Timely warning from Professor Collette Tayler and her team at University of Melbourne about the importance of high quality learning in our early childhood centres – preschools and child care.
General concern in the media recently about falling achievement standards in our schools emphasises the need for high quality learning for our children right from the beginning of their involvement in our education system.
It is widely understood and accepted now that the learning our children do in the earliest years sets up the foundation for all the learning that happens later. Also this important learning happens across all areas of their development: social skills, emotional development like independence, self-confidence and resilience, physical skills, and their academic knowledge and ability to be a competent learner.
You cannot separate these areas of development and concentrate on or fall short in one without impacting on the others. A young child who is not helped to learn, say – about how to count objects in their everyday lives is disadvantaged in several ways. They are behind in understanding number but they also start to feel inadequate emotionally and socially because they can’t do what is expected of them.
However this can also cut the other way. A child who has already managed much of this learning becomes confused about what is expected of them if the early childhood centre teacher or school teacher doesn’t reinforce what they have already learnt. They also start to feel inadequate emotionally and socially because what is expected of them is too simple or too slow in comparison to how they have been learning so far. So these children also are missing out on high quality learning.
Some teachers in preschool, child care and early years of school recognise these children with advanced development but many do not. The Victorian Department of Education has been promoting recognition and understanding of them as well as other organisations such as Born to Soar who offer a One Day School from early years onwards and advocacy groups like the VAGTC.
They have been emphasising the importance of high quality learning opportunities including the importance of teachers having ‘high expectations’ of children who are already advanced in their learning. These children need the support of their teachers just as much as any others.
For any child – you cannot build a strong structure of knowledge and skills on a weak foundation. Social and emotional learning is important but are not enough on its own.