Pre-school education

August 1st, 2009 at 5:48 am by David Farrar

The Herald reports:

Many 5-year-olds are starting school unable to count or complete the alphabet, despite years of pre-school . …

Rosemary Vivien, head of Edendale School in Sandringham, Auckland, said the Ministry of Education had outlined general expectations of what children should know when they started school. These included being able to count to 20, knowing the alphabet, recognising colours and being able to write their own name.

More than half the children who started at Edendale, a decile 5 school, could not do that. …

Ms Vivien and Ms Procter both said the problem was not the result of poverty or families who spoke English only as a second language.

This is pretty disturbing stuff. Education should start in the home, not just once they turn five. The sad thing is that while some kids will quickly close the gap, at present a fair chunk go through school not meeting even basic literacy and numeracy standards. And this has major consequences for them as individuals, but also for our overall economy and our crime rate.

My niece turned five late last year and could proudly count to 100 and back – both in English and Maori.  I sort of assumed that counting to 100 was pretty standard for pre-school. Certainly counting to 20 should have occurred.

I have said many many times I would take money from tertiary education and stick it into pre-school or early childhood education. The cost of Labour’s bribes (now maintained by National) of interest free student loans is in the hundreds of millions and you could do so much by spending it on kids before they reach five so they don’t struggle for the rest of their lives.

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31 Responses to “Pre-school education”

  1. Bogusnews (473 comments) says:

    I’m not sure if its disturbing or not.

    I have three kids, all of them could do basic reading and writing before going to school. But when I grew up I wasn’t taught anything. In fact I remember my mother saying, “don’t worry about learning it now, you’ll learn it in school.”

    In my view, preschool education would not be in any way necessary if we had an education system closer in quality and strategic objectives to what we had 30 years ago.

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  2. Inventory2 (10,337 comments) says:

    Given that Mrs Inventory and I own and operate an ECE service, I wholeheartedly endorse your view DPF. There is enormous potential for the ECE sector to fast-track our children’s learning.

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  3. Camryn (543 comments) says:

    My mother put a lot of effort into in-home education prior to primary school. I also went to “play centre” but it was more of a play, art and safety (don’t pull on electrical cords, ovens are dangerous, etc) thing. It definitely pays off in the long run because a base of education before school really helps the school stuff to stick. Further to Bogusnews’ point, I really don’t think the capacity in the education system to actually “start from zero” at 5 is there anymore.

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  4. alex Masterley (1,517 comments) says:

    That the herald saw fit to put this piece on the front page speaks volumes for it’s importance.
    My oldest lad is 4. he is already able to count to 20 nd wel beyond, as well as writing clearly and coherently.
    That some children make it to school with out these basics is astonishing. It is not hard to get the kids interested in numbers and words. Admittedly we have house that is full of books but we’ve read to our boys from day one, and as for the numbers any opportunity to count things is never lost.

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  5. Patrick Starr (3,674 comments) says:

    If its not the result of poverty or English what is it then?
    FFS all my kids could say the alphabet, count, and do basic spelling prior to school. Problem was they did very little in their 1st year whilst other kids (as mentioned here) caught up
    Maybe the problem is some kids are looked at no more than a DPB income?

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  6. Ruth (178 comments) says:

    Five or six years ago I used to help out with Reading Recovery at my daughter’s primary school; and teachers said that Daycare was the root cause of these problems. They also noted kids were not socialised properly – way too aggressive and could not relate to adults well. This they attributed to daycare as well.

    I’m not sure about putting more money into pre-school education. A child learns far more from a trip to the supermarket with mum or dad than by sitting scribbling with crayons.

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  7. whalehunter (479 comments) says:

    Couldnt agree more. The situation is changing now, not five or ten years ago!
    Young parents both need to work to pay the 500 a week mortgage.
    Three year olds go to kindy and get playtime for the first year or so.
    The majority of kindys have become glorified day care.
    I know the parents can always make time to teach there kids but the art of teaching is lost on most and if pre school aint doing it, well..

