Here is the next installment of the discussion paper I recently presented on the topic Prep….. preparation for what?
In Preptopia we were preparing them not just for school but for life and this is one answer to tonight’s question. We are preparing them for life and instilling in them a love of learning.
Balancing out all of this play are the 4 other contexts for learning and balance is the key word here.
and where the answers to the questions about literacy and numeracy learning can be more clearly observed.
In these contexts children are participating in carefully planned and developmentally appropriate experiences that help them to build upon their current skills and knowledge and develop mastery. The teaching and learning in these contexts and in particular Focussed Teaching and Learning is more explicit and direct.
Another strength of Preptopia is giving the children a voice and agency and an example of how powerful this voice can be is when I ask my Preppies at the start of every year what they would like to learn in Prep and every year almost 90% of them say “learn to read”. It’s what they think coming to school is all about and who am I to say no? As an avid reader myself, I always get excited about sharing my love of reading with them and by listening to their voice and acting upon it by helping them to make the connections between what they already know about reading and the many literacy skills they bring to Prep, I am empowering them to perceive themselves as readers right from their very first day .
I teach them that learning to read is more than just decoding words on a page. I teach them that reading requires lots of other skills as well. Skills such as –
By connecting their prior knowledge about reading to this new learning they become active participants in the development of their literacy skills.
When children go to Year 1, play as a context for learning is rarely implemented and this is why the other 4 contexts for learning in Prep, especially focussed learning and teaching are so important. It is through these contexts that children are learning and developing many of the “learning to learn skills” that they will need for the more formal learning of Year 1. Skills such as
Often these skills need explicit teaching and practice through modelling and role play in whole and small group situations but once taught and understood many, especially the social and emotional skills can be reinforced and applied independently in the more social and less structured play situations. So here is the second answer to tonight’s question. Prep is preparation for the more formal learning contexts of Year1.
Remember earlier I said we were also gently transitioning them into the school environment. This means teaching them school survival skills. What the bells mean and what to do when they ring. Teaching them where to find the library and the tuckshop and how they operate. It’s learning how to sit still and listen, not just in the classroom but also at assembly and other school gatherings and most important of all, surviving the playground. School survival is also about asking for help when you need it and what to do when things become all too much because when your 4 or 5 (or 65), school can sometimes feel overwhelming and you need to know how to find someone or somewhere that gives you time and space and provides support and encouragement so you can regroup and gather yourself, ready for what comes next.
Now that I have identified some of the skills and attitudes that Prep prepares our children for, along with some of the strengths and ideals of Preptopia, let’s look at some of the challenges we face.
The balance between play and focussed teaching and learning has shifted over the last few years and, as I said earlier, play has almost, if not totally, disappeared from many Prep classrooms with 1 teacher in a discussion group asking “does anyone play anymore?” The question seemed like a cry from the wilderness and made my heart sink. Preptopia seemed to be moving further and further away from our children.
So, knowing all that we do about play, the question we need to ask ourselves is…. why. Why has this shift in balance occurred? Why has play been replaced with even more focussed teaching and learning ie. literacy and numeracy blocks? Has the purpose of Prep changed? Or are there other factors at play here?
One of the biggest changes to education in Australia has been the introduction of a national curriculum. The development of the Australian Curriculum was guided by The 2008 Melbourne Declaration of Educational Goals for Young Australians which commits
Sound familiar? Successful learners. Confident and creative individuals. Active and informed citizens. Aren’t these the qualities of the children of Preptopia? Yet interestingly the Australian Curriculum has taken a content approach. It is a curriculum framework that outlines subject content, time requirements, assessment and reporting procedures. What it doesn’t tell us is how to teach. Its outcomes for Prep or as it is called in the document, the Foundation year, appear at first somewhat daunting, and many of us stood back and went Whoa! Hang on! How can our children possibly reach these literacy and numeracy standards?
It all seemed too much! What was going to happen to our children and their childhood? Aren’t we pushing them too soon and too quickly into learning they were not developmentally ready for? And yet, other states in Australia are already achieving and even surpassing these standards. Could we learn something from them? Could their more formal classrooms with their literacy and numeracy blocks be best practice after all? Were their Prep classes preparing them better than ours and if so for what? Dare I say it? Better literacy and numeracy scores? Could we continue to play and still achieve these standards?
I think the answer to these questions lies in our rhetoric about how we view children. I think we have been underestimating just how competent and capable they truly are, particularly in the areas of literacy and numeracy. Our balance between play and focussed teaching and learning may have been right but when it comes to focussing on the explicit teaching of literacy and numeracy we were out of balance and not challenging them enough when it came to actual content in our classrooms. Something the Australian Curriculum addresses.
In the next post I will share the challenges facing Preptopia in Prep…. preparation for what?