Pre-primary: A critical component of education

2010-02-08 00:00

IN an all the discussion around the national education crisis one point keeps being repeated — the importance of the first few years of learning. Pre-primary education — learning before formal schooling begins in Grade 1 — is a critical component of this.

Suzie Hilliar, principal of Hilton Pre-Primary, believes that children benefit enormously from attending a pre-primary school, but that parents are not always aware of the importance of this stage in a child’s education.

“Children in Grade 1 are expected to know so many different things — colours and shapes, they must be able to write their names and to pack their own bags and cut things out and know how to work a book. They learn so much at pre-primary. When they get to Grade 1, they know how to sit at a desk, they know how to hold a pencil and they know what the sounds of the alphabet are. They also know how to socialise with their friends, wait their turn and interact positively with their peers,” says Hilliar.

Sally Kelly, a Grade 1 teacher at Laddsworth Primary School agrees on the importance of pre-primary school.

“Children at preschool participate in activities that help with life skills, sharing and taking turns. They learn to stand up for themselves, be assertive and respect others. Pre-primary school is extremely important.

“Children learn how to cope with new situations. It helps them to be emotionally ready for Grade 1. School readiness begins at pre-primary.”

Kelly is pleased that the Department of Education is encouraging schools either to incorporate their own Grade R, or to have a satellite Grade R.

Socialisation is a topic that comes up repeatedly when chatting to Hilliar.

“By the time children get to Grade 1, most of their basic moral values and concepts have been formed to some extent. So what we ask the children at Hilton Pre-Primary is to find control of their own bodies. We don’t believe in an extrinsic policing kind of discipline, it is more of an intrinsic discipline. It is based on the psychomotor principles. It is hugely important because at this age you have to teach them how to wait their turn and be aware of others’ rights as well. In psychomotor we have rules and they are, ‘We don’t hurt others and we don’t hurt ourselves’ and we instil that in our school as a core value.

“Starting from early morning,” says Hilliar, “children are expected to carry their own bag, unpack their own lunchboxes and put them in the correct places. This is all to do with motor planning, taking responsibility and being independent. Children learn organisational skills and are therefore empowered by the time they reach Grade 1.

“A bone of contention for us at pre- school is the amount of computer time the children have and the unrestricted television time that they are exposed to every day. There is pressure from parents to make children more computer literate, but we as a pre- school are concerned about children’s physical and emotional development before they are exposed to the very static world of computer literacy. Pre-primary is a safe environment to come and play, let them explore and express themselves, and build up muscle strength. At pre-primary, we challenge our children continually with different equipment, obstacle courses, climbing frames, monkey bars and other equipment that encourages these little people to explore, create and play.

“There are norms for different ages. In a normal school day, the teachers observe the children closely and over the year are able to ascertain whether these children are struggling and are in need of extra support. If there is no improvement, occupational therapy may be recommended,” says Hilliar.

Kelly says: “The best way to learn is through play. They have free play at pre-primary schools, fantasy rooms and they learn to create and use their imaginations. Pre-primary is also excellent for working parents as it is a stimulating environment for their children.”


Grade RRR to Grade R

Grade RRR is all about life skills, according to Hilliar, and “health and hygiene, singing songs, playing with toys and packing them away properly. They learn their colours and shapes. In RR we move on to mathematical concepts and pre-reading skills. We do it in a concrete way, we don’t do any worksheets in RRR or RR. At this stage children are all global learners, they all learn concretely,” explains Hilliar. “They have to explore and touch and feel and look.

“Grade R is time to get ready for Grade 1. They have to sit still for longer times, do more one-dimensional work — recording things they have learnt. By then they should already have a concrete understanding of numbers one to 10 and a rote number of up to 20,” says Hilliar.

“Pre-primary is about relationships,” says Hilliar. “It is about having a holistic relationship, not only with the child but with the family. If a mum is struggling, she can come and talk to her teacher and we can talk it through in a confidential way and sort out issues together. I think parental support is important.

“Pre-primary school is an opportunity for children to explore their creativity and to learn to experience life in a safe and fun environment. Children who have been to pre-primary school are full of confidence, full of go, they’re ready to tackle new tasks, they’re used to the school environment and it’s not a big adjustment for them.”

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