Creating a positive start for your child

Chris Lawson, Deputy Principal – Head of Junior School at Melbourne’s Yarra Valley Grammar, shares his tips on how to identify if a child is ready to commence Early Childhood in a kindergarten program.

I am often asked what process we use at Yarra Valley Grammar to determine if a child is ready to start their Early Childhood journey in a kindergarten program. Some of the information or advice can be confusing, so I hope that my article might help to clarify parent understanding.

Firstly and most importantly, it needs to be stressed that the first learning environment that any child is exposed to is in their home. Parents are their child’s first teachers and it is important to bring up a child in a positive environment. One of the first formal learning environments is normally a kindergarten, which may or may not be linked with child care.

A kindergarten program is a planned educational curriculum that looks at a child’s stage of development and then constructs a program to develop those skills as the child grows and matures. Language development, fine and gross motor development, learning about differences in people and cultures, setting routines, learning to listen and share with others, as well as learning to express themselves creatively are important aspects of a kindergarten program. Centre sessions can vary between part time or full time hours, depending on parent choice and availability of places. The Federal Government recommends that a child should attend 15 hours per week in the year before they commence school. In Victoria, children cannot start school unless they have turned five-years-old by the end of April in the year they start school.

At Yarra Valley Grammar, we offer full day kindergarten programs in our Early Learning Centre, 8.45am to 3.00pm. From three-years-old, children can enter two or three day programs and then as a four-year-old they may choose from a three, four or five-day program. Our teaching staff are degree qualified, Early Years trained educators and we offer a play-based curriculum. In 2016, our Centre was awarded Exceeding the National Quality Standard by ACECQA (The Australian Children’s Education and Care Quality Authority) across all seven areas assessed.

When I first meet young children and their families who want to come into our programs, I look to see that the child is becoming more independent and that they are able to speak to me and perhaps tell a little about their family, their likes, dislikes, pets or favourite foods and games. I always expect initial shyness, but look at how children react when I walk them into one of our rooms. An independent child will generally walk over towards groups of children and watch what they are doing. Sometimes they join in and don’t want to leave. Following directions from me or a parent to come back inside, pack up toys or look at something different is also a positive sign.

Being able to speak clearly and express themself is important, as are other signs of independence skills like eating, hand washing and toileting. If a child has a history of ear infections, tonsillitis, trouble with adenoids or similar, we just need to know what doctors have said and what treatments are in place to avoid developmental delays. Allergies and the like are dealt with in a similar manner.

As part of our enrolment process, I try to avoid asking all the developmental and medical questions in front of the child by sending a parent questionnaire home prior to interview. This gives me all the relevant information I need to be able to ensure we can offer an appropriate program.

So based on what I have seen over a number of years, I recommend the following tips to provide a positive start for your child in the home and then as they progress towards starting a kindergarten program.

  • Be a parent not a best friend. This means setting rules, expectations and being consistent.
  • Set regular routines and make family rules. Bedtime and mealtime are good places to start.
  • Read regularly to your child from a young age.
  • Provide opportunities for your child to mix with other children. This may start with playgroup and might later include music, library visits, gym or swimming.
  • Provide a wide range of experiences for your child and explain things that they see. This helps with understanding and language development. This doesn’t have to involve great expense!
  • Don’t jump in and solve a problem for a child. Let them try first and perhaps suggest things to them, depending on age. Positive comments, smiles and praise work really well when a child achieves a new milestone (But don’t go overboard).
  • As children grow older, encourage them to explain what they are doing or thinking. Using their language is really important and will probably lead to less physical reactions, like hitting or biting.
  • Don’t use physical violence, poor language or swear around children. Children need positive role modelling.
  • Always provide some quality “cuddle time”.

If I see a child who does not appear to be ready to enter a kindergarten program, I will make alternative recommendations to the family. Such cases are not too common, but I find that parents do respect advice and are always willing to do what they can to give their child the best chance to succeed in their learning.

Kindergarten is a fantastic learning environment and one which parents will look back on with fond memories. Help children be successful by giving them the best start you can.

Chris Lawson
Deputy Principal – Head of Junior School
Yarra Valley Grammar

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