Know Your Learners Foundation Skills

Knowing your learner is critical for teachers to create a personalized, inclusive, and effective learning environment that supports the needs of all. When you know your learners well, you can personalize the learning experience to meet the diverse needs of each individual. 

I hear so many teachers say to me that children starting school just ‘aren’t ready’ for the more formalised NZ curriculum. Current NZ research (MSD – Growing up in NZ) would also suggest this as they state that 25% of our children starting school are developmentally delayed.

If you’ve read our previous blogs, you’ll understand the importance of children having key foundation skills in moving, seeing, hearing, speaking, print and social/emotional automatic so the brain can focus on new higher order learning.

This means, we need to really know what foundation skills our learners do and don’t have and use this information to tailor our learning environment and our teaching practice. 

Many of us provide wonderful rich learning through play environments that help to naturally foster and develop these skills. However, if a child has a poorly developed foundation skill they will tend to avoid doing activities that involve using these skills/functions. For example if a child has weak core strength, balance, gross motor etc they will tend to avoid the playground activities that require these skills. However, it is precisely what they do need to develop these skills. Children with poor fine motor skills may avoid colouring, cutting activities in preference for something they find easier to do.

We believe it is important to know what strengths and areas for development your children have in order to help plan your classroom activities. We have a foundation skills assessment that gives you an overall picture of your class strengths and needs right down to individuals needs and strengths. This gives teachers a great place to start, and then they use the process of Notice, Recognise and Respond to follow progress and use formatively  to guide their practice. However, you don’t need an assessment. You just need to know what the foundation skills are and then observe what is and isn’t happening.

For those of you who aren’t familiar with NRR:

Noticing refers to observing and paying attention to children’s behaviors, actions, and expressions. Noticing involves being attentive to both verbal and non-verbal cues that children display. It includes observing their interactions with others, their play, their mood changes, and any signs of distress or discomfort. Noticing allows adults to gain insights into children’s needs, interests, strengths, and challenges. 

For example – You may notice a child who can’t sit still on the mat, they like to move, wriggle and roll around. When they sit at a table they slouch over it and lean on their arms or hands.

Recognition involves interpreting the observed behaviors and understanding their underlying meanings or messages. It requires reflecting on the observed cues in the context of the child’s development, experiences, and unique personality. Recognizing involves making connections between what is observed and what it might signify about the child’s needs. Recognizing enables us to respond appropriately to children’s needs and emotions. 

For example – The child rolling on the mat may suggest the child has poor core strength or balance. Poor core strength and balance will impact their learning if they have to sit at a table to read or write when they start school. The brain gives priority to movement and will focus on sitting upright rather than the higher order cognitive task of reading and writing.

Responding is the action taken by you based on their noticing and recognition of children’s behaviors and needs. Responding involves providing appropriate support, guidance, comfort, or intervention as necessary to meet the child’s needs effectively. It includes offering encouragement, engaging in meaningful interactions, setting boundaries, offering assistance, or seeking additional help if needed. Responding in a timely and sensitive manner is crucial for building trusting relationships with children and promoting their well-being and development.

For example – The child with poor core strength and balance needs support to develop this function. They don’t have to be singled out as many children can benefit from this development. Follow the leader using heal-toe on lines, balance beams (cheap from K-Mart) even just pieces of 4×2 on the ground, cosmic kids yoga (, balance boards etc

The important message in this blog is that you need to be clear about what the children need (and why) and then become clear about who has what strengths and needs and then plan how you will support their development. ongoing monitoring and tracking is also really important to notice if what you are implementing is making a difference.