Thursday, 02 December 2021 05:21

Family Decision Making For Preschool

Our educators are often approached by families asking to explain how preschool works at MICCC and wanting to know if we think their child is “ready” for preschool or school. The truth is that families know their children best. If you take advice from the Government, children should start school when they are five or six years old, sometimes even when they are still four years old. If you take advice from leading neuroscience educator Nathan Wallis (MICCC site specific workshop, 8 Jan 2021), children are all different and it is important for a child’s brain to develop in a play environment so they can build a perception of themselves as a learner. This needs to occur before their brain is ready for more formal learning at around age seven/eight years, when Piaget’s concrete operational stage of development kicks in. There are so many things for parents to consider, their child’s resilience, personality, temperament, interests, social skills, executive functioning, language development and fine/gross motor coordination are just some. We also have parents wondering if they should keep their children here at MICCC with their peers or transition them to a feeder ELC or preschool so they transition to school with more familiar faces.

I have invited another educator from Margaret Ives to help unpack this with me and share a different perspective of their own family experiences. I have two perspectives of my own to share, one as Educational Leader & Preschool Teacher/Educator for over a decade at MICCC, the other as a parent of a child who accessed the MICCC preschool and transitioned to school in 2020. Sarah Bowden is also sharing her perspective, she has been an educator at MICCC for over a decade, and is a current parent at Margaret Ives. Sarah’s eldest child accessed his local preschool and transitioned to school in 2020 and she has been proactively thinking about her second child’s pathway to school since birth 

Ollie’s Preschool Teacher & Educational Leader Perspective:  The integrated nature of our centre is its greatest asset. It means that our Coral Room has the minds and talents of three preschool teachers and four educators working together to plan and program for your child. Not only do preschoolers learn from their environment, in their play and with their teachers, they are able to share their learning with children of varying ages and become leaders and teachers in their own right, consolidating and transferring their new knowledge. Preschoolers are also provided opportunities to visit the Jacaranda and Bottlebrush Rooms, helping to feed, care for and play with our birth to three aged children and their own siblings. There are not many Preschools that can offer this diverse type of inclusive play education. 

Our preschool projects take unexpected turns all the time, going where the children lead them. We split into preschool and long day care groups at certain times throughout the day to challenge and extend thinking, and follow lines of inquiry that help reinforce concepts appropriate for the children in our groups. We are surrounded by play-based learning led by the children’s interests, that is supported and reinforced by our educators. Our routine moments are rich with numeracy, literacy, mindfulness and strength, all disguised in play with rhythmic and repetitive experiences. The curriculum and weekly planning is developed in our whole team reflections, with the whole Coral Room teaching team sharing their knowledge and perspectives of the children in our care and our understanding of their strengths, needs and interests. Having a holistic view of education means we don’t focus on one learning area but see the broader benefits of our space from multiple lenses (cognitive, physical, social/emotional and language). As an example, instead of pushing for a preschooler to read before they start school we focus on supporting all children to develop the dispositions to see themselves as readers, by:

  • Using social play to build vocabulary confidence so children talk with meaning and comprehension.
  • Inspiring curiosity with exposure to books, words, art and music in play spaces.
  • Encouraging creativity through all modes of communication/art; painting, drawing, dance, construction, role play, dramatic play, songs etc.
  • Developing persistence and confidence with puzzles, physical play and obstacles so they discover the many forms of shapes, lines, sizes and directions needed to recognise symbols/text and follow procedures, as well as building core strength to be able to hold their posture to read.
  • Providing fine motor experiences and construction to strengthen hands for holding books, turning pages and using manipulative tools.
  • Exposing the children to phonemic awareness in our routine moments so they have meaningful repetitive experiences with rhyme, letter formations, initial letter sounds, syllables etc.
  • Asking children to use their imagination to read stories to us and describe their play, building their confidence to create a flowing narrative and seeing themselves as story tellers.

While the concept of being able to read is just one example, it is easy to see that these experiences are not about the act of reading letters/words and writing text, they are about developing children’s confidence to thrive in a world of literacy, having a better understanding of themselves and being able to interact with others successfully.

It is so important to consider your child’s interests and wellbeing when making a decision about preschool p, as you know best how your child will cope with transition and what type of environment would support them best. Age and development should also be considered, as some children are yet to develop their resilience or experience being a leader. While some children thrive with transitions and enjoy the social challenge, others struggle. It can be difficult trying to build a secure attachment and make friends in a new preschool while attending another centre for care, children can begin to wonder where they belong. I have personally witnessed children go from thriving in our environment working passionately on projects with peers, then when they start splitting their time between care at MICCC and accessing a preschool elsewhere all of a sudden they are trying to rediscover their sense of self and confidence. The projects they guarded so fiercely before, develop side collaborations with other children as the dynamics of play change and friendships strengthen in their absence. I have also seen children cope well with the extra transition and flourish. A bonus of MICCC is our strong focus on belonging and wellbeing, meaning that if a child is accessing preschool in our Coral Room, they remain in the preschool group every day they attend, essentially receiving more ‘preschool’ than the government funded 15 hours.

Children from MICCC attend many different schools in the area, Norwood, Marryatville, Trinity Gardens, Rose Park, East Adelaide and Burnside, with some children attending primary schools a little further away and some going to small independent schools too. It is important to think about your child’s education journey early, speak to educators and visit schools and preschools to make the right choice for your child.

