And they’re off!

No Chicken
Starting school by John

It’s the start of the academic year for many in England with lots of children, including Prince George, starting school. For many, new uniforms have been labelled and new pencil cases have been sourced. Naturally, this time can stir up many emotions for children and their parents – feelings of excitement, anticipation and apprehension are all par for the course. Polly’s memories of her first day of school are limited but two snapshots are clear. She vividly remembers going into the class’s cloakroom with her mother to find her peg and hanging up her new PE kit (which she was VERY proud of). She also remembers watching the older children in awe as they clambered over the climbing frame at lunchtime; she fell off it when she gingerly tried to copy them! Meanwhile, what stands out for Jo about starting school was the hundreds of cockroaches under the mat in the cloakroom; it was a very old Victorian building! Can you remember your first days of school? How did you feel?

It’s also the time of year when thousands of students are starting their university journeys and we can draw many parallels with young children beginning school. Freshers may not have labelled their clothes but we’d bet lots of them will be investing in new pencil cases and stationery. We also imagine that they’ll be experiencing similar feelings of enthusiasm and anticipation mixed with some nervousness and trepidation. If this is you, what are your reason for embarking on a degree? What are your hopes and fears for the coming academic year?

There are differences too, of course, between new reception-class children and new university students. University students have decided themselves what, where and why they want to study. The vast majority of children won’t have made the decision themselves about where they start school and what they learn when they are there. They also are unlikely to have decided themselves about when they start, with some academics, including those supporting the Save Childhood Movement’s ‘Too Much Too Soon’ campaign, saying that formal learning starts too early for young children in England and is thus ‘developmentally unsound and potentially harmful’. And whilst they don’t doubt the fact that children are always ready to learn, Whitebread and Bingham (2012: 4) do question what young children are ready to learn and suggest that ‘rushing young children into formal learning of literacy, mathematics etc as young as possible is misguided’.

So if children starting school in England, usually at the age of four, shouldn’t be engaging in formal learning, what should they be doing? Shouldn’t young children just be playing? Or do you think differently, especially when you reflect on your own starting school experiences? What should children’s first days of school look like? And how can we support children to make sure their experiences are positive? Let us know in the comments section below.

15 thoughts on “And they’re off!

  1. This looks like an exciting journey that you started. I have been teaching for many years and now teach in Norway. Its great that you have started a platform for colleagues to communicate.

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  2. I have recently written an assignment about this topic and found research that focuses on children’s perspectives of transitioning to school lacking. It would be interesting to explore further how children perceive these transitions and listen to suggestions that they might have for how they could be done.

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  3. I can’t remember my first day at school, I just recall certain events – good and bad. But, thinking about this as a parent, not a professional, I do wonder whether the rise in mental health issues with children (and maybe even stress issues with teachers) has a correlation with prioritising a narrow range of skills/abilities and the consequent testing. Maybe it would be good for our children and society as a whole if ‘play’ was given much higher priority even beyond early years teaching.

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  4. Did you do some research in Berlin? I believe there is a different culture and attitude to children in Germany; are there lessons we could learn from the German attitude to early learning? For example, do they start formal education of literacy and mathematics later?

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