Yes, it’s that time of year again, when we all start to get a little jittery about the upcoming transition to school period.
Often, what we as teachers are doing to prepare our group of children for school is very different to parental expectations of school readiness. We are under more and more pressure to engage our Kindy or preschool children in ‘school readiness’ activities. School readiness is essential, however we are seeing more and more children engaging in activities were they are simply in the role of ‘producer’ or rote learner rather than positioned as authentic learners and creators (who are, let’s remember, only 4 years old).
Our Early Years Learning Framework provides a curriculum framework based upon the holistic development of children. It encourages teachers to nurture children in a way that ensures they grow and learn in every area of their lives. The framework identifies positive dispositions for learning. These dispositions shape the way children approach learning and form part of their character and outlook, and how they respond in situations, transitions and changes.
Dispositions are important in the development of children who hold views of learning as interesting, exciting and worthwhile. For children to be successful learners, the first thing they need is to feel safe, secure and loved. When these needs are met, then they are primed to learn. Our work in the early years is to lay these strong foundations, framed upon developing dispositions for learning. When we look at ‘teaching’ dispositions, the readiness experiences we may provide look very different from traditional school readiness activities.
The EYLF identifies positive dispositions for learning as:
(The Early Years Learning Framework: Building confident learners. http://www.earlychildhoodaustralia.org.au/nqsplp/wp-content/uploads/2012/05/RIP1001_EYLFsample.pdf)
We foster these dispositions in children as they engage in learning and relationships within a play based learning environment. As early years educators we know that when children play:
- They have opportunities to learn the skills of negotiation, collaboration and co-operation when interacting with friends and peers
- They are able to develop determination and persistence when faced with challenges in their chosen game or activity
- They are able to experience the success that comes with a new achievement or discovery when they accomplish something themselves and
- They view ‘learning’ as fun and exciting – full of physical and cognitive challenges, opportunities and eventually, life lessons.
When talking about transitioning to school, a child who has these dispositions in their tool kit is well on their way to achieving success.
Let’s look at a few real life examples:
- The first day of school – it’s an exciting but also terrifying day for little ones! A child who approaches this day with confidence, curiosity and enthusiasm (remembering, a little trepidation and nervousness is natural and to be expected) will settle sooner, develop peer relationships and go on, over time, to achieve a higher level of success than one who has not yet developed these dispositions.
- Looking at a specific learning situation in a classroom – In the first few weeks of school the teacher is completing an activity with students on number recognition and counting. A child with positive dispositions towards learning approaches the task with confidence, curiosity and enthusiasm. Regardless of whether the child has already grasped the concepts numbers or not, they have developed the mind set to persist and use their reflexivity to keep trying until they understand.
- In the playground – a child who has developed positive dispositions towards learning will find it easier to interact with familiar and new peers. They will engage with a level of confidence which has been developed in their early childhood setting and know how to start new friendships through collaboration and co-operation.
- When lining up for class or when asked to sit on the carpet – it matters less whether a child has had these experiences prior to school and more if they have developed a disposition of cooperation and an understanding of respecting others in the group learning context.
I have a 4-Year-old girl in my class this year, (lets call her Stella) who has never been in any kind of care. She has been at home with her Mum and toddler brother every day until starting Kindy last term. Her mother was concerned about how she would go. Stella has blossomed at Kindy, she is very enthusiastic about anything we are doing and really keen to try new things. She recently realised that lots of the other children could write their name. Stella came to me and asked how to write her name. I pointed out the name cards near the sign in sheets and asked her to find hers and use it to help her write her name. She kept finding reasons to write her name and wrote it (nowhere near perfectly) about 4 times that day! Stella displayed curiosity, enthusiasm and confidence that first time she wrote her name and commitment, persistence and reflexivity the next few times! The first thing she did after our holiday break was to do a painting, making sure she got her name card and wrote her name on her paper before she started. While there are other factors at play such as developmental readiness and well developed motor skills, Stella’s disposition for learning, which has developed at home through no formal teaching, has put her in a fantastic position to engage with every learning opportunity presented to her.
We know that a positive early years experience will lay a firm foundation for children, not only as they move onto formal education in primary school, but also throughout their lives.
If we are working to develop children who will grow up to be enthusiastic, curious, committed, persistent and confident adults who display cooperation and reflexivity, and a love of learning new things, then I think we are on our way to doing our best for the next generation. Let’s focus more on dispositions, on how we know children in the year before school learn best, and be advocates for this.
It is in children’s best interest that we do.