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  8. Cerium (23,559 comments) says:

    Too much daycare may be a part of the problem, but related to it I think not enough homecare is a bigger problem. Parent’s are the best educators – in teaching specific things as part of a normal daily routine, teaching a learning habit, and being a role model for learning.

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  9. theodoresteel (91 comments) says:

    There is a limit to pre-school education – there is a movement that is not attributing the decline in male academic achievement to the feminisation of the education system – young boys brains develop at a slower rate than a girl with regard to certain tasks, including reading, to the extent that a 5 year old girl is about as developed as a 7 year old boy.

    I agree that less formal education is needed in early childhood, and allow children to develop more or less at their own rate until they reach school. Of course if a 5 or 7 year old is showing signs of lagging behind their peers then remedial work and perhaps a higher teacher ratio for such children is very important to bring all children up to the same level.

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  10. Inventory2 (10,337 comments) says:

    Cerium – agreed about home-care. The area of ECE we work in is home-based care, where ratios are small (max 4; max 2 under-2), and care is provided in a home setting, so the children get used to the daily routines of a home. Naturally we’re biased, but we reckon that it’s the best ECE environment for the children. And the punters seem to agree – Home-based is growing roughly twice as fast as centre-based care.

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  11. Falafulu Fisi (2,179 comments) says:

    I reckon that today, it is too much internet (such as time-wasting in social networkings, Facebook, Twitter, etc,…) & TV for some kids and not much playing marbles outdoor and learn how to count them.

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  12. Brian Smaller (4,023 comments) says:

    Like most parents who give a damn, we spent hours reading and teaching those basics to our kids. Good pre-school helped as well.

    DPF – if under-5s could vote you could be sure Labour would have tried to bribe them too (and as you say, National would probably stick with it)..

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  13. democracymum (648 comments) says:

    My children’s time at pre-school was an extremely challenging period of their lives!

    I think in some pre-school institutions there is a real reluctance to teach any ‘formal’ learning.
    In at least two pre-schools my children attended when they were young, I was told it was even ‘illegal’

    My daughter at 3 attended a pre-school where she immediately grabbed the nearest paint brush and proceeded to paint herself from top to toe.! This continued for a couple of weeks, with me having to pack and wash several changes of clothes every day.

    Upon commenting on this behaviour to my daughter’s preschool teacher, (my thought was she was bored and needed something more challenging to do) I was dismissed outright and told she was just discovering herself and her body.

    Of course with an attitude like this, I soon shifted my daughter to another pre-school. A local kindergarten, which was very good where the teachers were more willing to work with the child’s readiness for learning. They even taught basic printing which was very unusual.

    There seems to be a lot of emphasis on teaching social skills, in both pre-school and primary education, self esteem etc. While these skills are obviously very important, much of this use to be taught to children in the normal course of family life, and so I would agree that the trend to put children so early into daycare etc, seems to be impacting on children’s learning.

    This also seems to be true of many primary schools which now seem to be pre-occupied with teaching children about bullying, self esteem and discipline etc, to the detriment of teaching basic numeracy and literacy skills.

    My daughter did go on to teach herself to read (chapter books) before she went to school, so I think mother’s instincts may have been correct…

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  14. johnbt (90 comments) says:

    I wonder if the fact that, at last count, we have 13,700 early childhood teachers and 134 of them are men makes a difference.

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  15. joe90 (273 comments) says:

    Okay. skite time. nephew started school six weeks before the end of the year and won the junior reading prize.

    The notion of first educators is held dearly by our family so all the kids read and write well before they start school and it really is not a lot more than instilling the idea that learning is fun so lots of books and aged uncles sitting around the kitchen table with felt tips and the days newspaper to play with numbers and words.

    Drawing a square and being told by a three year old that she’s measured it and it’s not a square, it’s actually a rectangle because two sides are longer than the others is the best part. The three year old is now an engineering student.

    Families are first educators.

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  16. andrei (2,644 comments) says:

    This is pretty disturbing stuff.

    No its not – its a beat up.

