Art can play such an important role in education but let's start at the beginning!
Five and in Foundation
In Australia, children start school at about the age of 5: maybe not quite, or already 5. This first year of school is nationally referred to as the Foundation year but in some states and schools it is still called Reception or Prep year. Generally speaking, most will have spent a year in an Early Childhood Centre (ELC) or a Kindergarten/Pre-School before starting school. Some children will have been in day care centres from an ever earlier age. After their first foundation year at school, children move into Year 1 at about the age of 6.
In other countries around the world, the names of these first years at school vary as does the starting age. For homeschooling and distance education, the timing of formal lessons may differ. But learning for all begins at birth, and even before.
The big picture
Structured education, through the Australian Curriculum, aims to develop “successful learners, confident and creative individuals, and active and informed citizens”. Living very much in a global world, it is hoped they also develop a sense of international mindedness. This means that they are open-minded and accepting and respectful of others. We can encourage children’s sense of empathy by building their awareness of how others might feel. Gradually this can increase their ability to feel compassion when others are sad, hurt or troubled and their desire to help reduce others’ suffering.
The general capabilities that are a focus in this formal education involve literacy, numeracy, and use of information and communication technologies; skills in creative and critical thinking; personal and social capabilities; and ethical and intercultural understandings.
So on day one, teachers are starting to get to know their students in relation to all these understandings, skills and attitudes. Where are they at and how can they best grow as learners and as people? Initial activities can involve creating pictures!
Prior to Prep Year - as parents
Informal learning, the nurturing and life experiences of a child before structured education begins, can have a huge impact on their start to schooling. From a parents point of view, we want our kids to feel good about moving into this new learning environment, with new adults to support and guide them, and new little people to interact with and make friends. What happens at home can help with this transition. For homeschoolers (whether by choice, circumstances or because of situations like CoVid), this transition to working face-to-face and learning outside the home environment may come at a later stage.
The best life experiences that help prepare young children for success when they start school are those that involve opportunities to engage with literature and language; numbers, shapes and quantities; imaginary and sensory activities; and to use fine and gross motor skills (little actions with fingers as well as big actions like jumping). Pictures and stories, drawings and art activities… ART is the basis for so much of their initial growth as little people. Sensory play, with its artistic and creative aspects, is particularly relevant at a time when we are discouraged from touching due to health concerns with CoVid. This Artventure blog explains more: Sensory Play and the role it has in Childhood Development. As we read to babies, we point to pictures, talk about colours, count objects and share experiences. The previous blog on Wordless Stories elaborates on some of these early experiences. Gradually they start to create their own pictures. Another blog emphasises how important making marks can be: How can learning to draw help with learning to write.
As we read, talk, draw, write and play with our youngsters, not only are we developing the basis for their literacy and numeracy skills, we are also furthering their social and ethical understandings - their values, beliefs and attitudes. Self-regulation is another key skill needed: creating artworks, making mistakes, trying again, can help improve levels of patience and perseverance, and our ability to control our actions.
Ready for Day 1
Will you be looking for the tissues or a glass of champagne, or a bit of both?! Whichever it is, try not to let your child know. They want this to be a time that is happy and fun - not tears or a feeling that you can’t wait to have time without them. Yes, we acknowledge to them that they might feel a bit scared with butterflies in their tummy and that you feel like that too, but it will be a fun day with a chance to try new things. A positive mindset starts with you.
The best help you can give them is to ensure they have everything the teacher has specified ready for their first day - like pencils, water bottle, snacks and lunch (it is stressful not to have what everyone else has), that they are there in plenty of time (they don’t want to attract the attention of everyone because they are late, or to miss any instructions). Involve them in this preparation - shopping, packing, labelling containers, getting a good night’s sleep. Discuss and practise things like dressing (jumpers on and off), toileting (hygiene), returning containers to their bags, asking for help and using their manners like please and thank you.
Some of the first activities that they may be asked to engage in will involve talking about and creating drawings of people close to them and recent events in their lives - sharing their world. This gives them a context to relate to, before exploring new possibilities. You might like to talk to them at home, reflect on what they have been doing, what they liked best, what they didn’t like, what they are grateful for and what they hope for (and perhaps why). This is a good end-of-the-day activity at any time, for any age!
Prep for teachers or homeschoolers
Kids are ready, what about you? Stories and creative activities are what children feel comfortable with. Relating these to their personal world through opportunities for productive and purposeful play can be a good starting point. These blogs may be useful in preparing a plan for a block of time beyond just this first day:
# Creating a Primary Visual Arts Curriculum for Home or Classroom
# Art Supplies on a Shoestring.
Keys to a successful start to school
# previous engagement with picture books and stories
# past experiences with drawing - sharing ideas through making marks
# preparation with possessions and resources needed
# a positive mindset
These really work just as well whether you are a classroom teacher, a homeschooler or a parent sending your child to school. It’s a challenging time for young and old, learners and educators but hopefully it is a wonderfully rewarding experience for all involved. Here’s hoping starting school has happy memories for you... and your children.