What outcomes parents should expect from early childhood education and care

By the time children are five, they should show preference for a particular hand and be able to work with others.
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Parents often have different expectations for their three- to five-year-old children when they attend an early learning centre. Some parents expect their child to engage in academic learning activities or “real learning”. Academic activities are associated with formal school-based learning such as writing, reading and knowing their numbers.

Parents are reported to feel concerned if they visit their friend’s home and see their friend’s child brings home worksheets (for example dot-to-dot of their name, colouring in of Easter eggs, or other adult-directed products) from their early childhood centre. They may worry their child is being left behind because their child is “only playing” and not engaging in real learning.

Other parents focus on their child being safe and secure in a stimulating environmentwhere children make choices about what they will play. Such learning environments are supported by educators who are responsive to the child, and socially construct the child’s play.

The tension lies between teacher-directed activities where children are perceived to be doing “real learning”, as opposed to children making choices to play according to their interests.

So, what should three- to five-year-olds be learning?

Developmental milestones provided by the Australian Children’s Early Childhood Quality Authority (ACECQA) state:

Children’s learning is ongoing and each child will progress towards the outcomes in different and equally meaningful ways.

This milestones checklist covers five domains of learning, which is linked to the curriculum and the National Quality Standards:

  1. physical
  2. social
  3. emotional
  4. cognitive
  5. language development.

The checklist indicates what a child should be able to do by a certain age, and this is linked to the early childhood education curriculum.

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