For a seamless flow of learning
It’s the dedication of parents, early childhood educators and teachers that can make the transition into the school system a seamless flow of learning, says Sandra-Lynn Shortall, district principal of Early Learning at the West Vancouver School District 45. And she views the collaboration between Bowen Island educators as a good example. A Ready, Set, Learn event for three and four-year-old children and their families will be held at the Bowen Island Community School (BICS) on Saturday, February 23, from 9:30 to 11:30 a.m.
“We really value our partnerships with early childhood educators,” Shortall said. “And on Bowen Island, there is this truly collaborative spirit where [educators] do whatever it takes to better the life chances for children. There is the authentic meaningful connection between the preschool and school contexts.”
Shortall explained that the Full Day Kindergarten (FDK) program at BICS is going into its third year this September, in line with the provincial initiative that provides all children with the opportunity for attending full-day kindergarten.
“While this is an opportunity for the child to participate in a full-day type of learning, there is always flexibility,” Shortall said. She explained that enrolment in kindergarten is more than just completing a form and that conversations with the principal and classroom teachers may be part of the equation. “No one knows as much about the child as the parents,” Shortall said. “It is critical to acknowledge their understanding of their child as a learner and a social being.”
Shortall believes it is a privilege for teachers to have those conversations and have the ability to tailor programs to match the children’s needs. Education programs have changed, and so have the old notions of school readiness, says Shortall: “Instead of spending the time going through a checklist to determine whether a child is ready for school, we take the time to ask, ‘Is the school ready for your child?’ Kindergarten is a rich window that can set up opportunities for children all through their education.”
And being ready for a child might mean embracing different learning styles and entering into a partnership with the family and the preschool to determine how the child’s need can be met, sometimes in an innovative way.
Shorthall has discovered that in many cases where families had expressed concerns about kindergarten readiness at the time of registration, their children went through a period of development over the summer. “In many cases, we have offered more flexibility and a model that matches the child’s need,” Shortall recalls. “And when September came around, the children wanted to be there and the family felt very different.”
In some cases, classroom teachers were aware of children who need additional quiet time or snacks at certain points during the day. “For some children, entering school can be a bit overwhelming.” Shortall explained, adding that she feels kindergarten and Grade 1 to be important times for the formal schooling process. “It should be positive, exciting and stimulating and to achieve that, we have to work with families, teachers and children.”
BICS currently has one kindergarten class and a kindergarten/Grade 1 combined class. Shortall said that the decision on which children to place where was made in consultation with preschool teachers as well as parents in an effort to build the best possible learning environment. “And they are having a great year,” she said.
“The nice thing on Bowen Island is that kindergarten and preschool teachers really talk together and look at approaches that work in preschool,” Shortall said. She explained that the school district receives a draft list of potential kindergarten candidates and classroom teachers visit the children’s preschool environment. She believes that this exchange of information that currently happens between BICS and the Bowen Children’s Centre is critically important. “A lot of work happens behind the scenes,” she says. “The children spent many years with those [preschool] teachers and we can learn from that. The magic doesn’t start in kindergarten, it starts in preschool.”
The important message Shortall wants to get across is that there is a willingness to create and provide opportunities that may be different for individual children. “There is a willingness as well as an obligation that schools make to the community to be responsive and be flexible,” she said. The Ready, Set Learn event will be followed by a “Welcome to Kindergarten” workshop for registered four and five-year-old children and their parents on Thursday, June 6 at BICS.