Kids writing in capitals: not useful

Parents thinking they are doing the right thing by teaching their pre-school children to write capital letters, may instead be causing problems.

The issue arose in a round table conversation at the Festival of Education in Wellington today.

"My one thing that I think is really important. What I don't understand is how so many children come to school writing their letters in capitals? They think it's right and they're so proud of it ... Then at school they're suddenly asked to undo that," new entrant teacher Mary Boyer-Blaikie said.

Early childhood teacher Lisa Gray said the use of all capital letters could be a hard habit to break.

"You can see it (capital letters) coming through at an early age from parents thinking they are doing the best for their children," she said.

"Things like that are certainly important for the children when they arrive at school so as not to be crushed by being told they're doing something wrong."

The comments came during a discussion on starting school, and the right mix between preparing children for school, and preparing schools for children.

Later, conversation facilitator Maggie Haggerty said some children would not bat an eyelid when told they needed to change from using capitals all the time to mostly using lower case.

But it could throw some of the more anxious children if they thought that what they knew was wrong.

During the discussion Boyer-Blaike also said there was a danger from the influence of National Standards.

"I do not like it when I have to tell a parent that their child is below standard for reading, when I know very well in six months they'll be fine. It sets up an anxiety thing," she said.

Gray said increasingly, "specially with the introduction of National Standards we're losing sight of the huge link between the physical and the intellectual, the way that our brains and our bodies are so, so connected.

"The idea of testing children and of them being able to do certain things at a certain age to a certain standard does risk losing sight of that. The thought of National Standards trickling down to early childhood terrifies me."

Many children arrived at kindergarten knowing the alphabet and able to count, but they did not know how to be with other children.

"Then there are children who can make friends, who can negotiate, who can think reflectively about how they're learning and what they're learning but they may not be able to write their names," Gray said.

Friendship was "so, so important".

"Part of me rebels against the idea of thinking about children being ready for school at all because it seems like the start of this thing of getting them ready for life. Why can't we just think about them having a good time, and seeing themselves as capable and competent, having self-confidence and feeling good about themselves and making friends," she said.

"It makes me sad to think that's more and more overlooked."

Educational psychologist Shona McDonald told the conversation she had carried out a survey asking the families of each 12th child at a school what they wanted for their child when he or she started school.

The most important thing was for their child to be happy, the second most important was for their child to have friends, third was for the child to feel safe, she said.

They did want their child to learn to read and write but that was less important.