Early Childhood Valuing two years of kinder: Reflections on the rollout of three-year-old preschool

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I was a kindergarten teacher in a small regional town when it was announced that our LGA was to be part of the first year of the three-year-old kindergarten rollout.

I was a little unsure about how I would enjoy teaching three-year-olds, but I’m always wanting a challenge and something new, so the opportunity was too good not to pursue.

It is important to remember that the rollout is about two years of kindergarten for all children. It is not about one year of a program called “three-year-old kinder” followed by a year of “four-year-old kinder”. Two years of quality, play-based early learning is what is important, ideally with continuity of learning.

Three-year-olds need quality teachers and programs just as much as four-year-olds do. Reading the research that the Victorian government based its huge investment on helped me understand the importance of two years of play-based early learning, embrace my new role and become passionate about sharing its importance with the community.

Continually reflecting on practices, and being open to change as a whole service, is vitally important to the success of the initiative. I’m fortunate to be part of a whole-service team that has embraced this mentality.

The importance of two years of kindergarten, and the belief that “kinder starts at three” are the simple messages I want every parent to hear from when their children are babies and toddlers.

For teachers who don’t want to consider teaching three-year-olds – or might be struggling to understand the importance of this initiative – I would say that proper funding and a Bachelor-qualified teacher enables a well-considered pedagogically sound play-based program.

The wider profession needs to be focused on considering: What are the needs of our three-year-olds? How can we provide a quality play-based program to meet those needs? It is important that we are not inhibited by old ideas, or fixed in the belief that an approach is right just because “this is how we’ve always done it”.

The rollout toolkit recently released, including the accompanying professional development, is an excellent resource. I feel fortunate to be able to access this support in teaching three-year-olds. Regardless of the age group you are teaching, this toolkit is a great evidence-based set of resources you can dip into for any issues that may arise.

One of the issues I have had to work through with students this year is separation anxiety and I am now turning to the self-regulation resources. With the rollout extending everywhere in 2022, I would encourage all educators to make use of this information as issues crop up.

The importance of two years of kindergarten, and the belief that “kinder starts at three” are the simple messages I want every parent to hear from when their children are babies and toddlers. I have started an Instagram account to help spread this message, and I hope many more educators come on board to promote the benefits of three-year-old kindergarten from the grassroots level alongside the state government campaigns.

If you’re able to have an educator or two working across your service, I think it is really beneficial to the whole service when it comes to workload, communication and decision-making. It’s easy for an ‘us versus them’ mentality to arise in busy early childhood services, and we have found that when we’re able to collaborate across teams it really helps us work together as a whole service team.

Michelle Leeche is a kindergarten teacher and AEU member.

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