You might have noticed that Amelia starting school in September is very much in the front of my mind at the moment. I’ve been thinking about whether she is ready for school, whether I’m ready for her to go to school, and how our lives are going to change when she starts. I’m not usually a worrier, but it’s difficult not to think ahead and wonder just how much we’re all prepared for the milestone. I’ve found myself suddenly extremely worried that we’ve done too much playing and not enough learning. What if she doesn’t know everything she needs to know before starting school?
This weekend I started thinking about how academically ready she is, and naturally I turned to Google for answers. As far as I’m concerned, I think Amelia is totally ready for school, both emotionally and academically. But I wanted to find out what exactly she is expected to be able to do, and what she needs to know before starting school.
What I found didn’t really surprise me, but within my search I came across expectations from all over the world, and I was fascinated by the differences. I’m certainly not the only person in the country who thinks the UK education system needs a massive overhaul, and I wondered how much taking inspiration from other nations would be valuable.
Kids in America generally start Kindergarten around 5 or 6, although lots start pre-kindergarten around age 3. More than any other country, I found it the easiest to find long and drawn out lists of exactly what kids are expected to know and be able to do before they start kindergarten. The emphasis is almost exclusively academic, and the expectations extensive.
Kids are expected to both recognise and write their own name (in the correct format of capital letter followed by lower case). They are also expected to be able to recite numbers 1-20 and recognise them when written down, even out of order. Kids need to have a good grasp of language, rhyming words, and a basic knowledge of the sounds and sound combinations that letter make.
There are literally thousands of online resources, tips, and sites focussed on how to teach kids of pre-k age, and how to help them prepare for the academic requirements.
While there’s still a big academic focus, it’s definitely less so than for American pre-schoolers. There’s much more emphasis on emotional readiness, and kids are expected to understand sharing and being kind, as well as being able to manage their own behaviour (to a certain extent). Children are expected to use good manners, take turns, and play together nicely.
There are academic expectations too, like being able to count to 20, recognise numbers 1-10 when they’re written down, have some knowledge of the alphabet, and be able to recognise their own name. But there is also a general consensus that it’s not the end of the world if kids don’t know some or all of these things.
It was difficult to find any definitive lists or ideas of what children are expected to know when they start their official schooling aged 6. It was clear during my research, though, that most children are in pre-school from at least age 3, and the focus is very much on academics.
During pre-school years, French children learn to read, write, have a good basic grasp of numeracy, and maybe even a second language.
It seems to be generally accepted that school is not a place of fun, it’s a place of learning.
The Finnish education system is widely hailed as the very best in the world. Surprisingly (or maybe not so) it’s also the most relaxed. Children are not seen as being ready for a formal education until they are 7, so up until that point the emphasis is solely on play. Despite this, most children start school at 7 being able to read and write, and with basic numeracy skills.
When children start school, they are expected to begin learning 2 languages in addition to Finnish (one is usually Swedish), and they attend lessons in a wide variety of areas in small classes of around 20 students.
Finnish pre-school teachers are expected to have a Bachelors degree, while school teachers are required to have a masters in their subject, and the profession is much more socially highly regarded than in the U.S.A or U.K.
Academically, it seems there isn’t much she needs to know before starting school in September. She recognises her name, can write it, and counts to about 15 before getting confused. If I’m honest, looking at the way other countries focus on education has opened my eyes quite a lot. I feel less concerned about getting her ready academically and wondering what she needs to know before starting school, and way more comfortable with my decision to allow her to have as much fun as possible before the school year kicks in.