‘School Readiness’ is a term widely used within the Early Years sector, but many people appear to have conflicting views on what the term actually means and what we as practitioners should actively be doing to ensure our preschool children are ‘ready’ for their transition to school.
Is ‘school readiness’ something we can easily define? And does it look the same for all children? As settings, do we have to endorse and promote ‘school readiness’ in our children? How do we know what children should be doing prior to starting school?
As with a significant number of topics in Early Years, is ‘school readiness’ something we are all reading too much into and blowing out of proportion?
As a home-based childcare setting, we are at somewhat of a disadvantage in terms of making links with local schools and being considered as ‘professionals’ by the receiving schools in the area. Schools often contact a child’s nursery or preschool prior to the child starting school to arrange to visit them within the setting and to meet with the child’s key person to gain a better understanding of the child.
As childminders, this rarely happens. We may get the occasional phone call from a school, but generally a teacher will not come out to visit a child within a home-based childcare provision?
Noticing the stark differences between settings and the school transition process, we considered what ‘school readiness’ meant to us and what our ‘role’ was in preparing our children for this transition.
We are firm believers that children learn at their own pace and should not be pushed to develop or learn faster than they are ready to or capable of, and so, ‘school readiness’ for us essentially entails providing opportunities for the children to explore and become familiar with their school uniform, dressing themselves and developing a sense of identity within their school environment.
However the advantages of being a home-based childcare setting means that we can pay impromptu visit to each child’s school (sometimes pre-arranged where the school allows) to look at the school emblem, become familiar with the physical environment of the school and understand the routine of walking into the school grounds. We also try and find the local park to the school, as the park will become an important part of the after school routine.
Similarly, we also set up a ‘classroom’ role-play within our playroom to enable the children to become familiar with the idea of how a classroom will look, what they will need to do and again explore these ideas in their own time, with their peers and through their play.
Activities such as these not only enable the child to process the upcoming changes in their own time and in their own way, but also enables them to do so within a familiar and supportive environment; surrounded by their familiar peers and key-people.
Through experience and repetition of these exercises we have found that by doing this as a group, irregardless of whether all of the children are starting school, this enables the child starting school to develop a sense of ownership of their new school, whilst also developing a sense of ‘approval’ and admiration from their peers about the new adventure they are embarking on.
Each child will react differently to this transition and period of change and so it is difficult to ensure and define ‘school readiness’ as a collective exercise in our opinion.
Essentially, we are not preparing children for school. We are preparing them for a transition. As practitioners, this is what we need to focus on, less emphasis on writing and academic ‘readiness’ and more emphasis on change and routines and what we can do as nurturing and supportive practitioners to support the children through this period of change.