Learnings From The First Year Of School

learnings from first year of school.jpg

Tomorrow our fourth child finishes his first year of school. While I certainly haven’t learnt as much as I did when my first child went off to school (I always think the parents learn just as much that year as the preps do!), I do have a number of key learnings from his first year:

Being older worked

Waiting for him to be older and to have matured further emotionally was the best decision we could have made for him. He turned six at the end of April, so if we wanted him to, he could have attended school the year before.

First term saw him have a few emotional moments, but with the help of his wonderful teacher, he worked through them and learnt to regulate his emotions better. If we had sent him the year before, I am pretty sure we would have had to manage the emotional issues through out most of his first year, which would have made such a difference to how happy he was at school.

Please don’t take away from this point though, that I think waiting for children to be older is right for every child, because I do not. Each child is different and every family’s circumstances are different. If you would like to read more about my thoughts on school starting age, try these posts:

Phonics provides the best base for learning to read

phonics apps
Our six year old benefited enormously from me working with his sibling on phonics over the last couple of years. His ability to decode and read amazed me. He could employ strategies for blending together the sounds letters make to work out words completely new to him with ease. Very different to his three other siblings at this stage, who didn’t have such a solid phonics base to work from.

At one point early on in term one, I had to stop him from using strategies he was being taught at school for reading. He had started guessing at words, looking at the picture for clues as to what new words might be. I reminded him that he didn’t need to do that and he needed to focus on the words on the page and decoding them as he had been doing previously.

And you can take away from this point, that I think teaching children strategies for reading like – look at the picture, read on, have a guess, are all completely inadequate and unhelpful in creating able and proficient readers.

A good friend of mine Alison, is a Speech Pathologist and has recently started a fabulous blog called Spelfabet. Alison also has a Masters degree in Applied Linguistics and a Cambridge CTEFLA English-teaching qualification. She specialises in helping kids with Severe Language Disorders in Melbourne schools and in clinic, with an increasing focus on their literacy as well as their oral language skills.

Already she has produced some amazing phonics resources for parents:

I am hoping to convince her to write a couple of posts on the blog next year, on how as parents we can best help our kids with learning to read, so stay tuned!

Morning routines work

School Schedule
As the fourth child, master six was very familiar with what the school morning routine looked like and what he needed to do. He was completely independent in getting himself ready for school and making sure he had all the right things for the right day.

For the first term he referred to his school schedule we had created, but pretty much after that he just knew what he needed – it made my life so much easier. Kids follow the lead of kids much more than they do parental nagging, so the hard work of putting in place routines for your first child/ren does pay off later with subsequent kids!

If you have a child starting school next year and are after more practical tips on getting them ready for school, my post from this time last year will help – Getting Ready For School.

Did you have a child start school this year? If so what were your key learnings?


  1. says

    I’ve enjoyed reading your past posts about starting school and school readiness. I’m currently an Aussie with kids in the Canadian school system but next year we return in July to Sydney. My youngest- twin girls (Jan birthdays), will be 5 and a half in July but will be the youngest in their class if they were to begin mid through the year. In Montreal they would begin after summer holidays in September in a full French immersion program and they would be absolutely fine but because so many people hold their kids back in NSW at least they may not be as ready as others. Such a strange situation really.

    • says

      Hi Lisa,

      What a great experience for your kids living in Canada! Taking into consideration the age of their peers is something we have done when making our decisions too.

      Hope your transition back to Australia goes well.


  2. says

    I love your blog but I have to disagree about those reading strategies being unhelpful (apart from have a guess!) As a teacher in the early years of school we teach the students that there are a range of reading strategies that students can draw on to read unknown words. We stress that kids should not focus on just one strategy as there will be times that that strategy won’t work. I love phonics but as the English language has so many rules and counter rules with sounds, strategies around making meaning from the sentence are also very important.

    • says

      Hi LInda,

      Thanks for reading the blog and for sharing your thoughts. My experience at two primary schools has been that they teach little to no phonics and I have a huge problem with the reliance on the strategies mentioned above.

      My frustration is not with teachers, but lies with successive governments that have ignored recommendations from inquiries they have commissioned, like the National Inquiry into the Teaching of Literacy, December 2005.

      You can find the full report here http://tinyurl.com/d6v2v9y (It is a large report so takes a little time to load.)

      From page 12 of this report
      “The Inquiry found strong evidence that a whole-language approach to the teaching of reading on its own is not in the best interests of children, particularly those experiencing reading diffi culties. Moreover, where there is unsystematic or no phonics instructionn, children’s literacy progress is signifi cantly impeded, inhibiting their initial and subsequent growth in reading accuracy, fluency, writing, spelling and comprehension.”

      From the executive summary
      “This leads to the Committee’s first two and most important recommendations, both of which are designed so that teachers are provided with knowledge and teaching skills that are demonstrably effective in meeting the developmental and learning needs of children from a diverse range of backgrounds during their first three years of schooling, and thereafter where necessary.

      1. The Committee recommends that teachers be equipped with teaching strategies based on findings from rigorous, evidence-based research that are shown to be effective in enhancing the literacy development of all children.

      2. The Committee recommends that teachers provide systematic, direct and explicit phonics instruction so that children master the essential alphabetic code-breaking skills required for foundational reading proficiency. Equally, that teachers provide an integrated approach to reading that supports the development of oral language, vocabulary, grammar, reading fluency, comprehension and the literacies of new technologies.”

