SHOULD children starting school be expected to know their letters and numbers or how to read and write?
The answer from experts is a resounding "no".
Being socially adjusted and interested in learning from day one are much more important than the knowledge a child has stored in their head, said Dr Cathie Harrison, a senior lecturer in early childhood education at the Australian Catholic University and an adviser to ABC TV's Play School.
"Research over the last 10 years shows that the two most important aspects are that a child can get on with others and that they have a positive disposition to learning; a desire to learn, rather than if they can actually read and write their name and count," she said.
"Some children are under so much pressure to do those things at home that when they come to school they say, 'no I won't do it'."
Harrison says that the best preparation for literacy and numeracy is not learning by rote, but for children to see how words and numbers are used in everyday life.
"Allow children to experience learning through play," she said.
"Get them to enjoy books, show them street signs, tell them the first letter of their name and watch as you write it on their lunchbox.
"Give them an opportunity to copy it and validate their attempt. Allow them to do scribble writing.
"Even if they don't form recognisable letters, they are making an effort."
Parents also might be teaching children to write differently from how they learn at school, using all capital letters, not a capital and then lower case.
Teachers also make a mark on the left-hand side of a page so a child learns to write from left to right and not just copy the letters in random order.
"Some parents rush out to the newsagents and buy their children workbooks to try to hothouse them, when they would be better off getting them to collect pebbles and try to count them, or count the items as you put them away from the supermarket," Harrison said.
Their knowledge when they start kindergarten has little or no bearing on how they will succeed in later years of school.
Grit and effort are probably the most important characteristics.
Games help children learn how to read
Four years old
Display words around the house (like door, bath, bed). This is a great way for kids to learn what many common words look like before they try to read them in a book.
Five years old
Tap words on the computer. Learning to read and write at the same time combines the two hardest tasks you'll ever learn even if you become a neurosurgeon or an astronautical engineer.
Six years old
Teach writing while moving. Find a blank concrete wall outside. Use water squirt guns to "write".
Keep it fun.