The Brisbane Courier and Mail recently reported that Queensland children as young as four are receiving private tutoring to improve their literacy and numeracy skills, in advance of starting school.
On the Gold Coast, a number of private tutors are advertising ‘school readiness training’ for pre-schoolers, while the Readiness Academy (Robina) and Begin Bright (Burleigh, Sorrento and Tugan) offer small group ‘school readiness’ tuition to four to six year-olds: 45-60 minute lessons on the alphabet, counting, letter-sound recognition and fine motor skills (writing, cutting, drawing etc) for around $25 an hour. Homework is also provided.
Are parents getting more competitive, striving to give their children an academic advantage from the very beginning of their school career? Or are they genuinely concerned that their child will not cope with the pressures of Prep?
In 2017, Prep attendance became compulsory for the first time in Queensland. Since its introduction in 2007, the Prep Curriculum itself has changed gradually each year, resulting in much higher standards and expectations.
“When I started teaching Prep in 2008, Prep was still very much play-based.” says Natalie Gladman, King’s Prep Lead Teacher.“Now, children are expected to attain a far higher level of literacy and numeracy by the end of the Prep year. The changes and pressures have been enormous. Not only for students but for parents and teachers too.”
No parent wants their child to struggle at school. But anxious parents sending their children to school for the first time, need not fixate on how well their tiny child can read or write. “I don’t care whether a child can write their own name or count to 10 on their first day of school,” says Gladman. “That’s my job. What’s more important is that they have the social and emotional skills necessary to learn in a more structured environment: Can they follow instructions? Can they dress themselves and go to the toilet independently? Will they tell me if they need help or don’t understand something?”
97% of Queensland pre-schoolers now attend a kindergarten program before starting Prep. By law, Kindy/Pre-Prep Centres must have a qualified Primary School teacher on staff and adhere to Queensland Curriculum guidelines. This should be adequate to prepare and transition a child to school and introduce children to literacy and numeracy through play-based learning.
At King’s where the Pre-Prep Centre sits on the same College campus, pre-school educators work closely with the Prep teachers to facilitate a smooth transition and ensure children are ready and prepared for school. Pre-Preppies get to spend time in Prep classrooms during the year, enjoying integrated activities, so they become familiar with life at ‘big school’.
Once in Prep, King’s kids follow a differentiated program where the child’s developmental needs are met at the stage they are at. They will not be ‘competing’ against children at different developmental stages. Trained teacher aides are available to give targeted help to small groups of children who have not yet grasped concepts taught in class. Children who continue to struggle receive free weekly tutoring with their parents (who learn the teaching methods taught in Prep).
“The Prep year should be fun and exciting and adventurous,” says Gladman.“We still include a huge amount of play-based learning but move more towards independence and problem-solving skills. The risk of formal tutoring for pre-schoolers is that children will lose their innate love of learning and find it a chore … or that they learn things by rote without being able to understand or apply what they have learnt.
“If parents are concerned about preparing their child for school, they should invest time focusing on their practical, social and emotional skills - checking they can put on their uniform themselves, showing them how to pack their bag and open containers, playing games requiring taking turns, role-playing, talking about sharing, chatting about books and films – everyday activities. Without these sort of skills, coping with a full school day and learning anything in Prep is going to be very difficult for them.”
For more information on the skills your child will need before starting Prep as well as practical tips, download our free e-book.