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Moving from kindy to school

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Big school. It's a big step. And for a child this is the first of the many transitions and steps they will take on their journey of lifelong learning.

This is a step that, in many ways, is five years in the making.

But it's preschool or kindergarten where the real transition takes place.

"Preschool and kindergarten is quite different to the other years of early learning," early childhood teacher and educator mentor Kirsty Brown says.

"It's about developing them as independent self-sufficient individuals."

Kirsty, who works with Goodstart Early Learning educators to develop curriculum and facilitate professional development, says there are key goals and achievements set for children at this age.

"We want children to feel confident and capable about the next step in their schooling.

"During the year before school we give them the skills they need to feel comfortable and familiar with their new school environment and to know what to expect."

Kirsty says like every stage of early development, the core needs of a kindergarten child are consistency, love, safety and security, predictability and familiarity.

During the year before school we give them the skills they need to feel comfortable and familiar with their new school environment and to know what to expect.
Early childhood teacher and educator mentor Kirsty Brown

She says parents and educators need to be aware of the concerns and any anxieties the children in their care have about starting 'big' school and clearly and rationally address these.

But as child development and education psychology expert, Associate Professor Dr Michael Nagel maintains, it is all about timing.

Dr Nagel says it is important to choose a time when a child is calm and comfortable to talk about the things that might be causing angst or concern for them.

"There is no point talking about what they are worrying about if they are stressed at the time. They cannot think clearly and it's almost impossible for them to put their thoughts into words at that time," he says.

"Wait until they are calm and rational. Wait until you can sit down and talk about their worries; answer the questions and find out why they are concerned."

Kirsty says that kind of communication is absolutely vital for kindergarten children.

She says they are at an age and stage of development where they are looking for answers – and real answers – to questions and things they don't understand.

"Be open and honest. Answer their questions. But be careful to choose age-appropriate language and calmly give them the information they need to better understand a situation without telling them too much."

Familiarising the child with the school environment, is another critical element of preschool development.

Kirsty encourages educators and parents to work with schools and understand what skills children need and where the shortfalls have been identified in the past.

She says the first day of Prep should not be a child's first day at the school.

Of course, she concedes, that's not always possible. But the more often a child can be exposed to that new environment, the more familiar it will be – and the less anxiety and stress there will be come drop off time.

"Social interaction, at this stage, is also important. Because if a child is at school or in another situation, they need to know how to approach other people – other adults – if they need help or have a concern.

"We want them to feel confident and capable of approaching other people and not being reliant on only one person, or a small group of people, to turn to.

"That social interaction is also really important in enabling the child to make friends and be able to engage with different people and connect with people they might not have otherwise."

Independence, at this stage of early learning and development, is an important foundation stone.

There is no point talking about what they are worrying about if they are stressed at the time. They cannot think clearly and it's almost impossible for them to put their thoughts into words at that time.
Associate Professor Dr Michael Nagel

This, Kirsty says, is what underpins every other facet of a kindergarten child's development – and school readiness.

"We want them to be able to stand in a line and walk in a line, for instance, because we know that is something they will need to do at school.

"Dressing and undressing, putting on shoes, putting on sunscreen, doing up jumpers, remembering their hats – all are basic skills which make a big difference when they get to school.

"We encourage them to make sure they know where their belongings are and that they take responsibility for those things.

"Little things like encouraging them to bring a water bottle and packed lunch and sitting down with that at meal and snack times is another way of familiarising them with what is to be expected.

"By the time they are nearing the end of kindergarten, children should be able to do a fair amount for themselves.

"That sense of autonomy in children, and the resilience that comes with it, gives them the confidence to take that next big step."

Educationally, there is a significant shift toward autonomous self-guided play and educators work with children to identify learning opportunities from that play.

"We are actively encouraging preschool kids to go off and explore more, to try more things.

"There is a new level of risk taking at this age, with the child understanding they can try and they can take those risks, but knowing they are in a safe and controlled environment.

"All of this is confidence building and resilience building and that's what makes it so meaningful.

"We have a chance to harness those first stages of cognitive brain development where children are starting to grow their ability to think more strategically and focus on the execution of tasks.

"They are starting to think laterally, and consider concepts which might be outside the box in their problem solving.

"And with that, nurturing that new ability and working to strengthen it, the child has a real sense of ownership over their learning and where that is taking them."

Kirsty says the most important tools parents and educators can equip their kindergarten children with are those which build confidence and resilience.

"These children are about to take a big step in their lives. Making sure they know what that step is, and a little about what it means, and celebrating the significance of it will give them the kind of confidence which they will draw upon and come back to at every new stage of their lives."