By Brodie Jarman, Early Childhood & Primary Teacher
Research provides evidence that the first five years of life are the most crucial for brain development. Studies consistently highlight the importance of social development for young children and the number one predictor for positive outcomes is attachment; this means forming deep connections, a circle of security and sense of belonging. The emotional availability of carers provides protective factors for young children’s overall wellbeing, resilience, academic learning, and physical and psychological health (Coulson, 2017). The best way to prepare a child to be 5 years old, is to allow them to be 4, for 12 months. It is important not to steal that opportunity away from them, expecting too much and worrying about what is coming next, and instead allow them to engage in the “now”. There are 13 years of schooling to focus on academics and just five magical years of wonder, creativity and imagination to enjoy without so many pressures and expectations.
Long-term studies indicate that children who are taught early academics including reading and maths operations may initially appear to be ahead of their kindergarten peers however, within a few years, it all evens out and any advantage they had is gone (Dent, 2014; Suggate, 2009). This possibly indicates that some children between ages three and five have good memory processing and recall, as they typically don’t understand or comprehend the deeper concepts and are just rote learning. Too much pressure on academics too soon can take away from time that should be spent learning and engaging in experiences that foster and support social skills, independence and self-help, creativity, problem solving, resilience, emotional regulation and fine motor and gross motor skills. It is also really important to recognise the value of children having long periods of unhurried, unstructured, uninterrupted play, as well as times of calm and quiet, such as rest and mindfulness.
At Alkira ELC, our philosophy inspires a play-based program focused on providing holistic learning opportunities that support all developmental areas including social, emotional and intellectual. We embrace a child-centred approach, appreciating each stage of growth and development by following the children’s lead. In the same way we don’t expect babies to walk before they are ready; we approach academics with the same patience and respect, by gently embedding opportunities for learning to occur through play. This intentional teaching occurs from our Jannali (baby) room all the way through to the Adoni (preschool) room, not simply just a practice that occurs in the year before school. Educators foster play-based learning by providing an array of developmentally appropriate, open-ended, curiosity-stimulating experiences, along with scaffolding to challenge new learning, and let the growing brain take what it needs at its own pace and readiness.
Studies show us that superior learning and motivation occurs when our approaches are playful, rather than instructional (Whitebread, 2013). In the childcare setting educators use intentional teaching practices to expose children to a broad range of learning opportunities, through meaningful and purposeful play-based experiences, including research and project-based learning. When children have the autonomy to be intrinsically motivated to learn about what interests them, and the opportunity to discover for themselves, they develop positive dispositions towards learning. The academic learning that occurs in these early years may not appear as you may perceive they should; however, more importantly, children are learning crucial foundational skills that will enable them to understand complex academic skills later. Primary school children depend on rich creative thinking skills for all academic disciplines, in particular creative writing tasks and STEM (science, technology, engineering, mathematics). It is therefore essential that children first learn to become innovative divergent thinkers who can persevere with challenges through rich problem-solving and investigation skills; to best support their long-term academic journey.
At Alkira ELC, we acknowledge that children’s lives are greatly influenced by their early years and provide an environment that nurtures each child to reach their full potential. Our role in preparing children to be ready for school is to foster a love for learning, inspire curious and involved learners, support their ability to make friends, be inclusive and participate in social settings and instil the confidence and independence to thrive.