There have been a few conflicting reports in the media lately concerning school beginners. On one hand we have people stating that kids should not start school until they are seven. Connected with this view, we have the claim that play is the most important learning experience for those under seven – something I agree with wholeheartedly.
On the other hand we have educators stressing the need for children of four and five years old to be taught computer skills as soon as possible – as (they claim) it is the new way to learn.
After reading that children should all be working on their iPads in the classroom, I was interested to see there had been a parental revolt after a Queensland school advised parents that their Prep children had to bring their own iPad to school.
‘Ashgrove State School in western Brisbane has been forced to review its 'BYO iPad' program for prep students after a backlash from parents’. (ABC, 13.06.16)
But here’s a quote from someone promoting a children’s computer program called Mathletics “it is important to teach our kids the skills necessary to prepare them for what the future has in store from an early age.”
Guess what? There is a lot more that ‘the future has in store for them’ than computer skills. Take just life in general, for example.
So, what to think? Let the kids learn through play? Expose them to computers? Or what?
The learning through play and the later school starting age propositions are fine as long as parents have the necessary time, abilities and ambitions as well as access to materials and locations to provide a positive learning environment for the children.
Sadly this is not always the case. Nor is it possible for every four to seven year old to have access to worthy pre-school services.
So there are possible stumbling blocks for these ideas and schemes.
As for the emphasis on school directed computer skills and iPad use for five-year-olds, I do wonder if that notion is even practical, let alone necessary. If ‘tapping’ and ‘swiping’ a screen takes the place of pencil, crayon, paint brush and play doh activities, wouldn’t less finger and hand manipulation and movement limit the children’s motor development significantly? And what about eye sight and visual development? Would there be too much focussing on one small space, instead of the wider world?
So for the moment forget about ‘start school at seven’ and the ‘bring computer studies into the prep year’ arguments.
Let’s just pretend that all children are equal and that, while play is definitely a crucial part of every child’s development, assume that they are all ready for school at age five.
Let’s also disregard any urgency in a need for computer skills in the prep classroom and just consider a classroom full of learning opportunities in the form of building materials, words, letters and books – lots of books.
The thing about small children is that, owing to the fact that their brains are like sponges for soaking up information, they LOVE to learn. And one of the things they most LOVE to learn is how to read. Learning to read is not a boring chore for small children. They are so anxious to be able to read that teaching that skill to kids is an easy task. Once the appropriate paraphernalia is presented to them (in a playful way, of course) they mostly just do it themselves. Sometimes they need very little special learning-to-read assistance. We’ve nearly all known some small child who has been able to read before he or she has experienced even a day at school. And mostly it’s been without any assistance. They just soak up knowledge and then up pops ability.
In my humble opinion, the underestimation of small children’s ability is wide-spread and staggering.
Sure, there are some little ones who need lots of help along the way – but, in the main, kids are primed to learn and learn they do, with only a small amount of input by their teacher or parent.
It may come as no surprise to know that I spent many years of my teaching career, with school beginners. I used to ‘teach to the top’ as some people called it. That meant that if I taught to where I thought the children could be, (not to where I was told they should be) then most of them reached that level. Those who didn’t quite attain the ‘top’ straight away still enjoyed the ride and eventually got there.
And it’s not just reading ability that children are capable of gaining easily. It is also the gaining of knowledge in many forms.
Given an appropriate amount of colourful plastic blocks, small children are usually able to work out simple mathematical equations with great enthusiasm. (“What are three lots of three?”)
There’s also the undeniable fact of small children’s appreciation of literature – something that is often times ignored in this digital age.
Five-year-olds enjoy literature of a more advanced level that those suggested by educators. They especially love the silliness in the Winnie-the-Pooh books and appreciate the word play and rhythm of ‘The Owl and the Pussycat’ and the likes.
I have watched as prep children have listened in breathless silence to Oscar Wilde’s ‘The Selfish Giant’ and been moved to tiny tears. (It was probably not strictly a prescribed story for any level of school classes, but I didn’t ask for permission.)
Sure, let them learn through play – and the more out-door play the better - but also produce games that include words and letters and books and poems and see them fly.
Yes, learn through play…..whatever it takes…let them use an iPad if you like.
Let them begin schooling at four, five, six or seven…read to them LOTS…
Just never, ever underestimate the ability of a five-year-old.
I choose to comment on social issues and write creatively on a variety of subjects - for a variety of audiences.