SCHOOL READINESS PROGRAMS // What are they and how do they prepare your child for school?

March 06, 2019


SCHOOL READINESS PROGRAMS // What are they and how do they prepare your child for school?


 

The years before sending little ones off to school can be confusing for parents as they navigate their way through early education and school readiness.

 

So. Many. Questions.

 

We hear you! In fact, a few of us here at The Fold have been there or are in the trenches of preparing their kids for school right now. So, we thought we’d ask the questions for you! We caught up with the team from Explorers Learning Academy in Mittagong – General Manager Lindsay Loomes, Centre Manager Tina Brown and Educational Leader Michelle McTavish - and asked them how to prepare your little one for a successful start to big school.

 

explorers academy

 

So, what is a school readiness program?

 

The approach to school readiness and early learning has changed significantly in recent years. It’s not about a child being able to write their name, count to ten or recite the alphabet anymore. These days, an effective preschool program focuses on building resilience, social skills and confidence in our little people.

“When a child has the internal confidence to give something new a go, that child is more likely to succeed in a classroom environment. A school readiness program equips them with the tools to become a successful learner,” Lindsay says.

“We want our children to be critical thinkers who can problem solve and contribute to a social and just society. The early years of education is the perfect time and place to set those foundations.”

 

school ready at explorers
 

 

Okay, so how does a school readiness program do that?

 

Play is the key! We’re sure you’ve heard the term play-based learning flung around a fair bit in recent times, but what does it actually mean? How do kids learn through play?

“We take our pre-schoolers for daily bushwalks. This gives them so many skills – independence, understanding rules and boundaries, personal responsibility and of course physical exercise,” Michelle explains.

“We build on this play-based activity by attaching educational elements too. A fun bush walk becomes the basis for project based learning. They look under logs, find insects, research different types of bugs and creepy crawlies, draw the insect they saw and then we’ll read stories about what they discovered.

“It’s such a good way for the children to find out more about their world, extend their knowledge and develop their investigative skills. This gives them that lifelong learning and curiosity which makes them a successful learner.”

explorers academy 2

 

Now, a preschooler’s view of life can be quite narrow, which is totally understandable – they’ve only been on this earth for three or four years!  So giving children an understanding of how the greater community works and their position in society also helps build social and critical thinking skills.  “A school readiness program that is connected to the community works for everyone involved,” says Lindsay.

“We take the kids on excursions in our mini bus which gets their curious minds working, and creates lovely links with organisations like Harbison Care. The kids visit Harbison Care fortnightly and put on fun plays and shows for the residents. The kids love it, we love it and the residents love it.”


 

So what does a school readiness program look like? Is it a structured curriculum?

 

Many early education centres incorporate the PALS (Play And Learning Social) Program into their daily routine. This program teaches children social skills such as listening, sharing and taking turns, and provides guidance on managing emotions such as anger and frustration.

But experienced and knowledgeable educators will also always look at a way they can incorporate – we love this term! – a teachable moment into a child’s daily activities.   

“Our approach to preparing a child for school is intentional rather than programmed or heavily structured,” Tina says.

children playing explorers academy

 

“We are always looking for a teachable moment. A simple example is if the children are in the sand pit, we will draw some letters in the sand with them or count the number of candles/sticks they’ve put on the sand cake they’ve made. We take the opportunity the child presents to us and capitalise on something they are already interested in.” “That’s where the skill of the educator comes in,” Michelle adds.

“Recognising what sparks the child’s interest, their stage of learning and what they are ready for in terms of learning. When kids are ready to learn, they get it so easily. As an educator, it’s important to pick those moments and build on them.”


 

What else does a strong school readiness program include?

 

As kids get closer to that all-important first day of school, it’s good for them to have some practical knowledge and experience related to school life. Things like unpacking and eating from a lunchbox, dressing in a uniform or putting shoes on.

Role playing social situations relevant to the kids before they start school also helps prepare children for different social scenarios they may encounter.  

“If a child doesn’t have the confidence to ask another child to be their friend and to play, they may end up sitting alone in the playground feeling worried and sad. They then take those emotions back into the classroom,” says Lindsay.

“And what’s that going to be impacting? Their learning! They’re not going to be focused on what the teacher is doing. Their little minds will be controlled by sadness and worry.”

 

child with backpack

 

Do long day-care centres run school readiness programs too, or is it just community preschools?

 

Lots of early education organisations run these programs – you don’t have to send your child specifically to a preschool to ensure they are prepared for school.

“The opening hours of long day-care centres give busy, working families flexibility. At Explorers we also have a highly educated team passionate about early education. This means our families get the same level of early education they would somewhere else. They’re not missing out,” Lindsay says.

“And parents get continuity of care at a long day-care centre. Your child can start when they’re a baby and stay with us right through until they are ready to go to school!” Michelle adds.

 

So what should parents be looking for when checking out early education providers?

 

Lindsay advises parents to spend time at the preschool or day-care centre when deciding on a school readiness program or provider.

“Be curious about what the school readiness program looks like. If you see worksheets and it looks quite structured and rigid, then alarm bells should be going off. This is what school readiness programs looked like 10+ years ago,” she says.

Lindsay also recommends you talk to the educators and watch them in action. A good provider will be open to you spending time with the team. Ask about educational qualifications and professional development. A high level of pedagogical knowledge within an early learning environment can make a big difference to your child becoming a successful learner and starting kindergarten off on the right foot!

 

Chickens at explorers academy
 

Lots of good advice from the team at Explorers Learning Academy! Thanks guys!

 

Another really good resource is this school readiness checklist from the NSW Department of Education. Click here to download the checklist.

 

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