In This Together
Helping Students in the Early Years of School
Over the last couple of years, I have noticed an increasing number of articles and reports about what we as parents and educators can do to help our children grow into confident, resilient and productive adults. It’s given me cause to reflect on the changes I have observed in how children are parented and in how we provide for their learning at school. There is no doubt that our girls are part of a more challenging and complex world than their parents experienced as children. What then can we, as parents and teachers, do to support them on their journey to adulthood?
At SCEGGS we aim to provide the girls with an education that builds their confidence and the skills to be part of this rapidly changing world. The girls now in their first years of school are still ten or more years away from leaving SCEGGS and we can only imagine what the world will be like for them as adults. Nevertheless, the staff here are committed to doing all they can to support their academic, emotional and social development.
One of the most dramatic changes that takes place in the first few years of school is the huge shift in independence demonstrated by the girls. Many arrive at school having had to make very few decisions for themselves. They are quickly encouraged to take responsibility for their belongings, their learning and make decisions about a whole range of things, from who to play with, what to eat at recess or lunch and how to look after their belongings. We encourage this independence and support the girls to take responsibility for their actions and their choices.
We understand that effort is key to success, and that making mistakes encourages a commitment to keep trying, building grit and resilience. Both effort and mistakes are applauded at school, because we understand that risk taking is an integral part of learning. Only by taking risks, making mistakes and continuing to struggle will the girls develop the mindset that things may not always come easily, and that reward may not be immediate. When faced with challenges in class, we encourage the girls to say, “I can’t do it...yet!” This supports students to believe that, with practice, they will master a concept or skill.
There is much talk in the media about the increasing prevalence of anxiety and depression in young people. At SCEGGS we are quite aware that we have a role to play in supporting the wellbeing of our students. The Head of Wellbeing in the Primary School provides leadership to teachers and support for students with emotional concerns, friendship or family issues. As well, many teachers include mindfulness in their form programs. In the early years we provide sessions on topics such as understanding emotions, staying calm and remaining attentive. The intention is that these skills become part of the natural behaviour of the students.
At home, too, there are things you as parents can do to support your daughter in her learning and more generally, as well. Over the last few years I’ve observed the changes our girls face and have some ideas about the ways in which I believe girls in their early years of school can best be supported by their parents. I’ve included a few of them here.
Allow time for free play, or even boredom! Nothing encourages creativity more than allowing the time and space to explore. By not overscheduling children they are able to engage in play, both alone and with others. It is considered to be one of the most important things we can do to promote health and wellbeing, as well as school success.
Alongside time for free play is limiting the amount of screen time – sometimes easier said than done, I know! I see families out at dinner where the young children are entertained by a phone or iPad. Encourage the kids to be part of the conversation. At home or in a restaurant, instead of a screen I suggest providing your daughter with a colouring book and pencils, or a pile of books to read.
Allow your daughter to take risks and make mistakes. Children who avoid all fearful situations don't have the opportunity to face their fears and don't learn that many of them are manageable. Anxious kids worry about things not working out as they should, things not being quite perfect. At school we see students who need to do everything perfectly and who have difficulty giving things a go because they might make a mistake. Perfectionism is the antithesis of a growth mindset, so celebrate mistakes and praise struggling to do difficult things.
Get into nature. Earlier this year I took my Year 1 class on an excursion to Vaucluse House. One of the things the girls loved most was playing in the long grass. They hid, they ran, they made things with the grass. It was so rewarding for me to see them in this lovely natural setting, but I was also aware that for a few of them it was an uncommon experience.
Have meaningful discussions. Ask questions. I love to hear a child’s perspective and am often amazed at what they know and how they perceive the world. They don’t learn these things in a vacuum and we at school are just a part of the whole learning process. Teach your daughter to confidently articulate her feelings and share her ideas. Girls who have the opportunity to experience the world – a train ride, art gallery, or farm for example, or who have a rich view of the world through discussions and books bring that to their learning at school.
Encourage routines, doing chores and taking responsibility. If possible, stick to regular bedtimes during the week, including Sunday night! So often I see girls on Monday morning who look like they need a weekend! Lack of sleep really does impact on learning and I feel sorry for students who are so tired at school their brain doesn’t work properly. In addition, gradually increase the amount of responsibility your daughter has for getting herself ready for school. I often suggest a class timetable on display at home so that together you can see what she needs for the next day.
A final word - be less worried about comparison with peers and more concerned with progress. If there’s anything I’ve learnt over the years about how children grow and learn it’s that they really do all learn at different rates. I’ve seen students who’ve required academic support for reading or Maths in the first year or two of school achieve at a high level in later years. It’s much more important that a love of learning is instilled in the girls and that we do all we can to develop this love both at home and school. We really are in this together!
Year 1 Teacher