Getting schools ready for children

Issue: Volume 98, Number 17

Posted: 10 October 2019
Reference #: 1HA0J0

Starting school is a significant time for tamariki and their whānau and much support focuses on getting children ready for their first days in a classroom. In Canterbury, a new project is shifting the focus towards ensuring the school is ready for the child.

Funded by a local philanthropic organisation, new entrant teachers in Christchurch are researching ways to deliver the best possible experience to children who arrive in their classrooms.

The CORE Education project is a combination of teachers getting together with project researchers and the researchers supporting the teachers as ‘critical friends’ during school visits.

Kylie O’Keeffe and Nicole Cunningham from Rāwhiti School in Brighton are both on the two-year project. Kylie teaches in the Māori medium bilingual space and Nicole has new entrants to Year 2.

The project emphasises collaboration and partnership between the participants and requires a minimum of two teachers from each school.

“It really helps that we both understand our community and what is likely to work here. It helps to bounce ideas off each other,” says Nicole.

Videos proposed to help new entrants

One idea they’re considering is videoing their children describing to new entrants what to expect when they start school.

“Quite a few families have both parents working full-time and they aren’t able to bring their children along to those very important school visits before they turn five and start with us,” says Kylie.

“Children want to know what their school looks like, where the toilets are, where they can put their lunchbox, what they do at playtime.”

“It is really important our children feel secure about their new school and that they feel they belong,” adds Nicole.

“If they don’t feel safely connected to school, then they’re not going to be ready to take a risk. And you need to take risks and have a go if you’re going to learn,” says Kylie.

“We’re very excited about this,” continues Nicole. “Often in a classroom you get a hunch about the way to do something and you make the change in a slightly haphazard way. This project will give us the time to stand back and observe, research and plan things really well. It’s a fantastic opportunity.”

Champions for change

The CORE Education project in primary schools will reach 120 out of the total 446 new entrant teachers across Canterbury, and touch 2,300 of the estimated 6,688 children transitioning to school – roughly one-third of all children starting school in Canterbury over the two years of the project.

And these new entrant teachers will spread the word – acting as champions for change within their schools and across school networks.

“We hope the research we do over the next two years will improve transition to school for our children and inspire teachers in other schools to focus on improving the way they welcome their new children,” says Kylie.

Building a better start

At the same time as new entrant teachers are developing and innovating their teaching practice to give children a better start, a complementary project is underway through the University of Canterbury.

‘A Better Start’ focuses on helping early childhood teachers build strong oral language skills in children aged three and four. It gives teachers and whānau strategies they can use to help improve children’s oral language and the ability to regulate their thoughts, emotions and behaviour.

Children who can pay attention and monitor their own behaviour engage more successfully with other students and respond better to the various activities of the day.

‘A Better Start’ focuses on supporting children from lower socioeconomic areas and will follow them through to their first year of school to identify what impact this approach has on their early schooling.

It will provide professional development to teachers in 30 early childhood centres in Canterbury and complement and enhance existing initiatives supporting children’s transition to school.

The project will eventually include an online professional learning and development resource and an interactive site for parents, so the results from the research will continue long after the two-year project has finished.

Philanthropic support

Rātā Foundation, the South Island’s largest philanthropic organisation, is funding the $1.3 million cost of the two projects.

“This is a major investment under our strategic funding programme and underscores the importance we, as a foundation, place on the future of our tamariki,” says Rātā Chief Executive Leighton Evans. 

“We are committed to enabling a positive start for children and their whānau, setting them up for later success in education, but also in life,” he says.

The Ministry of Education sits on the steering group for the two projects, alongside representatives from the Principals’ Association and Ngāi Tahu.

“The projects will complement what the Ministry of Education is doing to help children and teachers to make that very important transition from early learning to primary school,” says Coralanne Child, the Ministry’s Director of Education for Canterbury. 

Getting children ready for school

The Ministry of Education(external link) supports whānau with suggestions for getting children school ready. 

There are also several ministry-supported initiatives that help teachers ensure children have what they need to learn and develop. These include the oral language and literacy initiative, strengthening early learning opportunities and professional learning and development for schools, kura and kāhui ako.

BY Education Gazette editors
Education Gazette | Tukutuku Kōrero,

Posted: 10:04 am, 10 October 2019

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