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Academic Views - Making the most of the Pre-prep/kindergarten advantage

19 February 2010

Attending quality Pre-prep classes is excellent for helping young children prepare for a lifetime of learning, says Queensland University of Technology early childhood lecturer Jennifer Eaton.

Importance of play ... QUT early childhood lecturer Jennifer Eaton.

Importance of play ... QUT early childhood lecturer Jennifer Eaton.

The Queensland Government has recently guaranteed that all children will have access to a high-quality kindergarten program delivered by a qualified teacher in the year before Prep by 2014. This focus on qualified early childhood teachers will have a positive impact on the quality of education and care of young children. While enrolment in Prep and pre-Prep programs is non-compulsory, it is envisaged this initiative will significantly increase participation.

Quality pre-Prep (or kindergarten) education for children aged three-and-a-half to four-and-a-half and Prep for four-and-a-half to six-year-olds is a tremendous start to a child's schooling.

There are many factors which help to determine or influence the quality of an early childhood program, not the least of which is play-based learning which stimulates children's thinking and actively engages them in hands-on learning, rather than structured teacher-directed lessons.

Play-based learning is important for this age group. It is about giving children varied opportunities to learn through play and encouraging children to experiment, explore and take risks by trying new things and develop a curiosity about the world in which they live.

The early childhood field has a long history of play-based learning and recent research, both nationally and internationally, continues to uphold the importance of this focus in early years teaching and learning. Indeed, the new national curriculum framework, the Early Years Learning Framework (EYLF), developed by the Council of Australian Governments, espouses this premise. It states that "play is the best vehicle for young children's learning providing the most stimulus for brain development".

In promoting play, the EYLF acknowledges the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child. The Convention recognises children's right to play and to be active participants in all matters affecting their lives. The teacher's role in facilitating meaningful and engaging play opportunities for children in pre-Prep, kindergarten and Prep settings is a significant one. The teacher acts as a co-constructor of new understandings and provides the environment to promote and enrich children's thinking, experimentation and creative expression.

Learning to build relationships with peers and adults is also an important part of early childhood education and helps children to develop their communication skills, resilience and sense of identity. The skill of being able to make friends is not to be underestimated. It can make all the difference to a successful and happy start to any new "schooling" experience.

Attending pre-Prep and Prep builds children's confidence, self expression and independence which helps them to make the transition to the more formal rules and routines of school. As the Queensland Government seeks to ensure children have a Flying Start, quality programs with qualified teachers will make all the difference.