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Starting early

By Daniel Donahoo - posted Tuesday, 6 February 2007

Kindergarten is a great idea. Its aim is to support the learning and development of young children through facilitated play.

It prepares them, not just for school but for life. So, if supporting early childhood development is so important, why do we wait until a child is aged three or four until we start them at kindergarten?

Opposition Leader Kevin Rudd announced Labor's election policy on early childhood education in Brisbane this week. It was another uninspiring commitment in a country where the evidence of the importance of the early years is undisputed.


Rudd's offering to all four-year-olds was access to 15 hours of play-based learning and development programs every week. He said, "Our intention is to ensure that four-year-olds, at the very beginning of life, at the beginning of their experience of the education system, have every quality opportunity available to them."

The problem is that age four isn't the beginning of a child's life. Children are engaging with the children's service sector way before then.

They will have visited child health nurses, attended some form of child care, been involved in playgroups and played on playgrounds. Children will have been engaged in play-based learning way before the Labor commitment of $450 million kicks in. Play is the way children learn. They do it a lot.

A commitment only to kindergartens is disappointing because it draws attention away from the more important issue - broad support for early childhood development from birth to six years.

We have a situation in this country where more and more children are attending childcare centres. Consequently, those centres are becoming the driving force in supporting the play-based learning and development of children, but they are not being regarded as such.

In the halls of Parliament, child care is seen as a service to help women return to work.


This attitude only entrenches the view that kindergarten is where children learn and develop and child care is where they are baby sat.

This is an insult to the childcare sector and the work they do supporting childhood development.

The other Labor announcement of 1,500 university places for early childhood teachers also shows a lack of real commitment.

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First published in The Courier-Mail on January 31, 2007.

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About the Author

Journalist and columist with The Age, Sushi Das says he is ‘one of today’s young rebels’. Author and ethicist Leslie Cannold has referred to him as one of her ‘gorgeous men’.

Daniel Donahoo is fellow with OzProspect, a non-partisan, public policy think tank. He writes regularly for Australia's daily papers and consults on child and family issues. A father to two boys. Daniel's first book is called Idolising Children and explores our society’s obsession with childhood and youth. Updates on Daniel's work can be found at

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