      From what I have read, not one of the Report’s 20 recommendations has been acted upon. Australia was ranked 27th in the PIRLS international survey of children’s reading abilities which were recently published and I hope this will finally provide incentive for the governments to act on the recommendations and start making changes to the way kids are taught to read in Australian schools.


      • says

        >” integrated approach to reading that supports the development of oral language, vocabulary, grammar, reading fluency, comprehension and the literacies of new technologies”…

        I like to think that’s what we are doing….

        Nic, thanks for the info…I’ll take some time over the holidays to have a look :)

  3. says

    Just responding to Linda, I agree with her that teachers get students to use a range of strategies, but there is pretty clear evidence that many of them are not helpful or could even be harmful. Dr Kerry Hempenstall from RMIT points out in a recent blog that paediatrician Dr Benjamin Spock’s influential 1946 book on baby and child care told parents infants should sleep face down, and it was only after public outcry over high numbers of SIDS deaths that people realised this “expert advice” had no scientific basis, and was contributing to infant deaths. Dr Hempenstall writes:

    “Are there examples in education in which practices based solely upon belief, unfettered by research support, have been shown to be incorrect, but have led to unhelpful teaching?

    Learning to read is as natural as learning to speak (National Council of Teachers of English, 1999).
    Children do not learn to read in order to be able to read a book, they learn to read by reading books (NZ Ministry of Education, as cited in Mooney, 1988).
    Parents reading to children is sufficient to evoke reading (Fox, 2005).
    Good readers skim over words rather than attending to detail (Goodman, 1985).
    Fluent readers identify words as ideograms (Smith, 1973).
    Skilled reading involves prediction from context (Emmitt, 1996).
    English is too irregular for phonics to be helpful (Smith, 1999).
    Accuracy is not necessary for effective reading (Goodman, 1974).
    Good spelling derives simply from the act of writing (Goodman, 1989).
    Attending to students’ learning styles improves educational outcomes (Carbo, & Hodges, 1988; DEECD, 2012b; Dunn & Dunn, 1987).

    These assertions have influenced educational practice for more than 20 years, yet they have each been shown by research to be either incorrect or unsupported (Hempenstall, 1999). The consequence has been an unnecessary burden upon struggling students to manage the task of learning to read. Not only have they been denied helpful strategies, but they have been encouraged to employ moribund strategies….

    When unsupported belief guides practice, we risk inconsistency at the individual teacher level and disaster at the education system level.”

    You can read the whole blog post at https://www.adihome.org/research/ed-research-blog/entry/first-blog

  4. michelle hollow says

    Thanks so much for that insight Alison.
    Very much looking forward to delving into your work and would love to see some posts on planning with kids next year. As a primary school teacher on maternity leave I’m very interested in keeping up to date with current research findings, early literacy in particular. Have a great Christmas.

  5. says

    I would very much like to read more about this from the experts. I initially clicked through to leave a comment taking issue with the statement “teaching children strategies for reading like – look at the picture, read on, have a guess, are all completely inadequate and unhelpful in creating able and proficient readers.” However, on further reading of the above comments, I agree that although I, and many other teachers, have had training in the explicit teaching of phonics as a basis for the development of proficient readers, with use of said (and other not mentioned) strategies to support the use of phonics and meet the needs of a range of students, it is not a system-wide approach, so it results in many inconsistencies and not the best outcomes for students. As a mum of a very keen 4 yo, I’m now starting to consider programs such as reading eggs, which I previously would have never considered at all, and I would definitely like to learn more from experts in this field.

  6. Justine says

    Thanks for this post, it has been great reading, (including the responses) and the links from your friend’s blog also look great! As a mum I can’t wait to use the apps with my littlie! As a teacher, whose passion was for early literacy, I am simply astounded that your children have experienced no phonics based literacy instruction. The other strategies have their place, but mostly as an adjunct to the phonics. The original research that was used as evidence for the whole language movement was shown to be thoroughly flawed many many years ago, and I’m amazed that that knowledge, along with everything you cited hasn’t filtered through. Wow! The bottom line is that without phonics based literacy instruction, most children won’t figure out the reading puzzle. Thanks for recommending such great resources.

    It’s also great to be aware that children’s phonological awareness (which means their ability to hear and manipulate sounds, eg rhymes, beginning sounds, ending sounds) (not whether they can recite the alphabet!) as they enter school is one of the best indicators of how ‘successful’ they will be at learning to read. This is stuff we can help our children to explore before they ever even get to school, which will help them tremendously.

  7. Justine says

    Ps, oops – Alison has a much better precis than I did! The Goodman study is the one I was thinking of! Thanks for that blog reference Alison

    • says

      Thanks for adding to the conversation Justine! From discussions with other parents who have children at different schools and from a private tutor who sees many kids who have reading difficulties, I think there are many schools out there who don’t teach enough phonics.

  8. says

    So glad I saw this link on FB… my big boy starts school next year and I think it is going to be a BIG year for us all!

    I thought that most primary schools had a phonics based program these days, but obviously we are lucky that ours has a very strong phonics component.

    Thanks also for the link to your friend’s site M will love the app ideas and I am having a good dig around to see if she might have some ideas for the girls who we suspect have a left/right brain disconnect as they read well above their grade level but struggle with simple spelling and letter formation….