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What age is too young for formal education? What is more important – social skill or academic skill development? Who should take prime responsibility for teaching letters and numbers – daycare/kindergarten teachers or parents?

I have always wondered these things starting thinking more about it after recently speaking to one of the teachers in my daughter’s pre-school class. She has been in the industry for 33 years and said it was getting more difficult as the expectations on teachers was becoming greater. She said not a day went by when a parent didn’t complain about something (too much drawing/ not enough drawing/ too many stories/ not enough stories/ too many casseroles/not enough warming foods – you get the picture).

My daughter’s current class contains a few 3 years olds, lots of four year olds and a couple about to turn 5. All of these children head to school next year for prep so there is a set curriculum that must be followed and certain milestones that must be reached. Great in theory and concept but not always easy to undertake with a variety of levels in a class of 24 with two teachers.

Currently my daughter’s class has 3 children with incredibly limited English language skills (two have quite extreme behaviours with one not being able to sit still for a minute) and other kids who don’t recognise any of their belongings, can’t recognise their names and don’t know any letters or numbers. As you can imagine this makes educating the others tricky for the teachers.

I have heard complaints from parents that the kids aren’t learning and they just play all the time and these other kids are bad influences. From my side I have seen this as a fabulous learning opportunity. Being a Special Educator I can see that this type of scenario will arise for these children in the future and they need to know how to deal with it. Being able to stand up for yourself with words (not physical means) and demonstrating correct techniques to others are great skills for all kids to have.

I have told my daughter that the two “rough” boys in the class are not naughty (as everyone else is saying). They just have limited English language, come from a different culture and are so wanting to fit in they go about it the wrong way. These kids come and hug me each day and I can see in their eyes a gentle side. My daughter has learnt to say “Please stop I don’t like it” and has also taken one of the young boys under her wing and is trying to show him how to play nicely. This is teaching them both about social skills and acceptance – two skills so essential in life and not learnt sitting at a desk.

I was also told of a parent who dresses her child in white designer clothes and asks the teacher’s not to let her get dirty and that she should be learning in a clean environment. Exploring your world is a brilliant way to learn and this means going outside and playing, digging in the garden to plant vegetables and climbing to develop motor skills. These 3 and 4 year olds also learn through painting and playdo and drawing and gluing (you get the point) and all these things require a degree of mess.

Yes, I am aware of studies that show in other developing countries students who start formal education at 3 are further advanced academically. I have to ask though has anyone assessed their social skills. Can’t we have academic learning occurring in informal settings in the first 5 years? In my first year of teaching there was another recent graduate who was a Maths and Science wiz. Unfortunately he was so socially inept that he only lasted 6 months in the high school jungle.

Now don’t get me wrong, I want my daughter to learn academically and do the absolute best she can. However, I also think it is crucial to be confident to explore and take risks and socialise. I ensure I always use my manners and say please and thank you when shopping (for example). I introduce myself to people in new environments and let my daughter see me meeting new people. I talk about my emotions and feelings (I get nervous in new settings and I let my daughter know that and then let her see me extend myself and mix with others). Teach through example.

On the academic side, let’s relax a bit and let kids have fun until they start Primary school. Let them get dirty and play and laugh and mix with their friends. Let them sit under tables to read books if they want. Let them write their numbers and letters in sand and paint. Let them know life and learning can be fun. Learning doesn’t have to be in a book or at a table. Our environment can teach us so much and is full of letters and numbers.

Also, rather than put all the learning onto the teachers take some responsibility yourself. Read from a book everyday to your children. Read signs in shops and on products you buy. Let them see the prices of things when shopping and explain what these numbers mean. Let them know learning can occur everywhere and words and numbers are everywhere.


Posted by gillmanfergus, 13th May 2014


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  • Let kids’s play. Kids learn so much through play. We forget how important it really is with so much focus on academics.

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  • I think the experts have it right concerning the right age to start learning, which is the year kids turn 5. There’s so much they need to learn, formal and informal, we can only do our best to try and expose them to as much as possible

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  • 3-4 i reckon is a good starting age

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  • Social skills and academic skills are both important. There seems to be a trend in my area of holding children back a year before they start school which I don’t necessarily subscribe to. My twins started school aged 4 3/4 and coped well.

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  • 4 years old is ready for formal education.

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  • I started my daughter when she was 4 and a half she turned 5 in the June, but she was struggling with school and the work by the time she was in year 2 the principal called me to the office and advised me that it would be a good idea to repeat her again in year 2 which I agreed to . Now she is just about to finish school doing her HSC this year

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  • I agree wholeheartedly. There still needs to be a large element of parental responsibility. As to getting dirty during play I agree, however, I do feel that it is important for children to still appreciate and practice personal hygiene and responsibility. In saying that I mean they should learn to wash their faces and hands, look after themselves and their belongings by putting on smocks to paint or by putting socks in shoes and in lockers. All of this should be taught at home and reinforce/supported during the child’s time at childcare or school.

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  • Social and academic development are both important. I know of people who are very academically advanced , completed doctorate but can’t hold a job for more than 6 months, and others who are high school drop outs but are on stable, high incomes. I think some people put too much emphasis on the academic learning and forget social development is just as important.

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  • I loved teaching my kids to read and learning the abc song and counting songs too. I think that at younger ages parents should be involved as well and as much learning stimuli provided by way of songs, activities and of course social interaction.

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  • I have been working with my daughter at home on all aspects of learning,and also I ask the teachers as well what she should be doing. Some parents don’t care whilst others do.. I think it’s up to the families.

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  • My daughter loves her books, we’re always reading :)

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  • Firstly good on you for telling your daughter that those two boys weren’t “rough/naughty” as i think some people do label kids far to quickly and the kids end up feeling like they are being treated differently by the other kids.

    I believe things like reading to your child from a young is so beneficial and then just add different things relating to their ages. Our children learn so much from how their parents and siblings act. Yes teachers are there to help and guide your child through school but i believe the buck stops with the parents a teacher won’t be around forever

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  • we started reading the kids when they would wake up and we got them out off their bassinet and put them in bed with us while we read pointed out colours and animals as well as nursery rhymes. When it was bath time we would name the animal and the colour as well as singing ten little indians and others alike. When were in the car we would see say a cow and say cow and ask what sound it makes and we answered moo. We also did drawing with coloured pencils and name which one they pointed to and I use to do dots that they learnt to join like how I was taught and also we played counting games and of course the ABC’s and taught them to write their names with the word dots. I think alot of people are putting to much on the teachers and not enough on them selfs to help them have a better understanding of things and to help their education. You can even play games with them that teaches them things

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