Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Prep - Now in the 'too hard' basket.

The school year is almost at a close and parents will be busy attending end of year celebrations, awards ceremonies, class excursions and teacher farewell parties.

Many parents however, will be readying their child for their first year of school next year, having attended the interviews and the information nights over the past few months. These parents will have expectations regarding their child's Prep year based on their own experiences of Preschool or the experience of any older children they may have. Most have now been told that things are changing but don't completely understand how.

If you are one of these parents, I am here to tell you it's time to throw all of those pre-conceived notions in the bin. Now.

Prep is moving into the new curriculum and it resembles nothing we have ever seen before. Well, not for this age group anyway.

The advent of Naplan has created an unrealistic view of our children, particularly those in Queensland. Here in this State we did not have Prep when Naplan was first introduced. We had Preschool which was play-based and encouraged children to gain social skills and had a basic introduction to the world of learning. It was fun. It helped you make friends. It encouraged you to love the educational experience and it was not compulsory.

Prep is not compulsory either....yet!

As a result of the way our system in Queensland worked, we should have tested our students at Year's 4 and 6, not 3 and 5. If we had compared ourselves at this level, we would have faired very well indeed.

Statistics have shown that a student graduating from Year 12 in Queensland is no less likely than a student from another State to get into the University of their choice. Surely this is where we should be looking. This is where comparisons should be made.

Then there is the fact that 4 out of 5 children in Indigenous communities never learn to read. Besides the accurate observation that this statistic is appalling, placing those students (of which there are many) into the same pool as those who live in Brisbane and go to an elite school, was unwise and extremely unhelpful.

Regional testing, rather than national testing, would have been more beneficial.

Regardless of my feelings on the inequities of the Naplan testing and our over-reliance on results from tests taken on one particular day, the truth is, learning in Queensland is about to become a completely different ball game.

Prep students (aged 4-5) will now be required to do homework every week. They will have very limited access to play based activities and even then, a scholastic outcome is necessary. Students will need to be able to read, write sentences (including punctuation), tell the time, use fractions, add up money and do maths using word problems.

What teachers are telling me is that this year, our Prep students who are currently trialling the National Curriculum, will be at the same levels as those starting Year 2. What they are also finding, is that students are behaving badly, boys are not performing at expected levels, kids are resisting going to school at all and the general mood in the classroom is more sombre.

My question is this. Why are we making our children develop a dislike of school in the first year of their education?

I realise that Kindergarten is being promoted and there is a push for every child to be enrolled in a dedicated Kindergarten program within the next few years. What I found when questioning Kindergarten teachers, is that the curriculum there is also changing. To match the increase in learning for Prep. Prep will, of course, become compulsory before long, and our children will be tiny little educated beings.

The change in focus, from social and emotional learning, to scholastic basics, will have repercussions. Perhaps those will be beneficial in the long term. Perhaps they will be yet another layer of pressure on children too young to cope. That remains to be seen, and won't be fully understood for a good many years yet.

In the meanwhile, if you are a parent with a child about to enter the education system (whether it's Kindergarten or Prep), make sure you are pro-actively involved.

Encourage friendships where possible by staging play-dates and outings.

Talk to your child often about how they are FEELING, not how they are learning.

Keep up with the homework but don't allow it to get in the way of a bit of fun in the afternoons and don't turn it into too much of a chore (believe me, it will feel that way already).

Keep up sporting activities but do not fall into the trap of over-doing it. Stick to one sport or extra-curricular activity per term, any more and they will be in danger of burning out.

Encourage your child to do their best but try not to let them become too competitive. At this age, they should not care how they are performing in relation to their peers.

Above all else though, love them, cuddle them and laugh along with them.

It's the first year in a very long journey. A journey now much tougher than it used to be. Try your very best to make it a bit more entertaining than it really is.


  1. You need to get out more, Leigh. Kindergarten programs around the world are education based. I was educated in such an overseas program in 1965. This missing year is crippling our education system compared to our international competitors.

    Play dates for five year olds? Are you mad? More sport? Ridiculous. The earlier they're reading the better they'll do.

    It soft ignorant GenY parents that are screwing up the next generation. Thanks much.

  2. Having moved to Queensland mid year I think it is a positive move that the QLD school system is catching up to the rest of the country.

    Until now QLD children have had a year less of compulsory schooling than those down south which as you say has affected the Naplan results. It also affects children moving into the QLD education system ~ using my daughter as an example, in SA she was in year 3, in QLD she was placed in year 4, same amount of terms of compulsory schooling under her belt as her QLD peers,similar level of class work but a full year to 18 months younger than most of her classmates.

    Both my children attended non compulsory kindy aged 4-5 and then started official schooling shortly after turning 5 in reception (prep), the level of homework was low and usually only involved reading and perhaps some spelling words and in no way impacted on them being allowed to play with friends and try out other activities.
    I think the move to a national curriculum can only be a good thing :)

  3. Perhaps you are right, both of you. The National Curriculum has not yet been tested for us, for any of the States actually. The school my children attend trialed it this year. 4 hours per day of writing activities and complex maths, along with science for a few hours a week. The teachers are concerned, especially those from outside the State. They are claiming that this is much more difficult than what has previously been offered to Prep students. All year levels will have a new curriculum next year with science and maths being the focus. I could never object to our kids learning what they need to know in order to succeed in life and if this does the trick, great.