When should your child start kindy or preschool? I get asked this a lot. 🙂
First of all, remember that kindergarten is not at all compulsory. It is a year of preparation before pre-primary, which is a year of preparation before school actually ‘begins’ in Year 1… Hm. A lot of parents ask me if their child should go to kindy, and feel like they are supposed to, because well, everybody’s doing it! In my experience as an Education Consultant, a lot of parents also feel concerned that their child will be ‘behind’ or missing out if they are not enrolled in kindy or child care. I also hear parents say that they want their child to socialise and learn social skills.
In short, we (Early Childhood Teachers) know that research clearly shows that the best place for young children to be is with their family, unless their family is not the best place for them to be…if you see what I mean. We also know that the child’s brain grows incredibly rapidly in the first six years of life, and learning is an innate part of the child’s being. Maria Montessori taught us that the young child has an absorbent mind. They do not need to try to learn, they simply learn by ‘doing’ provided they have access to a thoughtfully prepared environment and adults whom meet their needs. The child’s attachment to caring and responsive caregivers is crucial to having their needs heard and understood, with learning experiences and materials provided at the right stage of development and moment in time. You might think that sounds like a job best left to the professionals, but I want families to know that listening to your child and responding to what you discover is something which you can do at home, 24 hours a day, 7 days per week. All you need to do is open your eyes, your ears, and your mind, and wonder “What could this mean?” and “What could I do to support this?”.
I’m not saying that early childhood services are not of benefit to children of course. For a start, many families simply aren’t in the position to stay at home or work alongside their child. What I am saying is that if you are making a decision about where your child will best receive the opportunities for learning which they need in their early years, it really needs to be the best place. If home is where you can listen and wonder and respond, that’s truly a wonderful gift for your child. If you need to look for an environment where your child will get this outside of your home, then look for those same features.Yes – I admit – heart on my sleeve, I obviously have an incredibly strong bias towards Montessori services and schools! 😉 But I promise you I have great reason. I have a fairly lengthy career in the field of early childhood spanning well over a decade now, with experience in a wide diversity of settings from mainstream early childhood services, special education classrooms, independent Montessori schools and centres, in teacher education, leading Montessori Playgroup, and as an Education Consultant for parents and educators… I have seen maybe not ‘it all’ but certainly most of it, and I can tell you now (and I probably will again!) that you are getting something truly individualised, responsive, and just really special, when you enrol your child in a quality Montessori early childhood service or school.
At age 3, the reason many families consider mainstream school environments is to achieve ‘readiness’ for school. Maybe kindy will prepare your child for pre-primary, which may prepare your child for school, but Montessori is a holistic approach which prepares your child for life! Below are some of the ways in which the early years of school differ in a Montessori school or service:
- Montessori schools and services do not have ‘kindy’, ‘pre-primary’, and ‘year 1’ classrooms. Instead the child of 3 years old joins the ‘Children’s House’ classroom where they will stay until they are six years old (with the same teachers).
- This classroom environment ‘belongs’ to the children. It is their ‘house’, their place to do real things so that they can all live in it peacefully and so the children do activities such as preparing food, cleaning furnishings, and of course also engage in the arts, literacy, mathematics and other learning experiences.
- The child joins the class at 3 years old as one of the youngest students, who learn from the older children. As a 4 year old they continue to work their way through the continuum of Montessori lessons and materials; and at 5 years old they not only continue to learn with new experiences, but also consolidate their learning by teaching and becoming role models for younger children. The child of 3 years old looks up to the older students to learn how to ‘be’, and learns limitations and respect for others if their actions disrupt other students.
- Rather than teaching specific topics or themes from term to term which a child may or may not grasp within the timeframe, the Montessori classroom is a continuum of learning experiences and materials which can be chosen at any time by the teacher to offer to the child. The child can choose from any material or lesson they have been shown by the teacher, and can work until they choose to move on.
- The Montessori approach aims at all times to benefit the development of the whole child. Everything in the classroom is designed to support the children to develop concentration, respect, orderliness, and many other life-long skills.
- Montessori early childhood services and schools must meet the same national curriculum standards as other schools and services, but do it using the Montessori approach. Many meet the Montessori National Curriculum instead, which is an alternative to the standard national curriculum and has been deemed to develop equivalent skills.
If you have any further questions about if or how you could use the Montessori approach to support your child, please feel free to comment below or on our Facebook page. Some families choose to have me visit for a question & answer style home consultation to understand why Montessori is such a great way to learn!
You might also find this online calculator handy. Just click to enter your child’s birthdate and check which year they would enrol in kindergarten, pre-primary, and year 1 of school.
*Please note this advice is based on the Western Australian schooling context.