Category Archives: Good Reads

Stop preparing children for school

Editor Notes 

Preparing your child for school: What should you focus on?

Children who transition well to our IEYC and other schools generally demonstrate:

• self-management skills (dressing, toileting, hand-washing, eating…)

• social skills (turn-taking, sharing, solving conflict…)

• communication skills (language proficiency, verbal expression, listening…)

Shannon O’Dwyer is a passionate educator.

She has over a decade of classroom experience, both in international and Australian schools. Shannon implements carefully differentiated pedagogy, with the principles of understanding-by-design, inquiry-based learning and constructivism at the core of her practice.

Stop preparing children for school; start preparing schools for children.

With a new year just around the corner in Australia, I’m invited to advise parents on school readiness.

But I feel conflicted.

What if we send another group of 4-year-olds into an antiquated education system that might change them forever, through the well-meaning indoctrination of rules, schedules, compliance & conformity?

Will their curiosity be kindled? Will their intelligence be recognised? Will their passions be celebrated? Will their thinking be extended? I hope so! But I’m not so sure.

How can parents prepare their child for school?

That’s easy to answer (superficially).  Kids who do well at school generally demonstrate:

• self-management skills (dressing, toileting, hand-washing, eating…)

• social skills (turn-taking, sharing, solving conflict…)

• communication skills (language proficiency, verbal expression, listening…)

Certainly, these are important skills for school, and indeed, life.

But we must take care not to use these as tick-boxes to judge anybody, let alone our 4-year-olds.

These are lifelong skills that we all develop and re-develop on our journeys as human beings. As an adult, self-management is my area of need – I’ve mastered buttons and zippers (and only occasionally put my clothes on backwards) – but balance, time-management and healthy eating still elude me!  We’re all learners.

“How do we prepare kids for school?” is not the important question.

Children are ready!

Their brains are innately wired to learn.

When they ask “why?”, express desires and push boundaries – they are independent thinkers!

When they play through touching, tasting, pulling apart and testing – they are researchers!

When they tell stories and re-enact experiences with their toys – they are authors!

Children don’t need any preparation for learning.

However, if they need preparation for school, then we have a problem.

We need to examine the disconnect between schooling and learning. 

Last week, I listened to a Kindergartener process his great-grandmother’s death.

He mused:

How do we know she died?  How did the hospital check? Will she wear a seatbelt in the hearse?  I think people die so that new people can come into the world.  I don’t think heaven’s in the ground with her body – I think it’s wherever she is.

This is the open, inquiring, fertile mind of a child. Powered by personal experience and curiosity, he sorted through the deepest mysteries of mortality that have baffled humans since time immemorial. His wonderful parents welcomed his questions, accepted his theories, embraced ambiguity and didn’t offer trite answers.

I wondered:

Are our schools ready to harness the power of his intellect? How much of his school life is focused on such deep thinking and personal inquiry? How much of the school day is consumed by organisational routines, content coverage and low-level skill development?

Teaching children to toilet and eat at specific times, sit still in plastic chairs, raise their hands for permission to speak, and walk quietly in straight lines has potentially dangerous consequences.

We risk sending messages such as:

• school is about compliance

• school is controlled by teachers

• school is organised and predictable

But learning is none of these things.  Quite the opposite…

• Learning depends on innovation, breaking rules, experimenting and testing theories.

• Learning happens when students ask questions, think for themselves and make personal connections.

• Learning is non-linear, complex, surprising, frustrating and messy.


How do we send the message that learning trumps schooling?

How do we shift the power to show 4-year-olds that we are visitors in their learning; they are not visitors in our schools?

Let’s stop asking if kids are ready for school.

Schools, are WE ready for the powerful minds of children?
(This is not a doomsday post. There are many schools creating cultures of thinking, learning and student-agency! Here are some people inspiring me right now:

Innova Early Years Center is a kindergaten with a thoroughly inspiring mission: Wonder, Connect, Create, Explore. I’m excited to watch these ideals drive teaching and learning.

