Let’s set the scene
We are working outside on a beautiful winters day. There are four tables set up with art (scissors, pens, magazines and glue); Uno cards; a giant tub of Lego and an assortment of small block and wooden figurines. All of these were chosen by the children and set up on the table by the children.
The group of 18 children are moving freely between each table, if there isn’t enough seats, they drag one over. Children are communicating, laughing, sharing ideas and resources. Children are focused on what they are doing, sitting (or standing) at their desired table until they have accomplished what they set out to do or until they simply get over it and move on.
The art table sees children cutting, writing, drawing and gluing. The Uno table sees the children sorting, matching, counting and recognising both colours and numbers. The Lego box is where children are engineering amazing ships, houses and mutant monsters with 6 bodies (also developing fine-motor skills, patience and resilience). And the block table is where children are balancing, weighing, stacking, destroying and rebuilding. There is no set requirement on what they make or how they make it. Children are also free to move to the other areas of the outside environment, however they all seem engaged in what is currently available.
The 2 educators are sitting at one of the tables, not taking notes or writing observations, but playing alongside. Building a tower with blocks or cutting a picture from a magazine to stick onto their own collage picture. They are interacting with the children, talking, not always questioning. Simply being in the moment.
To me this is play, however other’s might call this time “school readiness time” and it is not always done like this. At many centres around the country, different educators have a different idea of school readiness, setting prescribed tasks, such as tracing around names or cutting along lines, in order to get a specific outcome. These are then stuck on the walls or in the children’s journals to highlight that little George can cut across a zig-zag line or trace his name. George knows he can cut a zig-zag line, he has done it a hundred times while in the art space, cutting out different shapes from the paper. So why is this more warranted for hanging up for display?
At the end of the day, George’s parents are then taken to the wall space, shown George’s zig-zag line cutting and told how good he did. Meanwhile, the magazine collage George worked on earlier in the day (using the same zig-zag cutting) and spent lots of time on, is pushed down deep into his school bag, crushed by his lunch box, ready to be “filed” later when someone cleans out his bag. This piece of art may seem so insignificant to some, but to George, this was his time, his energy and his creation.
With this, I often wonder who we do “school readiness” programs for? With an abundance of research highlighting the importance of learning through play and how play helps develop skills needed, not only for school, but for life, why do some feel the need to set predetermined tasks, with a specific focus in mind? Is it really for the children or is it to have some sort of tangible product that we can show off to parents to highlight that we actually do something with the children throughout the day? Is it to compile to show off through the assessment and rating process?
Skills seen as required for school happen every day. It is our role as educators, to not only work with the children, but also educate the parents, families (and sometimes other educators) on the importance of a play based approach. Educate parents and families on how through play, children get much more than just down time. If the school readiness program is something that has been developed by working with the children and it is meaningful, then great. But if it’s something that has been determined and set up by educators, then maybe it’s time to rethink the whole approach.