Click on any of FAQs below for a brief summary of Upstart‘s thinking, based on the aims of the campaign which you can find on this website. We are interested in receiving your comments or suggestions about any of them (and any further questions about the campaign) via firstname.lastname@example.org.
- Will this mean children are no longer entitled to a full day’s education until they’re seven?
- If kindergartens are play-based, won’t children be held back in terms of reading, writing and maths?
- How can play be as important as learning the three Rs?
- My child is five years old and ready for school – how can two years in kindergarten possibly be better for her?
- Will the kindergarten stage Upstart supports be compulsory?
- Where will children physically go each day between the ages of five and seven? We don’t have any kindergarten buildings in Scotland.
- How can you expect this campaign to succeed in the current financial climate?
- What extra funding will be necessary to make Upstart‘s goals a reality?
- What about children moving from Scotland to England or another early-start country (or vice versa)?
- It sounds as though introducing a kindergarten stage would take a fair amount of time, effort and money. Why is it worth it?
- Why is Upstart opposed to standardised testing of children in P1?
- How can I get involved?
1. Will this mean that children are no longer entitled to a full day’s education until they’re seven?
Certainly not. Upstart is completely committed to maintaining the Scottish Government’s present entitlement to state-provided education and care. The change we propose is to the ethos of education – and the nature of children’s daily experience – until they reach the age of seven. We are campaigning for a developmentally-appropriate, play-based to learning approach during these years, as is already being done in Europe’s most successful education systems.
2. If kindergartens are play-based, won’t children be held back in terms of reading, writing and maths?
Not at all. In a kindergarten setting, any child who shows interest in an aspect of the three Rs is encouraged and supported at their own level. It’s simply that no child would be forced to take this step if they’re not ready to do so. The experience of other nations pursuing this path is that children neither are, nor feel, held back from learning in ways that interest them.
We contend that the main emphasis during the kindergarten stage should be on the all-round development of each child – physical, emotional, social and cognitive – rather than concentrating on academic subjects too early. As the Evidence section of Upstart‘s website reveals, too narrow and academic an emphasis (what we call ‘schoolification’) can be damaging to the health and well-being of young children over time.
The approach we’re recommending is a tried-and-tested way of preparing children to be successful lifelong learners. Music, art, drama, stories, songs and rhymes develop all young children’s listening, language, memory and thinking skills. Active, creative play develops the problem-solving skills and embodied conceptual understanding required for maths and science. So when school starts, all children will be able to reach their full potential.
3. How can play be as important as learning the three Rs?
Play is children’s natural learning style (and passion!). In an appropriate environment and with appropriate support – play lays firm foundations upon which all later academic learning will be built. Active, creative play (as opposed to letting children run wild) also develops other strengths, including:
- physical coordination and confidence, the ability to focus attention and control behaviour
- emotional qualities, including a ‘can-do’ attitude, resilience, creativity, and the patience to pursue long-term aims rather than immediate rewards
- social competence, such as getting along with their peers, working collaboratively in a group and communication skills (including active listening)
- cognitive capacities, such as curiosity; the use of language to explore and express ideas; problem-solving skills, and ‘common-sense understanding’ of the world and how it works.
All these qualities are useful, not only at school, but also in later life within the workplace and the community. Skills of this kind, if developed well and transformed into habits of mind and heart during children’s early years will stand them in good stead throughout their lives and relationships. Since both play and teacher-led activities involve a great deal of oral communication and comprehension, this kind of kindergarten education also develops children’s spoken language skills.
We are certainly not suggesting that the three Rs are unimportant. Our conclusion, drawn from the international research, is simply that there’s no good reason to focus on the formal, academic side of education before the age of seven, and plenty of reasons for emphasising play-based learning until this age (as noted in the Evidence section of the Upstart website). By the time formal work on the three Rs begins, all children should be sufficiently mature in terms of linguistic and self-regulation skills to make rapid progress.
4. My child is five years old and ready for school – how can two years in kindergarten possibly be good for her?
See the replies to (2) and (3) above. Although a child might be ‘ready for school’ in some ways, there are almost always other aspects of development in which s/he would benefit from more non-academic time and greater variety of healthy, play-based experiences.
Many children, especially girls, are keen to please and quick to learn skills they know adults value highly (e.g. reading and writing). This can mean they over-focus on this sort of activity at the expense of others that are just as important for all-round development. As the Cambridge psychologist David Whitebread puts it, we shouldn’t confuse self-regulation with <‘what might be called “compliance” or some of the narrower conceptions of “school readiness”.’
5. Will the kindergarten stage Upstart supports be compulsory?
At time of writing, we see no reason why attendance at kindergarten before the age of six should be compulsory. This is not, however, part of Upstart‘s campaign. Some parents might prefer to care for their children themselves or use other home-based care such as a registered child-minder, which would be a question for government to decide. Upstart is not interested in restricting parental choice.
In Finland, kindergarten becomes compulsory (mornings only) when children are six years old, so that (a) they have experience of institutional education before starting school starts and (b) there is time to assess their overall educational progress and provide any necessary support in preparation for formal schooling.
6. Where will children physically go each day between the ages of five and seven? We don’t have any kindergarten buildings in Scotland.
In the first instance, education authorities would have to employ and adapt the settings currently available. Most nurseries are set up for play-based education and care but many P1 and P2 classrooms would have to be adapted for children to move around more freely. A change in educational ethos would naturally lead to changes in the way buildings and other learning spaces are used.
