He’s Only Four! The Pressures of Prep

We’re at that point of actively preparing for Elliott to start prep next year. We’ve had a screener interview in April and most recently an enrolment interview.

I don’t know why but I was nervous for the first one. The second one, well, it took me a little by surprise and then afterwards, it utterly confused and annoyed the shit out of me.

So let’s track back to the first interview.

the pressures of prep

The first interview

Elliott is four years old. We take him to a building he’s never been before to meet someone he’s never met before. Of course, he’s going to be shy.

The teacher asks him various questions. ” Point to the shape that is the odd one out. Write your first name. Balance on one leg. Walk in a straight line, one foot in front of the other.”

The teacher noted down her observations on a form. I was trying to decipher them but it made absolutely no sense to me. I just went with the flow knowing there was a reason for the questions, they meant something.

Towards the end of the interview, Elliott started to come out of his shell. The teacher said there would be another interview at which we could catch up and see how Elliott was progressing. She assured us that this was all about ensuring Elliott was ready for prep.

The second interview

The second interview comes along, we go to a completely different office but meet with the same teacher. Elliott was a lot more confident but still not himself. Who could blame him?

We sit at a table and the teacher goes over the results from the first interview.

“Based on the results from Elliott’s first interview, he’s actually fallen under the prep readiness level,” the teacher said. I remember thinking to myself how on earth could his prep readiness be determined on a few questions in a totally alien environment?

The teacher did admit that Elliott was a little shy and that this likely influenced the answers to his questions, so she asked the questions again. Thankfully he did really well.

And then another bombshell came along (well it was to me considering this is all so new). The teacher told me that Elliott fell below the average for gross motor skills. Skills such as balancing, walking in a line and heel to toe. She then went on to explain that a whopping 70% of the children fell below average. Something didn’t sit right with me hearing this result. To me this isn’t a failure on the children’s’ part, to me, it seems like it shouldn’t be an indicator at all considering their age.

After giving me this result, the teacher suggested I let him balance on things a little more. I can appreciate that she’s doing her job and likely following a particular guideline but what I’m confused about is that fact that Elliott does activities using gross motor skills every single day. He also LOVES soccer and running.  He does not need any more focus on these skills,  he’s four years old!

And the results kept on coming. It was at this point where I came to understand the complete ridiculousness of the current methodologies when it comes to educating our kids. They’re expected to fit into this little box.

“My concern is that he can’t write his name yet,” the teacher said to me.

the pressures of prep
I had explained to the teacher at the first meeting that Elliott’s kindergarten was very focused on learning and understanding the alphabet first before learning to write their name. What this meant was the children would actually write their name with an understanding of the letters and their sounds instead of writing their name based on memory.

But no, the teacher was quite insistent that he really should know how to write his name by now. I’ll say it again, he’s only four years old!

Again, I appreciated the teacher’s help, she suggested some fine motor skills activities for me to do with Elliott to help him improve his writing and drawing shapes, but still, I just couldn’t understand. So many of the things she suggested he enjoys on a daily basis, so it wasn’t the fact that he lacked the skills at all.

Towards the end of the interview, the teacher went over what the children will be learning in prep during the year. Now, as I’ve said, this is all completely new to me and I’m simply going with the flow and learning about this new stage in mine and Elliott’s life, but when the teacher said that they have them writing sentences by the end of the year, I was both shocked and amazed. When I was that age, I was happy painting and playing, there’s no way I was writing sentences and reading books. How did I turn out? Well, pretty good I think.

the pressures of prep

Why so much pressure?

Through this ‘getting ready for prep’ experience I can honestly say that, as a parent, I’m overwhelmed, confused, surprised and just a little nervous. The experience has definitely got me asking why we are expecting and putting pressure our children to do things so young? It seems as though young children who are still developing are expected to conform to one set of criteria when we all know that kids (and adults) learn at different paces and in different ways.

Talking, reciting the alphabet, counting to ten, counting to twenty, writing their name….why is there so much emphasis on doing these so young, so soon?

My belief is that kids will do it when they’re ready and when they are given the opportunity to learn in a way that suits them. Perhaps, if we force them, they’ll most likely memorise it without having an understanding of what they’re saying or writing.

It happens all the time, children who are behind eventually catch up to those in front anyway. We experienced it with Elliott’s speech.  He experienced mild hearing loss for quite some time before having his adenoids removed and grommets when he was 22 months old. I can remember feeling really worried that he was falling behind in his speech, but he caught up and now you can’t shut him up!

So no, my son can’t write his name. But do you know what is more important than being able to write his name? It’s his confidence, the fact that he is a kind, happy and creative kid. He has his little quirks, things he enjoys and things he’s good at, he loves building things and he has a wonderful imagination. Elliott is busy developing into his own self, he may not learn like other kids, but he’s still learning about the world in his own little way and in his own time.

How do you feel about the expectations placed on our young children? 

*EditAfter writing this post I came to realise that I wasn’t quite clear and want to add that my concern and surprise lies around the requirements for prep readiness, not with the school or it’s prep curriculum. We are not at the prep stage yet and so I cannot comment on the school’s teaching. The school definitely does focus on play-based learning, it is one of the reasons we are sending him there and was one of my first questions. My post is more focused on the whole ‘readiness’ thing for a four-year-old and how it’s come as a big surprise to me. I’m here sharing why I don’t think it’s absolutely necessary. 

