Friday, February 10, 2012

What are the 'basics' in the preschool years?

Creative water play
I am asked constantly by parents of preschool children should they be doing various things. Parents ask, should I:

"Make sure they know their sounds before schools?"
"Teach them the letter names?"
"Teach them to write their name?"
"Make sure they can write neatly?"
"Teach them to read some simple words?"
"Teach them about numbers?"
While the above are genuine questions about knowledge children will eventually need, most overlook the real 'basics' in the preschool years that will have a big impact on school success and later learning. If you want your child to succeed at school and in the workplace, become lifelong learners, be creative people able to solve problems and adapt to varied situations, who have varied life interests and a love of knowledge, then here are the things you want them to be able to do when they are five.
Enjoy playing with language - know unusual words, enjoy finding out new ones, play with rhyme and rhythm in language, love telling stories, jokes and talking with other people.

Creative story making with skills established early
Enjoy new stories with others in all their forms - stories you tell them of your life, stories read to them, stories watched together with others in the form of film and on television.

Have an interest in numbers, letters and words - wanting to learn about them (e.g. "Show me what a thousand is Mum"), trying to write them, including them in their creative play and drawing.

Be able to sit still for up to 30 minutes - being able to play alone or with others, complete a task they're interested in, listen to stories, engage in a play situation etc.

Have an expanding vocabulary - learning new words, trying to invent their own, asking you about words and what they mean.
Learning from experience

Enjoy knowledge and the gaining of it - being curious about some area of interest (e.g. insects, dragons, horses, pets) and having a desire to know more and share it ("Did you know Mum that a stick insect is called a Phasmid, and there are lots of types").

Have a love of books - while I've already mentioned stories above, there is a particular place for the love of books, I'd want my children to see books as some of their most special possessions because of the knowledge, stories and wonder that they hold.

Have an emerging knowledge of words, letters and the sounds associated with them - a five-year-old doesn't need to be able to read before school, but I'd want them to have some knowledge of letter names, some concepts of print and an interest in knowing how to read and write.

Show an interest in technology - not just to play games, or sit for hours transfixed in front of a TV, but a desire to explore their world with computers, an interest in the knowledge and learning that technology can deliver and how it can expand our world.

An ability to be creative and inventive - drawing and making things inspired by a story, TV show, movie or experience. Wanting to dress up and act out characters and experiences. Making shops, cubbies under the table, giving names and characters to their dolls and toys, using toys and other objects for creative story telling or recreation.

Creative play in action, the foundation of imagination & problem solving

Have an interest in problem solving - working out a way to spread the sheet over the table and hold it there for the cubby, trying to see how things work, trying to fix things that are broken, coming up with ideas for how the problems of his or her world can be solved ("Mum, if we could knock off three palings on the fence I could make a gate to Cheryl's house").

Have the ability to listen to, learn and comprehend - stories, lifestyle programs, movies, television shows, stories you tell them, recipes and how they are structured, instructions (spoken or pictorial). 

The above are the real basics that children need to know to succeed at school. The problem with them is that you can't cram in the year before school to develop them. These basics are things that take time and effort by parents and preschool teachers. Each requires knowledge of the child, an interest in their learning and interests and the ability to observe our children to scaffold their learning.


Jo M said...

I want to post this message across the front fence of every preschool, prep and kindy in our country! I can't understand why even our so-called educators are missing the point. Is it the constant quest for improved data from "high-stakes-testing" that is making so many adults lose sight of the value of the attributes you list? And now there is the content-laden Ausralian Curriculum to deal with.

Andrew said...

What a great post. As a father with a 2.5 year old boy (and a 4 month old girl) I really love all these posts / reassurances / encouragements for raising children and especially the intellectual development. Especially as we start to consider pre-school for him sometime this year or next year. Thanks.

Trevor Cairney said...

Thanks Jo & Andrew for your responses. I think you're right Jo that national testing has been a distraction for many parents and educators. The National Curriculum might also narrow the focus of teachers and parents. Andrew, make sure you visit the preschools and ask to see what happens in each room on a typical day. Nice to hear from you both.

Jackie said...

Another brilliant post, Trevor!

I love this list and the way it encourages a love and desire for learning.

Will share this post now.

Belinda said...

I absolutely agree with you! As a teacher I see the students who already have some of these skills cope and adjust a lot better. Now you have told parents what they need, we also need to teach/ show parents how they help there child do/ achieve these things! That could be the next blog :-)

SquiggleMum said...

Great advice for parents Trevor (as always). If only more parents focused on these prerequisites...

Hannah Blake said...

Great post, thank you! Last year in my first year teaching kinder I had loads of parents ask me, "what else can we be doing at home to help him/her?" I would always answer, "Just do things and talk about them" and often they were disappointed or confused by my answer! But it really makes a difference, more so than the parents who taught their kids 'academically' at home! One girl started kinder last year, ESL, and not at all reading before school, but her parents talked with her all the time and did interesting things with her - not complicated, just normal, everyday activities - and so her vocabulary was great. By the end of the year she was reading at a year 2/3 level, largely because she had experienced and used so many words in context. And she related to both children and adults really well because that was just what she was used to doing.