Learning to learn is great preparation for starting 'big' school

Learning to cooperatePrimary school teacher and education consultant Erica Gardner reflects on all the ways her daughter 'learnt how to learn' in her years in early childhood education, and how this has been the best preparation for starting 'big' school.

My parents never had the opportunity to go to university. I am the first one in my family to have the chance to go. As I started uni I was told that the most important thing I was going to achieve was learning how to learn. When I told my parents about this, my father found the concept quite funny. With his deadpan Scottish humour he said, “If you hadn’t already learned how to learn, then how did you get into university in the first place!?”

I now know that the place where it’s essential that we ‘learn how to learn’ is not at the end of our education, but at the very beginning. Babies in fact are learning from birth.

As my daughter started school this month, I found myself reflecting on my father’s sentiments again. My daughter really has ‘learnt how to learn’ through her wonderful early learning experiences in both her long day care and community kindergarten. Brilliant educators have supported her to develop these learning skills. Some of the ways they have done this are:

Helping her recognise, acknowledge and manage her emotions

One of her educators showed her a breathing technique, one big breath in and then a long slow breath out repeated a few times, that is useful when she is feeling frustrated or angry. I’ve tried to do this at home with her and used it myself too (with varied success but we persist!). I’ve even heard her muttering to herself about needing to breathe when she is feeling angry with her brother. I’ve seen her be able to focus better and take in information because she is learning how to ‘regulate’ her emotions. It’s been heartening to watch her gain the self control and resilience that enable her to concentrate and learn.

Encouraging her and her peers curiosity (a disposition linked with life long learning). The educators empower the children to discover what they don’t know. One child in my daughter’s group wanted to find out “What is on top of space?” Educators helped the children share the ideas and knowledge they already had on this topic and then supported them to do research on the IPad and in books. These three to five year olds were philosophers, questioning the unknown. Thinking skills, cooperation and problem solving are true learning skills, more important than learning tables and alphabets in the early years.

 Supporting her play furthers her physical, social, emotional and intellectual development.

My daughter and three of her friends built a castle together. The educators assisted them with resources and advice (e.g. how to spell words when they wanted to label different parts of the castle (literacy)) but ultimately they were self motivated. They built it because they wanted to. The children had to problem solve to build turrets and a draw bridge (numeracy), plan and negotiate (social emotional) who was doing what task and figure out how to share one castle between the four of them. Play usually provides children with pleasure and interest that is maintained without external rewards, in learning through play children associate learning with a process that is self motivated.

My parents never had the opportunity to go to early learning, but because of my daughter’s participation in it she is ready to begin school. She has already started to learn how to learn.


Erica Gardner has extensive experience consulting to early childhood education and care (ECEC), health and community services. This includes six years working as a Project Officer at the Centre for Community Child Health (CCCH) in Melbourne. Erica has also been a teacher in urban and rural settings. Since joining ECA as a Learning Hub project officer, Erica has developed content and scripts for modules and videos including a series for the Victoria Department of Education and Training on the practice principles of the Victorian Early Years Learning and Development Framework (VEYLDF). Erica has a Bachelor of Arts in Communication and Diplomas of Education (Primary and Secondary).