    My two eldest girls were sussing out reading at three because they wanted to. My boy didn’t start reading or writing until school, he preferred playing in the garden, kicking balls and tormenting his sisters with creepy crawleys than books or pencils- so what? He’s year 12 this year in an “upper decile” school and in the upper echelons academically.

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  17. Peter Cresswell (48 comments) says:

    My niece turned five late last year and could proudly count to 100 and back – both in English and Maori. I sort of assumed that counting to 100 was pretty standard for pre-school. Certainly counting to 20 should have occurred.

    Crikey, in good Montessori schools six year olds are counting and understanding one million, doing long division and binomial equations, and reading and writing their own short essays.

    These are not exceptional students, these are normal students. And these results are well documented.

    The answer is not more money “stuck” into into government-sponsored pre-school or early childhood education programmes. These programmes are the problem. And neither is the answer more forced retraining for ECE teachers or more free hours — and it’s certainly not more power to the Ministry of Ed — it’s simply to get the hell out of the way of the better schools and the local Montessori teacher training centres.

    Montessori schools and the better mainstream ECE shools have been shafted by govt policies and extra govt spending over the last decade-and-a-half; what they need now is less interference and govt spending, not more.

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  18. Manolo (13,755 comments) says:

    “The answer is t’s simply to get the hell out of the way of the better schools and …”

    Hear, hear.

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  19. Chris2 (766 comments) says:

    So what are all the millions of tax-payer dollars allocated to early child care centers being spent on, if they are not teaching children the alphabet or counting?

    Seems they should shut down the non-performing ones.

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  20. Anthony (796 comments) says:

    Boys and girls are quite different at this age DPF so until you have dealt with five year old boys I don’t think you know what you are talking about quite frankly. My son couldn’t write his own name when he started at school and struggled for a couple of years but then started reading Harry Potter. Most boys really aren’t ready for school at age five.

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  21. bruceh (102 comments) says:

    There is opportunity for parent(s) in almost any circumstance to supply the core preparation for future life for their kids. But it won’t happen unless driven by some beliefs that reading and number skills are really really vital and valuable, and that as a parent, some way needs to be found to make these happen. Having been told for a few generations now that state agencies will do the job in exchange for our taxes, such beliefs seem to be getting scarcer.

    Problems at early school level were the reason for the state moving into pre-school (and now because of violent kid behaviour in pre-school and elsewhere the state is moving into parenting in the home as in anti-smack law). I’m skeptical that ‘re-direction of funds into pre-school’ as such will help. Clearly from the item, it’s little to do with low decile, DPB kids or other sociological slicing and dicing. It’s in the area of a growing cultural belief, that preparing our children is no longer a prime parental responsibility. The more the pollies try to invest tax money in our behalf to ‘solve’ our children’s problems the more the entrenched the core parental abdication risks becoming.

    So the sense of responsibility to ensure literacy preparation occurs needs to be strong enough to not abdicate to ‘experts’ such as pre-school or school. This is not the same thing as not utilizing the advantages and benefits of these resources, of course you do. But you not presume that such will automatically work for your individual children. You monitor and make changes as required, as mentioned by some above. Hence mobility of choice is essential to discharge the responsibility of ensuring the individual kid doesn’t fall through the cracks.

    Back to the home prep; it is incredibly simple (not meaning its necessarily easy) – you don’t have to ‘know’ how to teach a child to read as such or be educated middle class parents. At a minimum all you need to do is to read stories to them while they look at the pages, preferably on a daily basis and be excited about it. The kids own brains then kick in and provide the ongoing desire and interest.

    I know a parent who personally struggled with reading herself, but was committed that her kids would be readers even though these were clearly non-bookish outdoors kinesthestic type kids. So she had a niece come by regularly, and an aunty in the weekends as well as doing her best. When the kids were older she hounded the preschool outfits to help her children to read and count because of her own self-perceived limitations. No falling through the cracks here once reaching school, her kids are now sports club organizers and successful tradesmen.

