The changing nature of society has brought with it new challenges for early year learners and the teachers who are tasked with educating them, early childhood teachers Cathy Cuff and Tracey Sutton write.
Twenty first century parenting is different to parenting of the past. Children are spending more time in care due to the working commitments of their parents. The advancements in technology have increased children’s screen time causing a decrease in social interactions, outdoor activities and play.
Some students seem to be arriving in kindergarten classrooms with skills that are less developed than is necessary for independent and successful learning. This, coupled with the higher expectations of the kindergarten curriculum, have seen more challenges placed on learners entering formal schooling for the first time.
Skills that are essential for academic learning appear to be less developed than previously. Appropriate oral language skills, which include speaking in complete sentences and having the ability to ask questions in order to gain knowledge and help with any problems they may encounter are lacking. Correct pronunciation of words and correct terms for everyday items, language and vocabulary should mature with age. This will lead to effective communication skills with peers, teachers and others.
Fine motor skills are important for all aspects of life, especially school life. Students need to be able to manipulate buttons and zippers in order to put on and remove articles of clothing, pack and unpack their own school bags, open their own lunch containers and packets – along with the highly important skills of holding and manipulating pencils for learning to write, turning one page at a time when learning to read and using exercise books, as well as using glue sticks and scissors correctly for expected activities.
The ability to listen actively and retain information is an extremely important skill. Skills include listening to more than one instruction at a time and following correctly and promptly without losing focus, being able to listen in a conversation and to another person’s points of view. Listening skills are also needed for phonemic awareness, which is essential for all life and academic learning particularly learning to read and write in the foundation years.
The onus now falls to early learning teachers across prior to school and kindergarten settings to facilitate the development of these skills for early learners.
Reliance on early learning
Society is relying on prior to school settings to provide essential building blocks for successful academic learning upon entering formal schooling. Now more than ever it is crucial for kindergarten teachers to engage in shared dialogue and reciprocal classroom visits with prior to school teachers to ensure the transition to formal schooling is simply a continuum of their learning and development.
Kindergarten teachers realise that students arrive at varying developmental stages, meaning that classrooms must provide for individual students at their point of learning.
The kindergarten classroom needs to reflect and facilitate the needs of 21st century learning, with the understanding that the world we are preparing them for does not yet exist.
Developing programs and activities within environments that allow for smooth transitions and the continuing development and reinforcement of diminishing skills are vital for the kindergarten classroom.
Building on from the foundations established by prior to school teachers and the opportunities they provide through play based learning, many kindergarten teachers are now embracing this pedagogy in their own classrooms. Play based learning in kindergarten provides continuity between home, prior to school settings and the wider world.
In addition, it encourages language skills, develops social and emotional skills, fine and gross motor skills and allows students to engage in problem solving and creativity. Play supports pre literacy and pre numeracy skills and encourages collaboration and resilience.
Through continued open dialogue and collaboration prior to school and kindergarten educators can continue to build bridges to provide bright beginnings for every student.