Saturday, 27 July 2013

School readiness and retention

I've been feeling a bit inadequate when faced with questions about children's readiness to transition to various age-groups or to school.

Studies have shown that retaining children once they have started school is detrimental to their wellbeing and has no positive benefit for their learning. This makes the decision of whether or not to retain children before school age all the more important. As most early childhood teachers working in pre-school settings have not worked in the early years of primary school I wonder how they can be qualified to advise parents in this regard.

The general consensus seems to be that children must be confident communicators and able to follow more than one instruction at a time. They must have the desire to learn, the ability to focus on a task and the ability to regulate their behaviour while doing so. They must have the emotional regulation to be able to separate from their parents and to conform to the expectations of the setting, and the social development to be able to fit in with their peers. They must also have the physical and emotional stamina to cope with five full days in an educational setting.

I have seen children in early primary school who have difficulty focussing on learning, but more typically I have seen five year olds in pre-school settings who have outgrown the informal learning environment and are therefore under-stimulated and disruptive. Recent studies are showing that quality teaching has more impact on children's successful learning than previously thought, so it's possible that children might receive benefit in either situation if quality teaching is occurring and learning is tailored to meet children's needs.

What concerns me is that some teachers seem overly zealous in diagnosing deficiencies in normal, healthy children of pre-school age and suggesting the need to retain them in three or four year old kindergarten. It seems that they feel more valid as educators if they can be seen to discover problems and fix them. The concern is that this may be particularly hurtful to parents who begin to see their children as less than perfect and start to blame themselves or their parenting.

Children vary in the temperaments that they're born with, and in their personalities that develop over time due to external experiences. Children will draw on a variety of skills in order to succeed in school depending on these innate abilities. I'd suggest looking at children's ages and cognitive abilities, encouraging a love of learning and children's positive identities as learners, and building their confidence in knowing that they can take care of their physical, social and emotional needs independently. Also, if you don't feel like an expert, refrain from passing yourself off as an expert. Encourage parents to get a second opinion. They will appreciate your honesty.

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