The importance of Grade R

The importance of Grade R

Learn more about the importance of Grade R and teaching children independence from an early age.

Bridging the gap between pre-school and primary school

Although many parents are aware that Grade R is an important year that bridges the gap between pre-school and primary school, not many realise that this is a fundamentally important phase of a child’s life. It’s during this time that a child starts to develop a sense of self and acquires skills such as responsibility and independence. It’s also during this phase of a child’s life that they learn about consequences.

kills for 21st-century six-year-olds

HOD for Early Childhood Development and Foundation Phase at Embury Institute for Higher Education (Embury*), Fiona Oldacre, says there are a few things to remember when it comes to preparing children to live in the 21st century.  She says there should be an emphasis on the development of fundamental skills instead of just teaching children to remember content.

‘While there’s currently an interest in technology learning tools appropriate for early childhood development (ECD), such as educational games and apps, it is essentially more important for children to have real-world interactions in order to learn core 21st-century life skills.’

According to Fiona, these are fundamental survival skills children learn in Grade R, which will assist them in the fast-paced world we live in today:

  • Critical thinking
  • Problem solving
  • The ability to communicate well
  • Being able to collaborate with others
  • Creativity


The importance of play

There’s a big misconception that Grade R is ‘just about play’, but Fiona points out that play is the root of many important learning experiences. ‘Children learn through their senses, so they need to spend time touching, seeing, hearing, tasting and smelling. They also learn through doing, so they need many opportunities to experience things for themselves.’

While the latest apps are popular and play now seems such an old-fashioned concept, it’s these ‘old-fashioned’ activities that stimulate children the most – encouraging them to use all five of their senses. We should rather be encouraging our children to play outside and use their imaginations to build forts and make up their own games with their friends. This interaction and imaginative play can be so much better for their development than spending that time behind a screen. While there are many educational programmes and stories they can enjoy on screen, these don’t always necessarily offer the same opportunities for them to experience as when they’re physically exploring and experimenting.

Studies have shown that active play and movement are at the heart of children’s learning. Again, this is where the reiteration and focus on play and activities that get children moving and engage all their senses is so much more important than purely teaching them to be quiet and sit still.

How Grade R teachers as well as parents shape a child’s development at this age  

One of the precursors to paying attention is being able to self-regulate. Grade R teachers and parents can model good habits to assist in teaching children this self-regulation. They can gradually make children aware of learning materials, providing them with opportunities to use them along the way. They can also help develop self-regulation when it comes to how a child speaks and interprets what is going on around them, for example: ‘I have lots of energy right now.’ Following this they can model helpful ways of handling the problem by asking the child if they need a break.

Fiona feels there should also be a focus on encouraging children to take responsibility for themselves and on learning to collaborate with others at this age. But this can be quite a daunting task for Grade R teachers and parents alike.

‘Young children are typically egocentric, and so feel like the world revolves around them,’ Fiona says. ‘This can make group work activities challenging, as children may struggle to interact well with their peers. I feel that teachers need to persevere with this kind of activity, and parents should encourage play dates with other children, even when it’s not all fun and games. This type of interaction is important for children’s social and emotional development.’

Grade R teachers have a tough job. They’re essentially laying the groundwork to prepare our little ones for schooling as well as for life. Grade R is a key year in a child’s educational development because it focuses on helping children take important steps towards independence while teaching them vital social skills.


Teaching independence from an early age

‘Teachers and parents need to encourage children to think and act independently so that they can cope emotionally and socially with the demands that Grade 1 carries.’

It’s not about parents and teachers expecting children to act like grown-ups, but more about instilling a certain level of independence and critical thinking. This can contribute towards a well-rounded child who can take on responsibility later on in life. Fiona says that not being ready socially and emotionally is one of the most frequent reasons children are held back from progressing to Grade 1.

How to make choices that foster independence

Children in Grade R are usually around six years old, which is a good stage to introduce them to the idea of choices and their consequences. The focus moves from extrinsic motivation to intrinsic motivation. The aim is to start developing the notion of responsibility from an early age, which allows children to make the decision to develop good habits. Ultimately the hope is that children will choose to do good things themselves.

Intrinsic motivation: when a child wants to do something – the desire comes from within and is a result of acquiring a level of independence.

Extrinsic motivation: where the child does something because of an external factor pushing him or her to do so, such as the threat of punishment.

Fiona says this is why positive reinforcement is more effective than punishment in growing children’s independence. ‘Rewarding good behaviour encourages the child to want to do it again,’ she says.

However, it is very important to be sincere when praising children for good behaviour. It is equally important to understand what behaviour can reasonably be expected from them at different ages.  For example, expecting Grade R children to be quiet and sit still for a long period of time is unreasonable – regardless of how motivated they are to behave well.  Be realistic when setting goals for good behaviour and this will minimise the levels of frustration experienced by all parties.


You can offer children choices by giving them the opportunity to choose between two different rewards. For example, a teacher might offer an unhappy child the option of either selecting the story that the class will read together or choosing a friend to partner with in the next activity.

Fiona suggests offering rewards that are experiential, rather than material goods such as sweets or money.

‘If you reward behaviour with material goods, it’s easy to get into a cycle of having to up the ante with each new reward,’ she says. ‘Rather focus on quality time and activities that you know the child will enjoy as a reward.’

Embury has developed a Grade R teaching diploma course (NQF level 6), the only one of its kind in South Africa, which equips teachers to promote children’s social, physical, intellectual and emotional development as well as focusing on informal and spontaneous learning through play and teacher-initiated activities. The programme is underpinned by important principles of child development, namely that young children learn best by being actively involved in their learning using concrete materials. You can learn more about Embury’s Grade R teaching diploma course here.

*Embury Institution for Higher Education (Embury) is owned by Stadio Holdings, Curro Holdings’ higher education business.

Joni van der Merwe

About Joni van der Merwe

Your Family’s Digital editor. Avid retweeter. When I’m not scrolling Instagram you’ll find me in my garden. Keen on DIY and I don’t believe there’s anything that can’t be fixed with some chalk paint.


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