Foundations for success built on play

Making the transition from preschool to school is traditionally a huge step for children and parents alike, but it doesn’t have to be that way.

Kindergarten students across the Maitland-Newcastle Diocese are taking part in a new project, Successful Foundations, and it is proving the secret to learning really could be as simple (and complex) as child’s play.

Successful Foundations is a positive, play-based action research project that transitions early learners to school and helps establish collaborative relationships between children, families, teachers and the community.

Kim Moroney, Education Officer (Early Learning) for the Catholic Schools Office in the Diocese of Maitland-Newcastle, developed Successful Foundations along with education consultant Dr Cathie Harrison, formerly senior lecturer in Early Childhood education at Australian Catholic University.

Successful Foundations supports the Catholic Schools Office’s Early Learning Policy and strengthens classroom practices. This year, eight new schools are adopting the program, after it was piloted with great success at 11 schools in 2019. The strength the Diocese places on relationships underpins the program.

“Relationships are everything in teaching and the Successful Foundations Action Research Project really helps to build relationships and understand the Kindergarten child and what they know,” said Suzie Monks, a teacher at Holy Name Primary School in Forster, which began implementing Successful Foundations for the first time this year.

Sarah Dormand from St Francis Xavier’s Primary School in Belmont has also begun implementing the project in her Kindergarten class for the first time.  

“Successful Foundations is about developing a healthy respectful relationship with the children and us as teachers,” Ms Dormand said. “It’s a two-way process and the most important takeaway is that we are agents of change.

“We’re at a precipice where we are really getting to shift the way we are approaching education because we’re right at that foundation level, and the significant thing for all us, the community, parents, educators, to keep in mind is that play is research.”  

In the first five weeks of school, Kindergarten students are given a learning block at the beginning of each day to engage with a variety of open-ended, play provocations.

The hour of play learning provides students with the opportunity to actively demonstrate their funds of knowledge, build relationships and become familiar with the context of the school. It also provides teachers with the chance to become familiar with students and their families.

“This bridging process is where we as teachers and researchers are learning to realise and acknowledge that the child is a unique, curious, independent, capable, competent natural researcher and that’s how we’re viewing them and that’s what our approach will be,” Ms Dormand said.  

Ms Moroney said when the children immerse themselves in play, it provides a power for learning and wellbeing.

“Our educators set up meaningful provocations such dramatic play (such as florists, vets, shopfronts), building environments, outdoor spaces which are designed to engage the students and provides us with a pedagogy of listening, observation and documentation,” Ms Moroney said.

“We step back and observe students so we can see all their capabilities. We’re seeing their interests and all the things they can do. Not just through literacy and numeracy, but socially, problem-solving, collaboration and creativity. All of that is there in Successful Foundations.”

Tania Kranias from St John the Baptist Primary School in Maitland said Successful Foundations professional learning provided to staff had been a useful prompt to consider learning from the students’ perspective.

“Children go from playing eight hours a day at preschool and day-care, having five weeks’ holidays and then jump in and are told ‘here’s your books, here’s your pencils, let’s get writing and here’s a reader, let’s start reading, and here’s some maths questions’,” Ms Kranias said.

“Some children are just not capable of doing that straight away. Some children are keen, some have no interest … This whole process is allowing us to open our thinking and our minds and get to know the children.”

Cathy Hogan from St Catherine’s Catholic College in Singleton agreed with Ms Kranias and said “children learn at different speeds so taking into account all the children’s previous experiences is important”.

Ms Moroney said after Successful Foundations was piloted last year, she carried out much pre and post surveying of teachers and principals and had conversations with students and their families.

“The pilot resulted in positive outcomes for children, teachers and families.  The project works well because of a collaborative approach of working alongside children and teachers,” Ms Moroney said.

Mary-Anne Jennings, principal at St Kevin’s Primary School in Cardiff, is buoyed by the potential the Successful Foundations project will have on students’ learning in Kindergarten and beyond.

“As the name Successful Foundations suggests, Kindergarten sets up children for the rest of their educational journey, if not for life,” Ms Jennings said.

“If we have a foundation where they have driven their own learning, they’ve developed a growth mindset in that ‘I learn through play, I learn through making mistakes, I learn through doing what I’m interested in’. And their visible learning — ‘I’m here, but I have to go there, and that’s how I’m going to get there’. It sets them up for the rest of their life, so they are never afraid of failure.”

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