I write this fearing that I may sound like a broken record or that I may soon become known as a "crazy lady" but I am beyond frustrated (again!) and have to put pen to paper (or fingers to keyboard as it would be)
Today I had a conversation with an Early Childhood service director which left me feeling quite angry. This director runs a non-profit, long day care in what is considered a "low socio-economic area." The service has been in operation for over 25 years and for the past ten years has predominantly been filled to capacity with a waiting list. Fees have been kept as low as possible to meet the needs of the local families and the service has been a valuable part of the community, with many children attending in the year before school as part of a smooth transition to "big school."
In the last few days she has found herself disheartened and frustrated as she has discovered the plans of several local schools. While traditionally many schools offer a short term program of visits at the end of the year as their "transition to school" program, this year it would seem they are doing things a little differently and in the meantime having a very negative effect on the local early childhood community.
School 1 has decided to offer a year round "transition to school program" Each week on a particular day, families can drop their child off at the school where they will go to a separate classroom with a retired teacher and a teachers aide and "prepare for school". This will happen every week of the school year from 9:30am - 1:30pm
When School 2 found out what school 1 was doing they decided that they needed to do something different too. They now have a "semester of transition" where children will attend one morning per week for a whole semester. The school has recognised that most parents will want to do this in the second semester and so have decided to do a "lucky dip" draw to determine who gets semester 1 and semester 2. The problem (well, just one of many) with this is that the "lucky dip" won't occur until mid-year, so parents are being encouraged to take semester 1 just in case.
Several other schools in the area are taking notice and implementing similar schemes.
I AM OUTRAGED!
So, why am I outraged? Why is the director frustrated? What does it matter?
As I have said in MANY blog posts, the downward push of academics is ridiculous. The Kindergarten year (as it is known in NSW, also known as prep in other states) has always been the preparatory year. It has been the year where children get settled in, continue to have opportunities to play, continue to have periods of quiet restfulness if they need it. Why do we need such a lengthy "preparation" or "transition" for this preparatory year? This is crazy!
The director who told me about this had also discussed it with another colleague, who contacted school 2 and expressed her outrage at having not been consulted and as she pointed out to the school - it is having a negative effect on their enrolments. For non-working families in this low socio-economic area, when faced with the choice of a free day of care (which it essentially is when you can drop your child off for 4hours at the school) or paying for a quality early childhood education service, the free option will win in the majority of cases. Parents who are not even intending on sending their child to that particular school are making use of the program in order to obtain free child care.
My concern with this is not simply that the early education services are losing enrolments, but that these children are not receiving a quality program as described in the National Quality Framework and that these are simply watered down kindergarten sessions. I wonder if these programs are regulated in any way? These are NSW Department of Education schools and I feel that this is just a kick in the guts to the early childhood profession - a suggestion that our play based approach to supporting children in their transition to school is not good enough, when we know damn well it is!
This issue is clearly not going away and something needs to change. Parents are being made to feel that their child needs to be in a school based transition program to "get a head start" or "secure their place" and as a result, these children are missing out on PLAY! I am preparing my pen and paper (computer just doesn't have the same ring to it) and will be sending an official letter of concern to the NSW Department of Education. I urge you to do the same if this is a problem in your area.
I would love to hear from you if you are seeing any similar programs emerging in your community!
Providing inspirational professional development opportunities for Early Childhood Educators