Playful early learning is the key to success

There has been considerable debate about when formal schooling should start for our children and the value of early learning.

We have recently had debates in this country about the need to use empirical evidence to determine public policy outcomes.

Government of all persuasions must be committed to implementing public policy based on expert advice, it is in the best interest of good public policy and a well functioning society.

According to University of Cambridge psychologist David Whitbread, there is no research which supports an earlier school starting age or the notion that ‘earlier is better’.

Mr Whitbread’s research focusses on children's psychological development and implications of an earlier starting age for primary education, with a particular focus on children learning through play, quality in early childhood education, evolutionary psychology and the application of cognitive neuroscience to education.

Renowned psychologist and author of Raising Boys Steve Biddulph argues that children especially boys should not commence formal learning until the age of 5, consistent with the majority of schools across Australia.

Evidence suggests that playful learning before the start of formal schooling in a classroom environment has positive outcomes on a child’s socialisation and future cognitive ability. 

A study of European countries where the school starting age is consistent with our own found that an extended period of high quality play based learning made a significant difference to academic learning and wellbeing through the primary school years.

Moreover, recent findings from a Danish school provides compelling evidence that delaying the school starting age had positive effects on children’s mental health and well-being in an age when anxiety among our young people is at heightened levels.

There is also evidence showing links between increased stress and mental health problems among children in England and other countries where early childhood education is being adopted.

I pose the question.  Why isn’t the state government providing more funding for playful early learning?

Early learning play centres are an effective deployment of state government resources and would ensure our young people access this vital early playful education to stimulate important cognitive functions.

Recently, I visited Discovery Early Learning Centre at Ravenswood.

This facility delivers long-term results for the broader community. The saying that it takes a village to raise a child is one of the truest statements.

If the state government successfully passes legislation to lower the school age it could cripple early learning centres.

They will most likely be forced to increase charges for parents, charges which the majority in our community will not be able to sustain.

Early Child Care Australia has stated that almost 50 per cent of early child care centres could be at risk of closure if the state government’s legislation is adopted. 

The state government has just announced a $62 million surprise surplus.

If we aren’t investing in the next generation we aren’t fulfilling our responsibility to deliver good government, let alone for the provision of a good society.

Why not invest some of this surplus in our early childhood education facilities? 

  • Helen Polley is a Tasmanian Senator