Setting Goals for Children

As educators, we all know that there is far more important learning going on in the early years than learning ABCs and 123s. Between birth and the age of 5, a child’s brain develops more than at any other time in their life. This means that we have the opportunity to influence every child’s future ability to learn and succeed in life. So what goals should we be focusing on to best support the children in our care? Here is a simple list of the skills we really need to support children with before they transition to kindergarten or school.

Emotional Goals

Children need to feel safe, secure and supported in their environment. Without this sense of belonging, children’s brains are dysregulated and are not in the optimal state to learn. Building strong, reciprocal relationships with the children in our care is of utmost importance and the foundation of all other learning. Children also need to learn to recognise their emotions as well as those of others and respond appropriately.

Social Goals

Children need to learn social competence- the interpersonal skills that enable us to communicate effectively with others. Being able to develop and maintain positive respectful and trusting relationships is important to children’s wellbeing. This includes learning to negotiate and manage conflict appropriately. Being able to collaborate and participate in group learning is an important skill to master.

Cognitive Goals

Rather than focusing on the “content” or “knowledge” children should have before starting school, it is vital that children develop positive dispositions for learning. Being able to problem solve, persist with challenges and have the curiosity to wonder how things work is far more valuable than being able to name every shape and colour. To develop children’s cognitive abilities, we need to focus on their individual interests and use these to extend their thinking.

Physical Goals

Research shows that many children are starting school with poor core strength, gross motor and fine motor skills. We can combat this by ensuring we focus on these skills each day in intentional ways as well as promoting physical play. Providing large loose parts for children to build and complete obstacle courses is a fun way to encourage development of gross motor skills and there are many great action songs that promote different movement skills. Fine motor skills can be developed through a wide variety of activities including playdough, manipulating small loose parts and having access to a wide range of art tools and resources.

Communication Goals

Oral language is the main focus in preschool- helping children develop a wide vocabulary so they are able to communicate their thoughts, feelings and understandings with others. Reading to children each day, asking questions and involving them in conversations will increase their literacy skills before they start school. They will develop an understanding of words, sounds and language conventions through songs and stories. The arts provide children with further ways of expressing themselves creatively.

Self-help Goals

Children can also be supported to develop self-help skills. This means that when they go to school they are able to confidently feed themselves, dress themselves, manage their personal hygiene and look after their belongings. While practicing all of these tasks, they will also be developing positive dispositions for learning- persevering with challenges, trying different strategies and increasing their resilience as things don’t always work out as planned.

Recognising needs

When looking at each of the headings above, you may think of a particular child who needs support in this area. This is where discussions should take place with families and other educators to find ways to support the child’s learning. Consistency and collaboration are important to children’s success. Each child will have individual areas of strength, and areas they need extra help with, and it is our job to identify and nurture these to support children’s holistic development.

Ensuring that all children gain competence in each of these learning areas will give them the best possible start to their future education journey at school. These learning areas are supported by the outcomes in the Early Years Learning Framework which focus on developing confident and competent learners. Supporting children to learn self-help skills and become socially and emotionally competent ensures children gain a strong sense of wellbeing. We can encourage a life-long passion for learning by nurturing children’s creativity and curiosity. Together, we can make a positive difference to the future of every child in our care.

Author:  Michelle Marais