Student agency

When students have a say in what is going on around them, they begin to develop the sense that their ideas and opinions matter.

At IEYC we encourage children’s sense of agency by welcoming and responding thoughtfully and respectfully to their wonderings, questions and ideas.

By allowing students to have a voice promotes a positive, open and trusting relationship between the students and teachers. By embracing student’s input and encouraging their voice and involvement, we also enrich our work as teachers.

Every day we see teachers promoting student agency. They are collaborating with their students. The teachers are ‘showing our students that their thoughts matter’. They quote the students, they display their words, they ‘listen’ to their thinking. The teachers use the students’ thinking to shape the next steps of learning.

Independence contributes to the development of self-esteem, identity, wellbeing and a sense of belonging. Allowing students to make choices for themselves is an important step towards encouraging independence and agency.

The teachers provide students with opportunities to provoke and develop the confidence to wonder, to explore their world, to ask questions, to express ideas, to create and empower students to make connections.

How to build the most magnificent thing

Can creativity, innovation and talents be taught?  How is school responsible for students’ success?

Study after study has shown the incredible capacity of brains to grow and change in a really short time. When we talk about early years education this capacity is significantly increased. At this developmental stage the plasticity of the human brain allows students to learn much easier and be very creative. Every student possesses talents; with the right support of the environment and with experience they will shape the type of personality that will allow them to be successful in their lives. The key in this process is the development of a specific type of mindset. A type of mindset that values obstacles and sees mistakes as a learning opportunity.

Anyone who needs advice on how to build magnificent things should visit a school that promotes creativity and embraces the culture of making. Being creative, being a maker is a mindset. The learning process, especially in Early years, offers great insight on the concept of creativity  and how grown-ups have abolished it for fear of failure. At some point we all have failed at something; for most people failure is a dead end, yet for others it is a guide that shows the way.

Developing a Growth Mindset 

Last week I took part in a teachers’ workshop with the title “Teaching with 21st century skills in mind”, led by Lance G. King. The facilitator has made an impact on education with his book “The importance of failing well”. In this book the author, based on his research, claims that, among other qualities, the successful students demonstrated acceptance of failure, while the underachievers tended to deny that failure existed for them or took steps to avoid the possibility of failure in their lives. Lance G King, claims that students with a growth mindset see failure as an opportunity for feedback, that they believe that personality and intelligence can change and grow, and that they also believe in continual improvement through adaptation. In other words, the mindset of successful students does not let failure get in their way to success!
Psychologist and Stanford Professor Carol Dweck, in her book: “Mindset:The New Psychology of Success” summarized the key findings from her research on the nature and impact of mindsets. Her decades long research showed that students with a growth mindset, who believe that intelligence and “smartness” can be learned, go on to higher levels of achievement, engagement, and persistence.

Growth Mindset VS. Fixed Mindset

Mathematician John Mason from the University of Oxford claims that all students have “natural powers” in problem solving. He claims that these powers are integral to human intelligence and are used across fields of human activity. When it comes to being a successful problem solver, it is really about learning to use these powers within the right context. Cognitive psychologist Lev Vygotsky used the example of mathematics to argue that learning is a scientific endeavour and that students need to be in the presence of a teacher, who will scaffold the process of learning. It is within that process that students make meaning and they eventually become aware of how  fundamental  is to human intelligence to follow that process.

Another influential educator and mathematician Jo Boaler,  in her book “The elephant in the classroom” claims that ” one of the most damaging mathematics myths propagated in classrooms and homes is that maths is a gift, that some people are naturally good at maths and some are not”

It is not only academics and mathematicians who are making the point that success is something you learn. Writers and artists as well are argue that what most people refer to as talent is the result of perseverance, resilience, self-awareness and systematic work, qualities that are at the core of 21st Century learning skills.

So, if we all have the power to be creative what’s getting in our way? Here lays the importance of  Early years education. It is at this developmental stage that kids shape their mindset and it is really vital to make positive connections about their abilities and build trust on themselves.

