|Movement Experiences for Children|
|Instructor:||Dr. Shannon Bredin|
|Important Course Pages|
School Readiness can be considered as the “readiness for learning and readiness for school.” (Lewit, 1995, pg. 129). It is not only the individual’s capacity to learn and understand academic material, but also the “physical, intellectual, and social development that enables children to fulfill school requirements and to assimilate [into] a school’s curriculum.” (Lewit, 1995, pg. 129). This is because school requires attention and self-regulation, and children that have developed these skills, or executive functions, tend to perform better within the school system (Diamond & Lee, 2011). Schools are highly-structured institutions that usually take in the new students at 5 years old.
Research on school readiness was originally more focused on academic aptitude (Janus & Duku, 2007), concerned primarily with a child’s ability to learn basic math, writing, and reading skills. But as research has developed, the importance of social skills and “noncognitive skills” (Junus & Duku, 2007, pg. 376) have become important indicators of a child’s success and readiness in school. School readiness requires both academic capacity and behavioural regulations. A child’s success in entering the school system requires the ability to adapt to a new environment and cooperate with their new surroundings. It is difficult to consider a threshold at which a child a ready for school, thus there is a lot of research into measuring how and when children are ready to go to school.
I will be considering various ways that parents can enhance their child’s level of school rediness to achieve greater success later in school.
- 1 Executive Functions
- 2 Physical Activity
- 3 Environmental Factors
- 4 Differences
- 5 Suggested Interventions
A primary consideration for school readiness is the development of executive functions in young children. Executive functions (EF) involves a child’s development in learning and social-emotional competencies (Hughes & Kwok, 20006). The biological basis of EF involves the prefrontal cortex which associates with emotional reactivity and regulation (Diamond & Lee, 2011). However, EF is also developed through environmental factors, and can be shaped by upbringing and surroundings (Bierman et. al, 2008). For example, EF’s are developed through highly-regulated areas because they can develop inhibitory control. Inhibitory control is the ability to “stop” behaviours, like a child stopping their play at recess to return to the classroom. EF’s that regulate behaviour allow children to sit, focus, and remain disciplined, which are all essential skills to succeed within a classroom (Diamond & Lee, 2011).
In a study conducted by Diamond and Lee (2011), improved EF were found to improve success within a school environment. Sport and “mindfulness” activities were considered in improving EF. Sports enhanced motor skill development, increased levels of mental wellbeing, and developed noncognitive skills, such as cooperation. Yoga and martial arts, were categorized as “mindfulness” practices, and developed inhibitory responses, sustained focus, and discipline. Bierman et. al (2008) found that strong EF in children was directly related to academic success. It is evident that EF development is an essential component of school readiness for children, it also in important to consider how physical activity can develop EF.
Alka Burman (2011) considers physical health and well-being to be central to school readiness for children. In her article she suggests that an active lifestyle for children will help them develop EF, as well as gross and fine motor skills. Davis et. al (2011) found that physical activity was a key attribute to cognitive development in children and would develop motor skills necessary for early childhood success in school.
Motor Skills Development
Physical activity enhances motor development in young children (Oja & Jürimäe, 2002). Motor milestones are different movement experiences that are an essential part of childhood motor development, such as walking or sitting. Based on Healthy Children, movement milestones for children between the age of 4-5 years old (on average, the time of beginning school) includes climbing, hops, stands on one foot, picks up a fork or spoon, drawing basic shapes, among a few others (Healthy Children, 2013). Duncan et. al (2007) found that fine motor skills, levels of attention (an EF), and general knowledge were strong indicators of school readiness and academic success in later schooling. Fine Motor Skills are small muscle movements that are essential in childhood processes of learning to write, paint or grasp small objects. Gross motor skills are developed through activities such as throwing a ball or running, and with practice are performed with more accuracy and coordination. Gross motor skills are essential for childhood ability to participate in physical activity at school, such as playing on a jungle gym. Because gross motor skills improve balance and coordination, they are fundamental in early childhood development to encourage further physical activity participation with age.
Structured vs. Unstructured Play
It is essential that children experience both structured and unstructured play to develop a sense of school readiness. Benefits of Structured Play
- Helps develop EF – discipline, cooperation (specifically in team sports), and focus
- Helps with the cognitive function of problem-solving and developing or implementing strategy, ie. using different techniques of hitting the ball within little-league softball
- Exposes children to structural adherence before entering school
Benefits of Unstructured Play
- Helps develop creativity and free-thinking processes
- More readily accessible to those of varied socioeconomic statuses
- Helps develop motor skills that can be used in structured play
It is also important to consider how the school system can aid children in the transition from home- to school-environment. Lewit (1995), discussed the approach of school readiness as not a unidirectional process, in which the only consideration is how parents can prepare their children for the school. Additionally, how the school prepares students to further develop and succeed should be reviewed. The only caveat of this consideration is that revisions to the school systems require much more time, and often require more specialization in considering individual levels of readiness. Two considerations by the school system include the length of school for young children, and the age at which children should begin school.
