How do we best prepare children for success in formal schooling?


Dr Deborah Priest, Principal

In a society that has become increasingly competitive and highly focussed on high-stakes testing, students of younger ages seem to be pushed to “get ahead early”. What this term means can be quite different at different schools and, at a first glance, it may seem that making very young children sit at desks and commence formalised nlessons, like their older siblings, may be the way to go. However, research is very clear on the importance of play in the early years of learning (Warren and Haisken-DeNew, 2013).

Van Leer (2015) reported on the significance of the first 2000 days of life before a child enters formal schooling. He noted that these early days are the most critical in determining a child’s future health, learning outcomes and behaviour. Earlier researchers such as Bergen (2009) made similar conclusions and went as far as saying that the learning experiences in the preschool years can correlate to attitudes to innovation and capacity for creativity in adult life.

At AISM, the teachers in the Early Learning Centre facilitate learning through customised play-based activities. Often the themes of these activities are generated initially by student interest at the time which allows teachers to tap into the natural curiosity of our preschoolers. For example, students may see the construction of buildings close to the school which may then lead to discussions and activities related to design and construction. This can then lead to discussions about strength of buildings and amounts of materials (blocks) to build a strong foundation. Concepts of numeracy, engineering, design and language can all be covered as well as creating opportunities for students to work in teams, develop communication skills and most importantly, foster a disposition of inquiry and creativity.

Preschoolers who learn in a play-based setting demonstrate a level of enjoyment, persistence, creativity and satisfaction that is difficult to replicate in classrooms where preschoolers are required to sit in rows of desks working on drill and practice activities. For some, it is a leap of faith to believe that allowing children to play is actually the best way to prepare them for success in formal schooling. However, at AISM, it is our youngest students who provide us with the evidence that they are best served by allowing them to explore concepts through play that then extends their understanding of the world and most importantly, establishes the enduring and positive dispositions towards learning that they will need to be successful in formal schooling.

If you or a friend would like to have a tour of our Early Learning Centre, please contact Mrs Dianne McLean, the Head Teachers in the Early Learning Centre, at, who can arrange a time for you to experience the joy of learning and the happiness of our pre-schoolers while at ‘play’.

Bergen, D. (2009) Play as the learning medium for future scientists, mathematicians and engineers. American Journal of Play (Spring), 423-428.
Van Leer, B. (2015) A good start: Advances in early childhood development, Early Childhood Matters, pdf (accessed 25 October 2016)
Warren, D. & Haisken-DeNew, J. (2013), Early bird catches the worm: The causal impact of pre-school participation and teacher qualifications on Year 3 National NAPLAN Cognitive Tests. Melbourne: Melbourne University.