St Mary’s was chosen to collaborate with Kim Moroney, Education Officer-Early Learning (Catholic Schools Office, Diocese of Maitland-Newcastle) and Dr Cathie Harrison (Australian Catholic University) in response to the growing evidence, both nationally and internationally, that the first years of life, play and the transition to school have significant impact on education, wellbeing and subsequent life trajectories (Dockett & Perry, 2014).
This project, Successful Foundations, is founded on genuine respect for the learner and authentic and respectful relationships between adults and children. Successful Foundations provides a series of open-ended play experiences for learning and wellbeing in the first hour of the day over the first five weeks of Kindergarten.
Transition to school
Successful Foundations is designed to support children and their families to have a positive transition to school. Transition to school is a process of continuity and change as children move into and through one state of being and belonging to another. The transition to school is one of the most important transitions a child will make. As well as the child, the family undergoes the process of transition. The process of transition occurs over time, beginning before the child starts school and extending to the point where the child and family feel a sense of belonging at school and when this is evident to teachers.
Children’s transition to school has implications for their learning, wellbeing and development – both at the time of transition and into the future. Relationships are at the core of positive transition to school experiences (Sayers et al., 2012) and at the core of Successful Foundations.
Learning Through Play
Play is sometimes contrasted with ‘work’ and characterised as a type of activity which is essentially unimportant, trivial and lacking in any serious purpose. As such, it is often viewed as something that children do because they are immature, and as something they will grow out of as they become adults. However, this view is mistaken and ill-informed. Dr David Whitebeard (University of Cambridge, 2012) states that play in all its rich variety is one of the highest achievements of the human species, alongside language, culture and technology. The value of play is increasingly recognised, by researchers and within the policy arena, as the evidence mounts of its relationship with intellectual achievement and wellbeing.
Research on brain development supports the understanding that play shapes the structural design of the brain. We know that secure attachments and stimulation are significant aspects of brain development; and that play provides active exploration that assists in building and strengthening brain pathways. Play creates a brain that has increased ‘flexibility and improved potential for learning later in life’ (Lester & Russell, 2008,). Play allows the Early Learner to explore, identify, negotiate, take risks and create meaning. The intellectual and cognitive benefits of play are well documented. Children who engage in quality play experiences are more likely to have well-developed memory skills, language development, and are able to regulate their behaviour, leading to enhanced school adjustment and academic learning (Bodrova & Leong, 2005).
Play is a right of the child (United Nations, 1989) and an important part of the child’s learning and experiences at school. Play is typically available to the child during recess and lunch breaks on the school playground. This highlights the significance of the school playground as an engaging outdoor space that provides opportunity and accessibility for different constructs of play (ELP, 2017).
Our school indoor and outdoor spaces have been reimaged to facilitate and encourage play. The learning environment of the classroom and the outdoor setting is intentionally and thoughtfully designed to invite your child to play and to provoke deep knowledge and understanding. These intentional spaces are called “provocations.” In particular you will notice in our classrooms provocations such as: Dramatic Play, Blocks and Boxes, Map in My World, Sharing Stories and Being Friends-Outdoors.
- endorses current research and acknowledges the diverse ways young children learn and engage with their worlds.
- provides a continuum between prior to school and school.
- provides children with the opportunity to actively demonstrate their funds of knowledge, build relationships and become familiar with the context of the school.
- provides teachers with the time and opportunity to develop meaningful relationships as they observe and interact with the competent, creative and capable child.
All staff at St Mary’s have had extensive professional learning on meeting the needs of Early Learners.
At St Mary’s, we celebrate the wonder and joy of learning!