The transition from preschool to primary school can be a daunting and scary thought for both children and parents.
Where is the best school my child can attend? Will they make friends quickly? Do they need to know how to read and write already??
These are all valid questions that run through most parents’ minds.
However, these questions also pose a risk. As adults, we often project our expectations and goals onto our children. We may see their lack of willingness to learn how to read and write as a flaw rather than seeing it as a child who would rather play with their friends.
“The way transitions are experienced not only makes a difference to the children in the early months of a new situation, but may have a much longer-term impact, because the extent to which they feel successful (emotional and well-being) in the first transition is likely to influence subsequent experiences.”- Fabian and Dunlop
ERO (NZ Education Review Office) has reviewed the transition from early childhood centres to primary school and noted that “children need support to learn how to manage change and to build resilience. Teachers can help children develop a positive attitude to change by encouraging their sense of self-worth, confidence as a learner, independence and optimism.”
At no point in their review does it state that children must be able to memorise flashcards. Children have evolved into high functioning, intelligent adults for all of time up to now without the use of flashcards or rote learning.
Instead research shows us that deep immersion in social life is fundamental for optimal emotional and intellectual development at a young age (Trevarthen, 2005, 2006). “The cognitive processes required for imaginary play on the playground are more demanding than sitting there looking at flashcards” (Casey Lew-Williams, Assistant Professor at Princetown).
The focus at preschool is not to simply teach children how to read and write. In fact, many primary school teachers note that it can be harder to teach a child these skills if the method they already know differs from the current model taught.
Therefore, the key to a successful transition is being supported and built up so that children have the confidence to tackle any problem they may face. Being able to confidently approach a new student and play with them, or put on their own shoes and socks is far greater an achievement. This shows that they are independent and capable to achieve tasks without the pressure of over-achieving at such a young age.
Of course, if a child shows a natural interest in a subject or willingness to learn a new skill, teachers should jump on this enthusiasm and provide the best platform for the child to learn to its full extent.
A basic understanding of letters and numbers are woven in to every day life at preschool so that children can become familiar with concepts, rather than rote learning. Singing the alphabet song or asking a child what phonetic sound their friend’s name starts with are more interesting to children.
The overall aim is to help develop children who have a sense of themselves as confident learners. When a child is confident and capable, they can take on any problems and tasks that life throws at them, including the step from early learning to primary school.