‘School readiness’ and the unique child by Louise Smith

16th February 2017

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Hear from Louise as she talks about her experience of ‘School readiness’…

‘School readiness’. I get a great deal of pressure from many sides squashing me down like play-dough into the carpet from parents, feeder schools and government policy, all wanting me to make children ‘school ready’. Well, I don’t and I won’t, not in the sense that they might want anyway. The Early Years Foundation Stage (2014) encourages, emphasises and supports the unique child, how can ‘school readiness’ fit every unique child?

Often ‘school readiness’ lurks in the guise of producing writing. I was utterly disheartened and saddened a few weeks ago, to see the Minister of State for School Standards, Nick Gibb MP, happily tweet a photo of a display of worksheets with the same phrase painstakingly scrawled over each sheet. These worksheets were filled in by nursery children, nursery. Now, every sheet had the same phrase ‘I can fly’, a lovely inspiring phrase but one I would expect to hear shouted from the top of a slide or floating through the air on a windy day with arms stretched out wide. You can’t possibly tell me that a whole class came up with the same response to an adult led session with ‘I can fly’. When I talk to my nursery children I get a different response from each child, often completely crackers, but hey, do you know what? that’s because they are unique.

And I don’t capture their responses in the same way; on a worksheet with little gaps for each letter. Sometimes its with powder paint on ice, sometimes its with chalk under the table, often its using a stick in the mud. None of these mark making activities are any less valuable than writing on a worksheet but they are all unique and that’s what matters.

When a nursery child chooses to write it must be meaningful to them, it should be relevant to their play and their experiences, it should be grounded and tangible. I had a huge group of children totally engaged when a massive box was delivered to our nursery (it was a new water tray). The children couldn’t get the box open and they spent ages debating what could be inside it. I suggested that they write or draw their ideas to see who was right. I didn’t get one response that was the same and yet they all worked together in the same space, my favourite was the suggestion that it was a hot tub filled with fish fingers! The child decided to capture this by writing a ‘f’ and sticking cotton wool all over it from the continuous provision.

Uniqueness is something we can celebrate in Early Years and I fear that it gets lost as children travel through their school years. Don’t lets make them ‘school ready’ just yet, let them play and let them decide.

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