The importance of the Early Years

By Geoff Little, Head of Junior School at Strathcona Baptist Girls Grammar

From the first day of school, we are preparing our students for life’s transitions by encouraging them to think for themselves. We make sure they can recognise their own potential so they may flourish in and out of the classroom.

The phrase, the three Rs, was coined by Sir William Curtis in 1975, referring to the learning of reading, writing and arithmetic. Over two centuries later and the phrase “the Three Rs” remains relevant. However we are now educating students to thrive in a world that was unimagined by Sir William Curtis back in 1795.

Previously the mastery of the three Rs was a sufficient educational goal. However, students of the 21st Century require a vastly broader skillset. Students must develop the capacity to be (amongst other things); creative, collaborative, analytical, digitally literate and courageous. These are skills that can empower students to thrive in a world where the rate of change is more rapid than ever before. So how then, do we as educators equip our students to successfully navigate our rapidly changing world?

The critical way we do this is by building strong foundations. These foundations begin in Prep and extend into Year 1 and Year 2, a time referred to as the Early Years. In these crucial Early Years of education, children build strong foundations by learning how to think for themselves.

We know that students who are able to think for themselves are active learners, who embrace the rigour of learning and enjoy articulating their thinking to others. We know that if students are to enjoy learning and be active participants in the learning process, then the tasks and experiences provided by educators in the Early Years must align closely with their existing knowledge and skills.

We know that students who are able to think for themselves will take more responsibility for their own learning. They work towards personalised learning goals and can recognise their own success. There is a level of excitement and sense of joy that radiates from the Early Years classrooms when a new skill is attained, and is something that should be celebrated. This sense of accomplishment is possible because students are active participants in all facets of the learning process, and as such it is important that students are taught to articulate what they are ‘learning’ rather than what they are ‘doing’.

We know that students who are able to think for themselves are more likely to be courageous in their learning, which empowers them to persist with high challenge tasks for prolonged periods of time. By introducing students to STEM in the Early Years, we are instilling in young people a love of Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths. As scientific and technological innovations grow exponentially, the need for our children to be technologically skilled is more important than ever and through STEM a child’s capacity to collaborate, evaluate, problem solve and investigate is encouraged – all of which are essential 21st Century skills.

We know that students who are able to think for themselves prefer to engage in tasks that require them to be interactive creators, disseminators and evaluators of information. Inquiry-based learning introduces students problem solving activities and divergent thinking. Students should be encouraged to take initiative and responsibility for their own learning, to develop their own questions, overcome challenges and be open to build on their prior thinking with new knowledge.

We know that students who are able to think for themselves will engage with those around them collaboratively, be able to listen to the ideas of others and contribute their own ideas and opinions confidently and with sensitivity/awareness of their audience.

We know students who are able to think for themselves engage in play. Play provides active exploration opportunities that assist in building and strengthening brain pathways and engaging students in new experiences in a non-threatening way. It allows children to explore, identify, negotiate, take risks and create meaning while learning at the same time.

We know that the Foundation years of a child’s education are critical. In a world where the rate of change is more rapid than ever before, we have a responsibility to instil in children the skillsets that enable them to think for themselves and foster creativity, collaboration and digital literacy, so that they can make their way bravely, faithfully and happily in a world full of possibilities.

To learn how Strathcona’s innovative and engaging Junior School program can prepare your daughter for the 21st Century visit: www.strathcona.vic.edu.au

About Strathcona

Situated in the heart of Melbourne’s inner eastern suburbs, Strathcona is sprawled across three campuses, catering for girls and boys in the ELC and girls from Prep to Year 12. Senior and Junior School campuses are located in Canterbury and the first designated campus for Year 9 girls in Australia, Tay Creggan, is situated on the banks of the Yarra in Hawthorn.

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