Considering the importance of structured and non-structured environments for children to develop motor skills through physical activity, the length of school is also a variable. It is not reasonable to transition a child who is used to a low-structure lifestyle, straight into a full-day of schooling. Hence, many preschool and kindergarten programs are half-a-day. This smoothens the transition, but also allows more time for physical activity during this critical period of development. A longer school-day also requires greater levels of focus and discipline. Further research should consider if children have the capacity to develop enough focus as an executive function to sustain a full day of class (6-8 hours), and what physical activity practices should be adopted before school starts to prepare for a longer day.
As school readiness is hard to readily define and apply to all children, it is difficult to set a distinct age at which it can arbitrarily be said that children are ready to be in school. Also, school organize children by age and not normally by qualification, which automatically disadvantages students born at the end of the calendar year as opposed to the beginning. However, it is still more beneficial to create a starting age for school to begin, because qualifying tests for young children may disproportionately effect some children based on gender or socioeconomic status. As the age that school normally begins is 5 years old, families should consider what skills are required to prepare their children for school. Further research could involve focus groups being conducted to consider what realistic expectations are of families.
Socioeconomic Status (SES) has notable effects on school readiness (Janus & Duku, 2007). SES can create many affordances for some children, that other children are not able to participate in. In terms of unstructured play, for children of a lower SES, they are sometimes living in neighbourhoods or highly urbanized areas where physical activity is not a convenient possibility. Whereas a child raised in a suburban area, is much more likely to ride their bike and run around comfortably outdoors. The differences in these abilities to participate in different activities can be thought as affordances. Children of a higher SES can participate in physical activity in varied environment, which also enhances their adaptability. Another affordance that children of higher SES have are resources and programming at a younger age that lower SES children may not receive. A higher SES is positively correlated with a high-level of education, which usually means the parents have an understanding of the importance of physical activity and different developmental practices to have their child ready for school. This may not be a consideration or priority for a families of lower SES (Grabb & Guppy, 2009). In the same respect, families of lower SES usually have less parent-child and leisure time, due to occupational schedules, which removes the ability for children to participate in physical activity or play with their parents.
Research has shown there is an evident gap in gender for school achievement (Grabb & Guppy, 2009). A significant indicator of school achievement is school readiness, and boys typically struggle than girls more with the latter component (Renwick, 1984). Margery Renwick (1984) found that boys tend to have a more difficult time transitioning into school than girls due to social differences. Due to societal expectations of boys and girls, boys typically participate in free physical activity that encourages rough-and-tumble play, whereas girls participate in gendered physical activity that is more structured (for example, jump rope). The problem arises when boys and girls must adhere to school structure, and boys are left to navigate this new form sanctioned behaviour. Boys would perhaps benefit from organized or structured physical activity before entering the school system for this reason.
To better prepare children to transition into school, below are some suggested activities that parents can engage their children in. Please note that these are targeted primarily at middle-class families, as the realities of all individuals cannot be represented through a few interventions, and due to the intersectionality that exists across SES, race, and gender, all variables cannot be considered simply.
Recommendations for Parents
I would recommend that children participate in a high-level of unstructured physical activity in preparation for school. This will allow for the development of creativity and motor skill development. Children should also participate in a structured environment, that particularly focuses on developing executive functions that will prepare the child, ie. Tae-Kwon-Do or yoga. These activities provide physical health benefits and emphasize the development of inhibitory control. Another good activity that involves both gross and fine motor skill development is Capture the Flag, which involves children running and attempting to obtain a small flag from an opposing team. This develops the precision needed for fine motor skills, in combination the larger muscle movements needed to run. Parents should encourage different environments for physical activity: at home, outdoors, in a community centre, etc. The change in environment will improve children’s level of adaptability.
Recommendations for Schools
Resources should be readily available for parents to understand how physical activity can improve school readiness and what activities they can have their children participate in to best prepare for school. School’s should assess what motor, cognitive, social milestones are imperative for incoming students and make this information readily available to families. In addition, schools should be kept to only a few hours in length and provide ongoing physical activity to further aid the physical and cognitive development of young children.