Stop preparing children for school;
start preparing schools for children.
With a new year just around the corner in Australia, I’m invited to advise parents on school readiness.
But I feel conflicted.
What if we send another group of 4-year-olds into an antiquated education system that might change them forever, through the well-meaning indoctrination of rules, schedules, compliance & conformity?
Will their curiosity be kindled? Will their intelligence be recognised? Will their passions be celebrated? Will their thinking be extended? I hope so! But I’m not so sure.
How can parents prepare their child for school?
That’s easy to answer (superficially). Kids who do well at school generally demonstrate:
- self-management skills (dressing, toileting, hand-washing, eating…)
- social skills (turn-taking, sharing, solving conflict…)
- communication skills (language proficiency, verbal expression, listening…)
Certainly, these are important skills for school, and indeed, life.
But we must take care not to use these as tick-boxes to judge anybody, let alone our 4-year-olds.
These are lifelong skills that we all develop and re-develop on our journeys as human beings. As an adult, self-management is my area of need – I’ve mastered buttons and zippers (and only occasionally put my clothes on backwards) – but balance, time-management and healthy eating still elude me! We’re all learners.
“How do we prepare kids for school?” is not the important question.
Children are ready!
Their brains are innately wired to learn.
When they ask “why?”, express desires and push boundaries – they are independent thinkers!
When they play through touching, tasting, pulling apart and testing – they are researchers!
When they tell stories and re-enact experiences with their toys – they are authors!
Children don’t need any preparation for learning.
However, if they need preparation for school, then we have a problem.
We need to examine the disconnect between schooling and learning.
Last week, I listened to a Kindergartener process his great-grandmother’s death.
How do we know she died? How did the hospital check? Will she wear a seatbelt in the hearse? I think people die so that new people can come into the world. I don’t think heaven’s in the ground with her body – I think it’s wherever she is.
This is the open, inquiring, fertile mind of a child. Powered by personal experience and curiosity, he sorted through the deepest mysteries of mortality that have baffled humans since time immemorial. His wonderful parents welcomed his questions, accepted his theories, embraced ambiguity and didn’t offer trite answers.
Are our schools ready to harness the power of his intellect? How much of his school life is focused on such deep thinking and personal inquiry? How much of the school day is consumed by organisational routines, content coverage and low-level skill development?
Teaching children to toilet and eat at specific times, sit still in plastic chairs, raise their hands for permission to speak, and walk quietly in straight lines has potentially dangerous consequences.
We risk sending messages such as:
- school is about compliance
- school is controlled by teachers
- school is organised and predictable
But learning is none of these things. Quite the opposite…
- Learning depends on innovation, breaking rules, experimenting and testing theories.
- Learning happens when students ask questions, think for themselves and make personal connections.
- Learning is non-linear, complex, surprising, frustrating and messy.
How do we send the message that learning trumps schooling?
How do we shift the power to show 4-year-olds that we are visitors in their learning; they are not visitors in our schools?
Let’s stop asking if kids are ready for school.
Schools, are WE ready for the powerful minds of children?
(This is not a doomsday post. There are many schools creating cultures of thinking, learning and student-agency! Here are some people inspiring me right now:
Origins Education is a new group of schools with a thoroughly inspiring mission: Wonder, Connect, Create, Explore. I’m excited to watch these ideals drive teaching and learning.
Are you a vicarious member of Taryn Bond-Clegg’s class yet? Watch as the power shifts from teacher-led to student-owned learning. Her documentation provides a clear path for us to follow.
Edna Sackson challenges us all to avoid “playing the game of school” and educate with authentic learning and student-agency as our highest priorities.
Thank you for making schools worthy of our children.
We can and will do better!)