Ollie’s Parent Perspective: People often view tall, physically confident children as older than they are and expect their emotional resilience to be higher. Being an October baby, I knew my daughter would be 5 years and 3 months when she was eligible to start school. From when my child was born I always had it in my head that she would attend the local preschool that fed into our local school. It wasn’t until I got to know my own child better and understood her personal challenges that I began to realise how damaging that could be for her. In my haste to think she needed to make ‘school friends’ to start school successfully, I was overlooking the fact that she was already developing the skills to maintain her strong friendships here at MICCC and that educators had a well rounded understanding of her personality and her wellbeing needs. I thought about the impact of another transition before the transition to school and knew that might negatively impact her already fragile state of wellbeing, especially considering her hearing challenges were just beginning to improve and her confidence was building. I knew that giving her another year to build on her friendships and develop more self-confidence in a safe and secure environment was going to be more beneficial than putting her in a foreign environment to start all over again, challenging her sense of belonging and connections. As it turned out her sense of belonging to MICCC and secure friendships helped her to become even more inclusive, inviting new preschoolers into her play. Having an integrated room where she was in the older cohort enabled her mothering/teacher side to flourish, further developing her self-confidence and leadership skills. I also knew that the wellbeing focus of MICCC, the self regulation breathing strategies and way the child protection curriculum is taught would really set her up with the skills she needed, and it did, the daily breathing techniques will stay with her for life.

When it was time for starting school, four children she knew were transitioning to the same school as her and while they weren’t all ‘best friends’ they were familiar faces and a support network for each other. She has successfully used her social confidence to build new friendships with many new school friends (even through COVID uncertainty) and she still keeps in contact with her old MICCC friends too, catching up in the school holidays. I made it known to her teacher that I would continue to advocate for my child and support her well-being over academic achievement, so she could continue to thrive with her unique strengths and interests in art and physical activity. While she focuses on the art and physical play experiences at school, the fact that she comes home everyday and re-teaches her school day shows that her love of pretend/role play (that she developed at MICCC) is now giving more meaning to the content she is learning at school and her learning is being reinforced as she transfers this information to her toys.

Sarah’s Perspective: Whilst we absolutely love Margaret Ives and everything it has to offer, our eldest son Jude attended a ‘stand alone’ kindy that fed into our local primary school. We live 30 minutes from Norwood and knew Jude wouldn’t be going to school with any of his Coral Room friends. For our shy and sensitive boy we knew he would need to make solid foundations before facing the overwhelming prospect of starting at big school. He ended up making a group of Kindy friends that live within walking distance of our house and his transition to school was seamless, as his kindy cohort were all in the same reception class. It was definitely the right decision for our family and we were fortunate enough to still enjoy long day care simultaneously in the fabulous Coral Room.

We decided to follow the same path with our younger son Alfie but from the moment we found out his due date as a baby we knew the time would come to make a much more difficult decision. Alfie’s birthday falls at the end of March. This means that within the South Australian Education system he was entitled to start at our local kindy at 3 years and 9 months of age.

As a mum I was very wary of what this would mean for our unique, loud and playful little one. The complete opposite to his big brother! At that age he had only been toilet trained for 6 months, he still had a dummy and napped daily and would definitely be one of the youngest in his Kindy class. 

With my educator hat on I have always believed that children learn best through play and the more opportunity they can have to build on those play skills the better. While he was still in the Jacaranda Room I started to have conversations with my husband about holding Alfie back an extra year which you are allowed to do here in South Australia. I used all my professional knowledge to present measured arguments for both options. His concerns were that Alfie would be “too old” compared to other children and “too tall” (we are a tall family) within his younger cohort. 

I gave him articles about ‘thriving vs surviving’ that highlight some of the social and emotional challenges the younger children can face. We sought out endless advice and reassurance from his primary educator who knew Alfie best in the childcare setting. Whilst she assured us he would “cope” she was able to give us some valuable insight into his strengths and interests at childcare which all revolved around free range play, flexibility and spontaneity. We talked to our friends who had similar experiences with their own kids and got an overwhelming response of “we wish we had waited” when discussing kids with March/April birth dates. 

In the Bottlebrush Room Alfie naturally bonded with children in the younger cohort. After spending two years in that beautiful space he got to experience being both the youngest at 20 months old and then the eldest at 3 years and 8 months old. He developed his strongest relationships with a group of children who were only a couple of months younger than him chronologically, but would be an entire school year behind him. Another consideration was that although extremely confident and outgoing Alfie has some speech clarity concerns and I knew the extra year would give us time to seek intervention for that too without disrupting his kindy schedule. 

Being almost at the end of our ‘extra’ year at home and in long day care in Coral Room, my husband and I couldn’t be happier with our decision to hold Alfie back. As a mum I have absolutely loved this extra time with my little boy. We have created amazing memories and enjoyed time together I wouldn’t have gotten otherwise. They are only little for such a short time and this extra year has been so precious to me. Alfie is excited to begin kindy next year at the same time as his besties in the Coral Room. He understands that some of them will be Starfish and some are going to different kindys “but we will all still see each other at Margaret Ives” (he will do two days in long day care and two days at our local kindy). He is ready to meet new people and seek out new challenges. Being the eldest has afforded him time to develop leadership skills, build resilience, work out how to use the monkey bars, learn patience, concentration and consolidate his beautiful friendships.

Of all the people we reached out to looking for lived experiences - not one person who had held their child back said they regretted it. 

Every child is so individual and unique it’s impossible to say if holding your child back is the right thing or if sending them to the local stand alone kindy is the right thing. You know your child and their temperament best. I recommend doing all your research and talking to your child’s educators and your friends with children, find out how your potential schools support the youngest children starting in the class group.   

We are always happy to have a chat about our decisions and share the information we have gathered or discuss what worked for us and why. 


Here is a link to some Nathan Wallis articles and radio segments about play based learning (Nathan Wallis, 2021)


Ollie Lauder & Sarah Bowden

MICCC EDUCATORS - but most importantly parents.

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