themselves as a learner are more likely to enjoy school and do well. School teachers are encouraged to adapt teaching strategies to match a child’s strengths, skills and learning needs, building on their prior knowledge and ensuring that no child is left behind.

Collaboration and Support: Embracing the ‘transition to school’ philosophy fosters collaboration between early learning centres, schools, families, and communities. It recognises that a child’s successful transition to school requires a joint effort from all stakeholders. This collaboration ensures a seamless and supportive experience for the child.

Holistic Development: The ‘transition to school’ approach promotes holistic development. It emphasises not only academic skills but also the child’s social, emotional, and physical well-being. This comprehensive perspective recognises that a child’s success in school is not solely determined by academic readiness but also by their overall readiness to thrive in a school environment. Reducing academic push-down leaves more time for children to engage in play and experiences that promote social and emotional competencies, important foundation skills for later success.

Reducing Pressure: Shifting away from the ‘school readiness’ mindset reduces the undue pressure on both children and parents. It acknowledges that children develop at their own pace and that early childhood should be a time of exploration, play, and joyful learning rather than a race to acquire specific skills.

The EYLF views children as confident, competent learners and promotes strengths-based assessment of each children’s knowledge, skills and learning dispositions. Let’s work together to abolish the term ‘school readiness’ and all the outdated ideas it entails, and educate early childhood professionals, families and schools on the importance of collaborating to provide developmentally appropriate support for children as they transition to school.

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