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Prep 2021 - What You and Your Child Can Expect

Prep 2021 - What You and Your Child Can Expect

Guest blog post by Catherine Waters, Director of JJ McMahon Kindergarten

2020 – the year that has kept on giving! It’s fair to say there has been an air of uncertainty with almost everything in 2020. 

Planning for the week is already tricky, let alone having to think about 2021 and what will be best for your child heading into Prep. 

With reduced days and disruption to their Learning Program, it’s only normal to question what Prep 2021 will look like. How will it meet your child’s needs? What can they expect? Many parents are longing to look into the future to see what will happen.

You’ve probably heard the term “unprecedented times” thrown around a lot lately. Yet, have you considered the fact that these are not unprecedented times for our children? To them, these times are just...these times. 

The knowledge that this is usually done differently is not something our children possess.

For our kids, whatever we do is their transition, and it is as valid as any other experience. With support from their parents and teachers, they can gain confidence in the feeling that everything will be ok. We must have that confidence so that they can too.

Where Preparation Truly Comes From

There have been endless support messages on social media during the pandemic. Although one stood out as particularly touching, reassuring, and powerful:

Dear Parents,
Don’t stress about school work. I will get your children back on track. I am a teacher and that’s my superpower. 
What I can’t fix is social-emotional trauma that prevents the brain from learning. So right now, I just need you to share your calm, share your strength and share your laughter with your children. 
No kids are ahead. No kids are behind. 
Your children are exactly where they need to be.
With love, All the teachers on planet Earth.

This message communicates more than just a heartfelt plea. It is reminding you about self-care not only for yourself but for your children too. 

As parents, of course, we want our children to be prepared. But there are limits on how much we can do. Realistically, preparation comes from within - it comes from the inner power of our children. We can provide the experience and the tools, but its effectiveness depends on how an individual child engages with it.

For all our worrying about how transitioning into Prep will be different in 2021, in reality, how well did 2019’s transition activities prepare our children for this crazy year?

Had we known last October what we know now, our transition techniques would have looked a lot more like: “That’s the unmute button” rather than: “There’s your classroom.”

Taking Play More Seriously

Ever heard the expression, “learning through play”?

Adults can often be dismissive of play, or at least use it solely as a tool to deliver what we have decided what our children want.

Throw everything away that you think you know about play. It isn’t just about sitting down with a stack of flashcards to “play” an alphabet memory game. There isn’t anything wrong with that, but it is more-so limited learning than genuine play.

Children don’t just play because it’s “nice”.

Kindergartens don’t offer to play because it’s “cute”.

Rather, play-based learning is central to your child’s ability to:

  • Think flexibly

  • Respond to life as it is

  • Think creatively and laterally 

While skills need to be taught, it is far more beneficial for children to be given uninterrupted time to explore and engage with the world on their terms. It is far more helpful to provide the materials and inspiration to sit back and watch, or follow their lead while learning - not directed based on your predetermined actions.

Deep Learning

The meaningful child-directed play uses the whole brain, and it is in this thinking that the most profound learning occurs.

When children are given the time for self-discovery, that is when they become happy, stable, successful individuals, we know they can be.

It is through play that children achieve learning and development.

So, what does deep learning look like? 

  • Your child plays in the backyard, pours water on the ground, and realises it always runs in one direction, so they make a dam to stop it.

  • Children are playing together, re-enacting the world as they see it around them, talking, negotiating, discussing.

  • Your child is building with Lego and, without conscious thought, understands that 4-plug blocks are half the size of 8-plug blocks.

  • After playing with a handful of pebbles, your child automatically sorts, counts, or makes patterns with them.

  • Deep learning is when stories are read for joy, not just for a literacy activity.

Did you know that while it takes 400 repetitions to learn a new skill, it takes just 10-20 when done through play?

That is of course both a simplification and a generalisation. Nonetheless, the reason kindergarten is play-based is that it is how young children learn best, and it is where in-depth learning opportunities arise. 

Flexibility of Thought

As educators, we are co-learners on a journey. We are scaffolding discovery and always stimulating thoughts.

Children are like sponges - they are wired to soak up and learn everything in their environment. 

However, children develop multiple neural pathways when they are invited to explore the wonders of the world at their own pace. Those who focus on a particular area will undoubtedly strengthen that domain, but other areas can begin to deteriorate.

This year, of all years, changing times and uncertainty demand flexibility of thought. What can encourage this flexibility? Why, play-based environments, of course.

Advancing Their Abilities

One of the most noticeable effects of play is that of the development of a child’s social and emotional skills. 

Long term global studies have confirmed a direct link between future life success and the skills that a child develops in their early years.

It is in these early years that empathy, negotiation, and teamwork skills are most easily acquired. In 2020, it is more essential than ever to ensure that our children continue to evolve these abilities, and time to play will enhance this more than you may think.

Each year this development is prioritised by teachers. They recognise that children lacking social skills experience difficulty.

But this year, teaching is even more intentional. Teachers are aware that disrupted kindergarten attendance has affected the acquisition of these skills. 

Every child is experiencing the same thing. 

As Australian author Maggie Dent reminds us:

The needs of children have not changed; it is just that the world has changed around them.

Overcoming the Bumps in the Road

Whatever this year has thrown at us, your child - supported by their teachers, carers, and of course, by you - has processed it appropriately through their play. 

Never doubt the ability of your child to process their environment through play. Your child shows you what they need and can heal their anxieties through this unstructured method.

Far better to play “quarantine” with masks on a teddy, than to bottle it all up inside, right?

As parents, the solution to overcoming this year’s disruption is not going to be tutoring. It’s not catching up on academic worksheets or keeping up with phonic groups. Instead, conquering this year involves a whole lot of child-directed free play experiences.

When your child enters Prep, it is not a time for less play, but more.

For kids, school has always been a new world, but for teachers, the vision remains unchanged. Schools will work with the real children walking through the front gate, not the “what if there hadn’t been a pandemic” fantasy children.

Our Lady of Good Counsel wants your child to shine. OLGC will be doing all that is necessary to make it happen, and that includes fostering the power of play-based learning. We want you to send your child off to school with a smile (on both of your faces). We want you to feel confident to look ahead to your child’s future and their endless opportunities for Prep in 2021.

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