Are we expecting too much from our preschoolers?

Are we expecting too much from our preschoolers?

Are we expecting too much from our preschoolers?

how to bridge the gap between play based and academics



As I scroll through Facebook, I read some parents' comments - asking about ways they can teach their 2 and 3 year old the alphabet and counting.

Or asking about ways that they can encourage their 2 and 3 year old children to sit up at a table and focus on a table top activity like drawing or writing.


Can I please give one word of advice as a mother and a child development therapist.


Please prioritise play more than academics.


Children have years at school to learn about letters and numbers. But their minds only have a quick window to enjoy the many benefits of imaginative play and open ended creativity.


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In addition, the brain needs a strong foundation of motor skill development, creativity, executive function, and imagination to be able to write stories, count objects in their environment, follow procedures of a science experiment.


If we rush our children academically, then we miss out on the crucial stepping stones from play.


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The research isn't focused on academics.


The research reports that children should not be doing any formalised or explicit learning of literacy and numeracy until the age of 7 - 8 years.


Yet our primary school curriculum (in Australia) is pushing teachers and educational support staff to motivate children to learn letters, count objects, write their name, and draw pictures, by 5 to 6 years of age.


The research highlights the importance of open ended play to encourage children's motor skill development, creativity and imagination. Yet some families are still pushing for early childhood teachers to encourage their children to create works of art, use scissors, count to 10 and write out the alphabet while at kindergarten.


Why do we feel this pressure in our society today?


What makes a parent look for academic activities for their 2 year old?


As my daughter Phoebe repeated 2 years of her 4 year old kindergarten program, I saw the many benefits of not rushing children's development. I used to smile when I observed Phoebe and her friends as they hopped, galloped, and crawled into her kindergarten classroom, positively greeting her educators and peers. No fancy art work brought home. No need for the children to write their name before their body is ready, or cut along scissor lines until their hands had experienced hours of sensory play.


I am fortunate to be able to be inspired by kindergarten teachers and early childhood educators all around the world who provide immense effort in indoor and outdoor learning spaces to develop children's gross motor skills, social skills, and emotional skills, for a strong learning foundation.


school readiness play based 


During kindergarten Phoebe wasn't making an attempt to write letters, complete puzzles, draw pictures, or paint shapes. Instead Phoebe was interacting mostly with the outdoor play space, climbing A-frames, walking across balance beams, searching for bugs. Now in her first year of primary school she is starting to show an interest in drawing pictures, writing her name, and using scissors like her big brother and sister.


Not rushing Phoebe to do these 'school readiness' activities at kindergarten didn't hold Phoebe back compared to her peers at primary school. Instead, encouraging Phoebe to play at her own developmental level, climbing A-frames, digging in the mud kitchen, riding around on bikes, built a strong foundation of play and motor skill development while at kindergarten so now at primary school Phoebe has a strong foundation for her confidence, learning, and well-being.


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Unfortunately for some children highly qualified and inspiring kindergarten teachers are 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?


Please share your comments and feedback below.


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Could you forward me the research stating no formal or explicit learning of literacy until 7 or 8 years of age.

This is crucial information for me

Kind regards



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.

Katie Harris

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.

Laura Hoyland

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.

Sokha Pawson

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.

Melanie Aavik

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