The major challenge would be in ensuring children’s regular access to the outdoors. There are many examples of settings around Scotland that make imaginative use of local parkland and green spaces, and others where children are taken for one or two mornings a week to nearby woodlands, etc. We hope Upstart will help influence public opinion in terms of children’s need for outdoor play. In turn, public understanding and parental advocacy can be expected to trigger political support and governmental funding. The provision of suitable indoor and outdoor kindergarten spaces and facilities might also be enabled by grants from local businesses and other sources (such as Scotland’s Big Lottery).
As time goes on and funding becomes available we’d expect to see improvements in kindergarten spaces and outdoor facilities. This has already happened in other countries where kindergarten provision has been expanded over recent decades.
7. How can you expect this campaign to succeed in the current financial climate?
There’s never a ‘best’ time start a campaign for change – but there is a point when change becomes essential. We believe that, due to the decline in active creative play over the last couple of decades, that time has arrived throughout Scotland.
If we can help enough people (especially parents, grandparents and other voters!) to recognise how vital it is for children’s long-term health and well-being (not to mention their education), then we are sure ways will be found to make Upstart‘s goal achievable. The most important transformation – that of people’s attitude to what high-quality early years education really means – costs nothing in economic terms.
The Scottish Government has recently found the money to develop and institute a national testing regime that very few parents and teachers actually consider useful. We hope that – if enough professionals and parents were calling for this important culture change in favour of a play-based, developmentally-appropriate kindergarten stage – then government at the national and local levels would find the funding for this too.
8. What extra funding will be necessary to make Upstart’s goals a reality?
In the short term, the main financial outlay would probably be limited to providing:
- all children under the age of seven with regular access to the outdoors (including play in natural surroundings)
- extra training, where necessary, for practitioners and teachers. This would particularly apply to teachers of P1 and P2 classes who have not already been specifically trained in play-based learning (perhaps through up-grading a teaching degree with an M Ed in Early Years practice)
- extra help to support qualified staff in catering for young children’s physical, social, emotional and cognitive developmental needs. This may, in the first instance, involve using volunteer helpers. But the aim should be to work towards a fully-qualified workforce as soon as possible.
9. What about children moving from Scotland to England or another early-start country?
Many teachers (including several who are closely involved with Upstart) have had children from a late-start country join their class in Scotland at the age of seven and been astounded at how quickly they caught up. Their kindergarten experience stood them in such good stead in terms of self-regulation, resilience and enthusiasm for learning that they picked up literacy and numeracy skills easily, even though (in some cases) they were also learning a new language.
So unless there’s a deeper, individual learning challenge – in which case, changing schools and nations would be difficult in any circumstances – a year or two extra spent in kindergarten should be just fine and could well be an advantage in the long term.
With any luck, this will eventually become a non-issue. Upstart‘s hope and expectation is that the positive outcomes achieved in Scotland by making this change will influence other nations still imposing an overly academic, developmentally -inappropriate model of early childhood education to follow Scotland’s lead.
10. It sounds as though introducing a kindergarten stage would take a fair amount of time.
The Upstart campaign has arisen as a result of two observations. The first is that nations that have been implementing the kindergarten stage well have been rewarded by the greatest success in international comparisons of education and child development. The second is witnessing increasing physical and mental health problems in Scottish children, a failure to close the attainment gap, and a general erosion of active, creative childhood play, with its knock-on negative consequences for children’s overall development and well-being. So yes, we have become convinced that it’s not just worthwhile to introduce a kindergarten stage in Scotland, it’s essential that we do so.
However, we fully accept that, just as Rome wasn’t built in a day, introducing a kindergarten stage will take time, effort and resources. Inevitably, there will be challenges and set-backs. Scotland has a long way to go to rival Finland’s highly-respected kindergarten system (which, in fact, took the Finns thirty years to establish). We can catch up, but only if we get started soon.
Until we get there, it’s interesting to note that Poland (where, education starts at seven but which doesn’t have a widespread tradition of kindergarten education) has also tended to score better than the UK in international educational surveys. Presumably parental care, plenty of free play and the absence of academic pressure meant Polish children were more fit to succeed at school than children dealing with ‘too much too soon’.
One of the most important of Upstart‘s aims is simply to encourage and assist Scotland to become a society that provides a few extra years of nurturing, ‘playful’ and less stressful childhood before formal schooling begins. In the words of one of Upstart‘s supporters: ‘The current life expectancy is 120 years. What’s the rush?‘
11. Why is Upstart Scotland opposed to standardised testing of children in P1?
Concern about the attainment gap between rich and poor has led the Scottish government to introduce national standardised assessments in literacy and numeracy, starting at P1 when children are four or five. An early start to formalised schooling encourages early testing. Yet there is plenty of evidence that testing children at this age has no statistical reliability; it does, however, lead to
- greater concentration on the teaching of specific ‘academic’ skills
- growing anxiety on the part of parents, teachers and children
- less time for what research tells us the under-sevens really need: learning through play.
Every country that has so far introduced national testing in primary schools has seen a narrowing of the curriculum, a steady increase in teachers ‘teaching to the test’ and a push-down of academic content to ever younger age groups. These developments are related to the inevitable linking of national assessments to targets for attainment at specific ages.
12. How can I get involved?
Sign up to receive our free monthly newsletter
Become a member of Upstart Scotland – membership is free of charge but donations are very welcome
Join an Upstart group on Facebook or follow us on Twitter (upstart.scot)
Contact your local network convener for more ways that you can become involved.