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  22. Patrick Starr (3,674 comments) says:

    agreed bruceh
    I’m sorry, but any notion that pre school teaching is the sole responsibility of ECE pre schools is simply bullshit. You shouldn’t have kids if you cannot financially afford and cannot afford to spend the majority of your free time with them.
    A good parent buys books for their kids and reads with them, and doesn’t rely on them entertaining themselves through Nickelodeon.

    I am close to a Chinese immigrant family who have invested both money but more importantly time in their childrens preschool education. Abacus classes, language classes sure, but then sits down with them for about 1-2 hours a night studying with them to the point that I felt sorry for the kids lack of free time. Those children have grown up the highest achievers in their respective schools, the kids don’t get pocket money, but they get a lot of chores. The kids don’t get into drugs and alcohol, neither have any of them got into any real trouble either

    We would do very well to look at the example set by some of these new kiwis (and yes – they smack them as part of good parental correction also)

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  23. petal (706 comments) says:

    @Peter Cresswell

    When do they get to be kids?

    My two have a lot of inate ability, but if we push that to the maximum, one of them will be at uni at age 12 or 13.

    We struggle with that being a good thing. Academic excellence is yet one facet to polish to turn the rough diamond into a gem stone. Or so we think.

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  24. Ruth (178 comments) says:

    Petal a child should be allowed to be just that – a child. The troubles come soon enough.

    One’s happiness and success in life is due to a lot more than academic achievement.

    Witness Eric Watson and my personal hero Graeme Hart. Both left school at 15.

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  25. hubris (208 comments) says:

    DPF: Education should start in the home, not just once they turn five.

    How dare you try to tell us how to raise our kids!

    [/irony]

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  26. kiki (425 comments) says:

    Education is an indicator of a better standard of life. Hart and Watson are exceptions

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  27. Patrick Starr (3,674 comments) says:

    “Hart and Watson are exceptions”……….not really. there are many successful and/or self made people out there without education. Its about self belief and determination, its about what’s instilled in you in your upbringing.
    A good parent doesn’t necessarily need to provide the riches…. just the time, patience and encouragement

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  28. Galeandra (30 comments) says:

    DF said : I have said many many times I would take money from tertiary education and stick it into pre-school or early childhood education. The cost of Labour’s bribes (now maintained by National) of interest free student loans is in the hundreds of millions and you could do so much by spending it on kids before they reach five so they don’t struggle for the rest of their lives.

    Why should it be either one thing of the other? Both are possible- unless of course you want to splash more money into private schools, or subsidising ministerial housing.
    You might consider the impact of overwork on parents – if there is a lack of time for parents to talk share teach play with toddlers because they are at work too learly & too late in the day, then language development and intellectual growth is impeded. And put that in the balance with your government’s manifest desire for more productivity…. because clearly we don’t work hard enough. And parents, especially solo ones, should get a real job and stop being parasites.

    Still, never let a chance for a prissy dig at Labour pass you by.

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  29. Peter Cresswell (48 comments) says:

    Petal, you asked, “When do [Montessori kids] get to be kids?”

    Your question assumes that kids in Montessori schools are pushed into achieving those results I mentioned. Far from it — it’s the kids who are pushed who generally don’t achieve.

    The results are achieved, paradoxically you might say, not by pushing them but by letting them be kids; by recognising what they’re thirsty for at each stage of their development, and making sure that’s what’s in front of them when they’re eager for it.

    Of course, this is just a very small part of the reason for the success of Montessori education, but an important one: the recognition of what Dr Montessori called “sensitive periods for learning.”

    Rather than dumbing children down and treating them as morons, as mainstream education does, Montessori treats them as young people with brains they want to train themselves, and offers them the means by which to do that.

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  30. Dan (44 comments) says:

    It’s not a matter of ECE funding or policy: the responsibility of teaching kids should fall on the parents.

    How that is worked out may vary – whether mum and/or dad teach them at home, or whether their parent(s) entrust their early childhood education to a pre-school or kindergarten, or whether they choose to wait until they start primary school.

    But responsibility should lie with the parents.

    How we hold parents accountable, I don’t know, but that’s where the problem lies.

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