COVID disruptions to kinder and primary schools have seen many parents delay enrolling their children to start school next year.
While enrolments have flooded in at Ballarat schools over the past few weeks, principals were concerned a month ago with much lower numbers of enrolments than at the same time in previous years.
Traditionally many schools start prep transition programs late in term three, but this year even sessions early in term four cannot yet be confirmed.
And some parents have expressed concern about whether their 2020 prep students will be ready to move in to grade one next year because of the amount of time spent learning remotely from home.
But principals and experts have moved to reassure parents about the educational outcomes for their children.
What's really important for children as learners is not so much about knowledge they may or may not have gained but aptitude, disposition and capacity to move forward positively.Dr Elizabeth Rouse
Unlike metropolitan areas where kindergartens and child care centres have been closed during stage four restrictions, regional kindergartens and early learning centres have remained open meaning preschoolers have not missed out on the skills and socialisation of the kinder year.
"We've worked very closely with our kinder in terms of where children are in this area," said Mount Pleasant Primary principal Kate Robinson.
"Families are probably not enrolling as early as last year, perhaps holding off a little bit at the moment as it may not a priority for the family."
She said some parents with children in prep this year were concerned about their progress but teachers would ensure that no child misses out on learning and, in most cases, repeating prep would not be necessary.
"Teachers are expert in filling those learning gaps," she said. "Most people know it's really important for students to stay generally with their own age group, it's important for self esteem and those other things ... and a straight grade one class will have a range of students working from pre-kinder to grade four level so teachers are used to differentiating."
Delacombe Primary principal Scott Phillips said many potential new families had been booked in for school tours that had to be cancelled, but putting the school's virtual tour on their website had seen an increase of enrolments over the past three weeks.
"It's just a little bit of the unknown and we don't know if there are many more out there still thinking of coming here ... or how many will move in to the area," he said.
Miners Rest Primary principal Dale Power said prep students missing out on socialising in the schoolyard this year was of more concern than any lost learning opportunities.
"We are more aware of children missing socialisation and those physical interactions in the playground ... that's probably more of a worry than the literacy and numeracy not being where they areshould be as over time that will naturally catch up."
Mr Power said there were more parents "second guessing" their child's progression but reassured parents that the strong relationships built between students and teachers would see their children thrive and catch up on anything they had missed.
Deakin University early education expert Dr Elizabeth Rouse said it was understandable that parents were concerned.
"For prep children the excitement of starting school and going in to a new phase of life and new rights of passage, making new friends and connections and setting themselves up for school life has been fractured," she said.
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"But it's important for parents to think not what children have missed out on but what children have gained; things like that sense of resilience, sense of being able to be adaptable, problem solving, being flexible in the face of challenges ... and what's really important for children as learners is not so much about knowledge they may or may not have gained but aptitude, disposition and capacity to move forward positively."
Those attributes, she said, were equally important in pre-school and prep pupils, and students of any age.
"There's a very strong individual focus between schools and early childhood settings in Ballarat where conversations and communication between early childhood teachers and foundation teachers in the transition to school process is really strong."
She advised any parents with concerns about school transition to talk to the principal for reassurance.
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