Problem solving in the life of young learners

As an early years teacher I see examples of pure creativity in my classroom every day and my role is to support the students’ “natural powers” . A book that I love to use as a reference when I  talk with my students about the beauty of making and the power of  perseverance and resilience is  “The Most Amazing Thing”.

Author and illustrator Ashley Spires in this book  writes about a little girl who, alongside her best friend, her lovely dog, has this wonderful idea of making the “most MAGNIFICENT thing!”.  The little girl starts with enthusiasm.

but when things don’t go as she has planned she feels such a disappointment that she decides to “QUIT”.   

The little girl didn’t know back then that this is a phase of problem solving which is called “Being STUCK”.  

If you are a maker you sure know how it feels! Writers and artists call this stage “creative block”. John Mason claims that “being STUCK” is a honorable and positive state from which much can be learned. There is a major physiological impact when we are creating something. Stress comes with creativity and creativity as well as stress are  physical, a matter of hormone secretion that produces that special feeling. In that stage, positive reinforcement is crucial.

And this is what our little heroine did.  After a long walk with her best friend and after she treats herself with a muffin, the mad gets pushed out of her head. It might take some time but, as all teachers know, with the right support makers will go back to work. It is that time where reflection turns “Stuck” into “AHA!”.

Dr. Ken Atchity, whose work is part of very prestigious creative writing curriculums in universities around the world, claims that in that stage of creative block our mind is testing us to see how serious we are about our desire to be disciplined and to get the best from reflection.

Understanding how the process works is what converts anxiety to elation. As a learner and a maker, the challenge of  been successful in pursuing your passion is not to avoid anxiety but to cope with it and turn it in positive energy.  

Back to our story, the girl, who is now calmer, starts ” to work carefully and slowly, tinkering, hammering, gluing and painting”, or in the problem solving language, she entered the ATTACK phase,

and in the end :  

The little girl in the story is a maker, she had the growth mindset to see the opportunity where others would have “failed bad”.

Her early failures enable her to gain control over her mood or the effective skill of emotional management. She also demonstrated perseverance and resilience. All these are part of the 21st century skills that modern education sets at the core of the teaching practice.

Once the environment supports the cognitive and physical growth of every child and learning is designed to scaffold learners capacity to be creative and develop their super powers Innovation happens in the classroom every day.We can see it as long as we know where to look and how to support it. If we don’t recognize it, we are the ones that are failing, not out students.









Good Read: Comparing an IB Education

Good Read: Comparing an IB Education

A Student’s Perspective

In this edition of “ORIGINS Good Reads” we recommend an article for parents looking at international schools, which should help better understand the International Baccalaureate (IB) programme. In the form of an interview, we hear from Devon Hsiao, a student with experience studying in Taiwan, the United States, and Beijing, now an undergraduate student in the US at the University of Texas at Austin. In her interview, Devon shares her experience in the three different educational models and also her insights and understanding of different learning styles.

This article is shared from the official “We only talk about K12” WeChat account, founded  by two well-known and respected international school teachers, with experience as IB DP / MYP Examiners, School Certification Officers, Teacher Trainers, as well as serving as certification officers for CIS (Council of International Schools), WASC  (Western Association of Schools and Colleges, NEASC (New England Association of Schools and Colleges), NCCT (National Center for School Curriculum and Textbook Development). As international school parents, their experience is valuable for those considering international schools.



Curiosity Comes First: 3 Rules to Spark Learning

Curiosity Comes First: 3 Rules to Spark Learning

ORIGINS Video Inspiration: Ramsey Musallam

In this week’s ORIGINS Video Inspiration message we hear, from a teacher’s perspective, about the importance of fostering curiosity in the classroom. His message is clear: if we want students to be passionate learners they must be truly engaged.

“Questions can be windows  to great instruction, but not the other way around.”

– Ramsey Musallam Introduction:

It took a life-threatening condition to jolt chemistry teacher Ramsey Musallam out of ten years of “pseudo-teaching” to understand the true role of the educator: to cultivate curiosity. In a fun and personal talk, Musallam gives 3 rules to spark imagination and learning, and get students excited about how the world works.