Wednesday, 13 July 2011

Literacy and Starting School

When kindergarten children first begin school it is often an overwhelming event – for both the child and parent! There are so many new routines, new faces and new experiences that it can take a while for children to feel really settled. Good teachers will do their very best to help children adapt but for some kids, it can be a bit like ‘throwing them in the deep end’. Add to this the notion that school is actually a place for learning, and the experience intensifies. ‘What do you mean I have to read (write, count, add, listen, speak, cooperate, conform etc....)?’   

What is interesting to note is that children who have been exposed to pre-reading concepts in their preschool years tend to adjust much quicker to the new routines of school and settle with greater confidence than their peers who have little understanding of literacy. 

Why, do I hear you say? Follow me here ...

Arguably, the first task (of many) for a Prep teacher is to teach reading. Of course opportunities are provided for children to experience all facets of the curriculum (as mentioned above), but initially a great deal of focus is placed on reading. In fact, I would go so far as to say that during the first year of school most emphasis is placed on learning to read. Typically speaking, the ability to read occurs before being able to write. For many children it occurs at the same stage but our focus here shall primarily be on reading.

School children are introduced to letter/sound relationships, sight words, take home readers, literacy rotations and more. It is structured, guided and measured by the teacher. Children are assessed and move through reading levels at their own pace. Those children that have developed a good understanding of literacy during their preschool years move swiftly, jumping from level to level rapidly. It is only natural that they will possess a good sense of self confidence. What about the child who isn’t so sure? They are perhaps quieter, less engaged, potentially disruptive and certainly lacking in confidence (as compared to their peers who have an insight to literacy). I’m sure some are thinking, ‘Who told all the other kids what’s going on?’

The pace set by the ‘prepared’ child is so furious that it’s debatable whether the gap between students is ever fully closed. Don’t get me wrong - all children move forward in school (at least that’s the aim), but the success experienced early on by those ‘prepared’ students bolsters their esteem so greatly that it often carries with them from year to year. They form attitudes towards reading and literacy, as do the ‘un-prepared’ children. Teachers don’t like to compare one child to another. We certainly don’t offer the parent any comparison of where their child sits amongst the cohort of students. We look at the capabilities of a child when they entered the class and look at their individual journey  ... in nearly all cases, further ahead than in the beginning.

I cannot stress enough the importance of preparing young children for learning. Lay down the foundation as it is often the experiences in the first few months at school which determine a child’s sentiment toward literacy and sets the tone for their whole school life. The Prep year is fundamental and often parents don’t realise its significance.   

Isn’t school the place where you learn to read? Well, yes and no. Teachers will teach all children, but parents can certainly do wonderful things with their preschoolers before getting to school.

So then, if engaging your child in pre-reading skills to help them become a literate adult isn’t enough reason for you – then consider the positive impact it will have on your child when starting school as a confident, capable student. Give your child the best start to their school life by developing skills early and give them a chance to achieve their full potential. 

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