Eva Lewis (The Multitasking Woman)

Eva is the Editor and Owner of The Multitasking Woman - a lifestyle and parenting blog.She always has her fingers in many different pies but wouldn't have it any other way. Eva is a Mum to her 4-year-old son, 2 month old daughter, two chickens, one dog and a fish called Bob and a wife to Mr G. They all live happily in their little cottage on the outskirts of Brisbane.

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14 Comments

  1. July 5, 2016 / 3:56 pm

    Oh wow, that sounds intense. I understand working with kids to prepare them but it feels…off.

    “70% of the children fell below average” ….now I really don’t like maths or stats but to me that says that the average is wrong if 70% fall below it.

    I wonder if all schools are like this or not?

    It sounds like of like this time I had my BP taken in a random GP’s office. I’d had a horrific headache all day that I couldn’t shake with any drugs. So I called around and managed to luck a doctors appointment. He told me my BP was high (it’s normally low) and that I should come back in a month for review and BP meds. WT actual F?! Maybe my BP was high because I had been in horrible pain all day and it was stressing me?

  2. July 5, 2016 / 9:10 pm

    Oh my goodness. I have a Masters in Education, which I completed with Honours. I consult with schools on gifted education and assessment… So I feel I have the knowledge and experience to comment on this… Yet all I can think to say is – this is insane! Is there another school you can send him to? He doesn’t need to know how to write his name. So much research shows that delaying formal education brings much better results later. Keep in mind, that doesn’t mean delaying school just the kind of formal learning this school seems to value. Prep should be play based. I’d be very keen to know what school this is so I can comment more specifically. Maybe message me privately?

    • July 6, 2016 / 7:52 am

      Hi Nadia

      My concern lies only with the readiness interview, not with the school or it’s prep curriculum because we’re not at that stage yet. We picked the school because of it’s great reputation, their values align with ours and also because they most definitely do focus on play-based learning. I’m big on play based learning and that was one of my first questions to them. So, we’re not at prep stage yet and I’m sure the way they teach is wonderful. It’s just the whole readiness thing that has come as a shock to me, I wasn’t expecting that he needed to be able to do all these things. I thought it was just as easy as him starting!

      • July 8, 2016 / 8:46 pm

        Good to hear that the school hasn’t been sending those vibes. Maybe you caught the interviewer on an off day. There are things that help know if a child is ready for school – but what you went through is a bit above and beyond!

  3. July 6, 2016 / 6:58 am

    Expectations for school are huge! They learn a lot in that first year especially with reading and writing. all the best.

  4. July 6, 2016 / 12:39 pm

    That seems ridiculous!! If 70% real below the average then it’s hardly a realistic average!! I have four year old twins and am constantly surprised by the amount of pressure piled on by educators!

  5. July 6, 2016 / 1:37 pm

    There seems to be a lot of different approaches relating to school readiness, doesn’t there? And there was, when my son was starting school anyway, a tendency to keep them back a year if they were in the younger cohort. Which we did – he’s now 11 and in grade 5. Interestingly he was interviewed recently for secondary school and (like a number of kids) he became shy during the interview too (which were things like ‘what sports to you like playing’ – he’s in a number of teams – ‘do you know anyone else at this school?’ – yes he did – so not hard questions.) Interviews are hard at the best of times. But the gross and fine motor skills are surely things assessed at your kinder (Vic system – is that ‘early learning?’) not in brief interviews for primary schools. Sounds like you have the right approach in questioning it.

    • July 6, 2016 / 9:04 pm

      To be honest, I haven’t really been aware of any types of approaches to school readiness, it’s all quite new to me. I guess I just didn’t expect such an emphasis on it. We are in Qld so my son is currently in kindergarten at a completely different school with no real connection so I guess that’s why they want to do their own assessment. I can understand that they’re trying to gauge where he’s at so to give us information and determine what needs to be done to get him to a particular level but to me, it just seems so much at such a young age. I didn’t think we’d have to worry about it until he was at least 5 or more! We will see how it all goes next year. Until he actually starts prep I can’t really say much.

  6. July 6, 2016 / 8:12 pm

    Commenting as a prep teacher here just to offer my point of view. A lot of the expectations all come from the Australian curriculum and government standards. Each year level is preparation for the next, in particular NAPLAN and Prep lays the foundation for the rest of their education. Having said all that, at our school during the term 4 transition, we just want to get an idea of what the children can do (including writing their name, drawing, cutting etc)…and this gives us a really good picture of where our starting point is in the new year. Many parents want advice on things they can do and practise at home to better prepare their children for school, so perhaps the school is just trying to give you as much information as possible. It sounds great that your school takes a play based approach to learning. Best of luck and I look forward to reading more blog posts from you when he starts 😀

    • July 6, 2016 / 9:00 pm

      Thanks for sharing your insight, Lauren. What you’ve said makes sense. I definitely do understand that our school is trying to help and get him as prepared as possible, I guess I’m just shocked at how prepared he’s supposed to be at such a young age. And yes, I’m sure I’ll be writing a lot about our experience which I’m certain will be positive.