Are we expecting too much from our preschoolers?

change in primary school curriculum play based kindergarten school readiness melbourne

Are we expecting too much from our preschoolers?

how to bridge the gap between play based and academics


I write this blog article as a frustrated kinder mum, and now a confused, child development therapist.


If I had of written this blog article last year, I would have shared my excitement about getting children ready for school, by improving their:

  • Gross motor skills
  • Fine motor skills
  • Ability to maintain focus
  • Ability to follow instructions
  • Letter recognition
  • Counting 10 objects


I still agree with the importance of development children's gross motor skills, fine motor skills, ability to focus and follow instructions. However, now, as a kinder mum, I feel confused and torn about the importance of 4 and 5 year olds learning letters, numbers, and drawing pictures on a page.


As a mum, with a 4 year old, who isn't yet interested in mark making and letters, why am I rushing my 4 year old daughter to learn letters and numbers in kindergarten? 


literacy activities primary school


Why am I rushing my 4 year old daughter to write her name, draw a picture of a sun and a person, point to the letters of the alphabet?


If I could find research that showed the above literacy and numeracy skills are appropriate for a 4 and 5 year old's developmental level, then I would be all for it. 

But I can't.


The information that I can find is that children should not be doing any formalised or explicit learning of literacy and numeracy until the age of 7 - 8 years.


What I can observe, is a primary school curriculum (in Australia), pushing children to learn letters, count objects, write their name, and draw pictures, by the age of 5 years.


But why?


As Phoebe hops, gallops, and crawls into her kindergarten classroom, positively greeting her educators and peers, I feel inspired by her kindergarten teacher's immense effort to develop the children's gross motor skills, social skills, and emotional skills, that are definitely needed for a strong learning foundation.


school readiness play based 


However, Phoebe's kindergarten teacher at the moment is nervous about Phoebe's school readiness, because Phoebe isn't making an attempt to write letters, complete puzzles, draw pictures, or paint shapes. She is still interacting mostly with the outdoor play space, climbing A-frames, walking across balance beams, searching for bugs.


Unfortunately, a highly qualified, and inspiring kindergarten teacher is feeling pressured by a curriculum, that has been set by academic professors and policy makers.


These curriculum academics, created a curriculum years ago, before the introduction of technology (internet, smart devices, google search) before the new-age online employment opportunities.

These curriculum academics and policy makers, may not be well versed in the child development research, yet they're controlling how our children are expected to learn.


What is a kindergarten teacher to do? If some parents and primary schools are pushing for kindergarten children to write their name, count to 10, and sit for extended duration in circle time, because that's the perception of school readiness, how can we change the system to support a child's development, instead of push a child's academic performance?


kindergarten mark making activities

As a confused and overwhelmed kinder mum, with a love for child development, I would really appreciate your comments and feedback below.

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  • Katie Harris on

    School readiness is certainly not just academic based. So many of our young children (based on local AEDC data) lack in regulating their emotions and behaviour and struggle to perform basic self-help skills such as putting on/taking off items of clothes, putting belongings away and taking ownership of them. As an Early Childhood Teacher I too often see this in my classroom where parents are strongly focused only on cognitive and academic based skills and not necessarily the ability to make friends in the playground and classroom and other crucial physical, social and emotional skills.

  • Laura Hoyland on

    It’s vital that children are given the opportunities to learn through play. To explore, learn how their bodies work and make sense of the world around them. Children need magical experiences, opportunities to use their imagination, come up with their own ideas and take risks and challenges. We must give our children freedom and the opportunity to make mistakes in order for them to be motivated in their learning.

    School readiness is more about the ability to make friends, to listen and engage with others, to be able to concentrate for short periods of time. It also includes having the confidence to ask for help when needed and respect others. Children need to be learning about feelings, how to express themselves emotionally and how to regulate their behaviour. It is so sad to see children following a curriculum that stifles their creativity and their exploration skills. Children learn by playing.

  • Sokha Pawson on

    I am an early childhood teacher and a mum of 3.5years old and a 6months old. I have many years experience working with 3-5years old children. As a teacher, I made decision on which skills to teach children and when depending on my knowledge of individual child with worked with. Some 3years old enjoy drawing and writing their names while others prefer to be outdoor, engage in dramatic play with peers or build with construction material. Each will require different method and approach to engage them in learning. There were time that I would encourage a 4 years old in counting or drawing if I want them widen their experience and to use a different skill set. But not every child need to learn to draw shape or write their name by their 4th birthday. One size fit all is not going to work because of their different level of development and interests.
    Of course it is important to engage children in the foundation skill for academic learning such as number and letter recognition, but this skills are embedded through the children’s play, daily conversation and routine. School Readiness Program in the preschool (3-5 years old) is not just focusing on children’s ability to write their name or count to 10 or 20. We bring social skills, problem solving, conflict resolution, managing emotion and self regulation into the school readiness program. These are the essential skills that enable children to feel safe, connected and therefore engage in other learning area when they are transition to a primary school setting. Pushing children to learn to write their name or learn letter and number early will have negative impact on the children’s learning in school.

  • Melanie Aavik on

    I am a kindergarten teacher in an early childhood setting which allows the children to learn in a play based learning environment. I have worked in family daycare for over 17 years with children from six weeks to 14 years and also in a school environment with children kindergarten to year 2. I’m also a mum to three children aged 22, 20 and 17.
    I’ve engaged in many different teaching and learning styles with the children and have found that I feel most empowered as a teacher when I can see and experience with the children their learning when they are actively learning through play based real world experiences. An example is I have had children count to 20 and write their name at 4 but when I asked them to show me what 10 objects look like some of them couldn’t show the amount, merely just counting the numbers in the correct sequence. In my class of 27 children we use everyday experiences such as fruit time to count out and share the fruit, we share items at play which show that we have 6 cars and who gets a turn. Evidence has shown that children learn better when they are engaged in hands on learning on their context. A school environment for a 4-5 year old is setting them up to fail pushing them to hard. Anxiety is on the increase now for children aged 3-17 because our expectations of them early are to high.
    My students learn social skills, sharing, taking turns and how to regulate their emotions in a supportive way which will be a skill that can take to school so that they can engage In the school environment using those rich skills to help them develop.
    I believe school is school. Do not rush them before six to be ready for school, let them learn at their own pace and guide them as they develop themselves. My families have full faith and trust in our play based education, which should the child be showing interest or readiness to write then we support that also.
    I also believe parents are feeling pressure to make children school ready too early and it will take lots of parents with children in prep now to voice their opinions about what it actually is like parenting a child in prep that is doesn’t continue to support play based learning.
    The children we send off to prep would still benefit from a mix of formal and play-based learning options.

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