Frank Niklas, University of Melbourne; Caroline Cohrssen, University of Melbourne, and Collette Tayler, University of Melbourne.
The next cohort of five-year-olds are just starting school. While parents will be proud and excited about this important step in their child’s life, some will also have concerns.
Will my child be happy at school? Will they make friends? Will they do well? And is my child even ready for school?
This question may sound simple, but school readiness is a complex construct with varying definitions across cultures. Some emphasise children’s skills, others the family, school and community relationships around the child.
For Indigenous families, culturally responsive practices are especially important during the transition to school.
But regardless of background, the transition to school life is more likely to be a smooth process when a child:
A child might not experience all of these, but even some of these things can help.
Early interventions by teachers or parents that build confidence and skills can also be effective.
This can include promoting a child’s language skill by reading to the child often, and using opportunities to encourage the child to think about and regulate their own behaviour. This can be done through taking turns, taking part in conversations, asking questions, and giving children time to be heard.
Learning how to interact with others and seek help when it is needed supports smooth transitions.
A child’s cognitive competencies, especially vocabulary, letter and number knowledge, phonological awareness and counting skills, are key for being ready to start school.
And parents can help support children in this area and strengthen their understandings.
Children who know and use more words, letters, shapes and numbers, and who enjoy and are good at counting or rhyming, often do better later in school.
Families – who are the primary influence on children’s learning – can help by drawing a child’s attention to words, letters, shapes and numbers in the everyday environment, and giving time for the child to express what they notice.
Attending good early childhood programs can help get children ready to start school.
In early education, children have the chance to expand their vocabulary and conceptual understandings through listening to others. They can also learn social practices that are useful at school.
This is especially true for children from disadvantaged backgrounds.
Early childhood programs provide far more than babysitting, yet too few young children attend early years education for long enough to advance their learning.
This may be for many reasons. It could be because too few places are available; the fees are out of reach for families; or the quality of teaching is not strong enough to deliver greater learning gains than if the children had not attended at all.
Providers and government can do more to ensure early educators are well equipped to promote children’s learning during these important years of development.
Successful transitions rely on families and teachers working together, promoting the learning and development of young children.
Policymakers, practitioners, researchers and communities together build the ecosystems that influence and support children’s long-term development.
Progress in meeting early learning and development challenges requires:
• The authors explore this theme further in a new book called Educating Australia: Challenges for the Decade Ahead.
Frank Niklas, Developmental and educational psychologist, University of Melbourne; Caroline Cohrssen, Lecturer, University of Melbourne, and Collette Tayler, Chair of Early Childhood Education and Care, University of Melbourne
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