Reflections on Quality is an invitation to reflect by Anna Nguyen-Sgro, Quality Specialist, Children’s Services, Halton Region
In my role as Quality Specialist for the Child Care System, I have had the privilege of meeting and working with early learning and child care professionals throughout our community. Through this work, I have heard a trending concern among educators and leaders who are inspired by How Does Learning Happen? Ontario’s Pedagogy for the Early Years, but also feel pressured to implement a program that is dominated by activities to support “school readiness” and to ensure that children acquire particular academic skills such as knowing letters and numbers. At The Halton Resource Connection’s recent Winter Recharge our keynote speaker, Dr. Jean Clinton, described this dilemma as “the tyranny of cognitive seduction” or what the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) describes as the “downward pressure from a school-based agenda to teach specific skills and knowledge in early years” (OECD, 2001). What do these descriptions of “school readiness” mean to you?
How Does Learning Happen? describes early years curriculum as distinct from formal school contexts. “The focus is not on teaching a body of knowledge or a predetermined set of topics. Nor is it centred on children’s achievement of a specific skill set. In the early years, programs are most effective when the content of learning is focused on supporting the development of strategies, dispositions, and skills for lifelong learning through play and inquiry (page 15).” What strategies, dispositions and skills are necessary for life-long learning? How might they be fostered through a curriculum that prioritizes play and inquiry?
While educators, parents and others who spend their time with children may feel a strong desire and pressure to “get children ready for school” by focusing on academic skills, extensive research on how children learn emphasizes that young children do not show long-term gains from a scripted curriculum dominated by direct instruction and a focus on specific academic achievements related to literacy and numeracy. It is through play and inquiry that children have the opportunity to develop intellectual dispositions (creativity, curiosity, problem-solving, persistence, self-motivation, reflexivity, confidence, independence, resilience to name a few …) that are of utmost value for life-long learning. Young children have multiple intelligences and languages, all which need to be recognized and nurtured. In Think, Feel, Act, Dr. Clinton suggests that “an adult-led emphasis on literacy and numeracy means other things need to be left out and what too often gets left out are opportunities for learning through play” (Clinton, 2013).
Invitation to Reflect
The following questions may support your reflection on “school readiness” as a professional or a team.
- What is your view of the child? How does this align with the view in How Does Learning Happen? How does the environment, materials and experiences in your program make visible your view of the child?
- How does your definition of “school readiness” fit with the view of the child as competent, capable of complex thinking, curious and rich in potential?
- Reflect on your understanding of dispositions. How might you think about “getting children ready for school” in terms of nurturing dispositions for the children in your program?
- How might the ELECT continuum support your understanding of “readiness” for school?’
- What experiences, resources and supports do children and families need to be “ready” for school? What do schools need to be “ready” for children and families?
Anna Nguyen-Sgro, RECE, MA
Quality Specialist, Child Care System
Halton Region, Children’s Services