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Building knowledge, skills, attitudes and values

On entry to school a child brings a frame of reference which comes from his or her experiences prior to school, mainly gathered from home. Parents or caregivers have provided opportunities to explore some things and not others, so that he or she knows a lot about a limited number of personal experiences. The language used mirrors that of parents or caregivers, and emotions are the product of intense experiences with significant adults in the first years of life.

In coming to school the child brings a range of ways of responding to new situations, some of which will be useful in school, others less so. No child comes to school who has not learned anything, and it's the teacher's responsibility to find out what it is that a child knows and what skills have been acquired, and to build upon this foundation. Children are complex, cognitive development is complex, and teachers must learn to observe continually what is happening as children come to learn new ideas, skills and values.

In school, children are faced with a range of tasks that may be very different from the tasks and problems they had to solve in their play and in their interactions with others in their community. Some children may never have held a pencil before; others may never have seen a book. Others may not speak the language which you, the teacher, speak. How important it is, then, to ensure, in as many ways possible, that you can build lots of supports between what children already know and can do well, and the new tasks which school demands!

Some ways of building links for learners

Two of the earliest expectations which children (and their parents) have for school, are to learn to read and to use numbers. When children come to school, what are some simple tasks which you can plan so that children will be successful even from the first day?

  • With children, label objects around the room (in a language that the child uses) with the names that we give them: desk, chair, children's names on desks, blackboard, numbers grouped with figures. Which children can associate the objects with the words that stand for them?

  • Make sure you tell each child at least one thing that they can do every day for the first few days of school.

  • Write out the words of a song which children already know, or can learn quickly, and see who can guess which words are which.

  • Be clear in giving directions in the classroom, and organise older children to help younger children understand the direction that you give.

If a new child arrives in your class who cannot speak the language of the other children, seek out other children or even others in the community who can make the links between his or her language and the work of school. In this situation, it will be very important to take the time to find out what this special child can do. It will be useful if you can learn to speak to the child individually, and by name, and if necessary in their own language.

By establishing simple tasks for achieving success right from the start, even the most timid child can be off to a good start, confident that school is a good place to be, and a place where he or she can learn. This is very important.

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Last revised April, 1999
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