What are foundation skills and why are they important?

Foundation skills refer to the fundamental abilities and competencies that children need to develop during their early years to support their overall learning and academic success. These skills serve as the building blocks for more complex learning. For kindergarten children aged between 3 and 6 years old, these foundation skills encompass various domains, including cognitive, social-emotional, language, visual and motor skills.

Contrary to common belief, foundation skills extend beyond basic literacy and numeracy, such as knowing the alphabet, sounds, and counting. They encompass a broad spectrum of abilities that support a child’s development prior to and during formal education. After extensive research, Ready 4 Learning has crafted a developmental framework that categorises these skills into six key areas:

  • Moving – Fine and Gross Motor Skills: The physical abilities that enable children to perform everyday activities.
  • Memory: The capacity to store and retrieve information, which is crucial for learning.
  • Speaking: The ability to express thoughts and ideas clearly and confidently.
  • Seeing: Visual skills that help in recognizing patterns, shapes, and colors.
  • Hearing: Auditory skills important for understanding spoken language and sounds.
  • Key Competencies: Dispositions such as curiosity and the willingness to try new things.

The development of these foundation skills is critical for shaping a child’s overall development and future academic success. Studies consistently show that children who develop strong foundation skills in areas such as early literacy, numeracy, and language tend to perform better academically in later years. This, however, DOES NOT mean starting to teach reading, writing and maths to four year olds. We need to focus on the foundation skills that support development of the EARLY curriculum literacy and maths. 

A holistic approach to education that considers cognitive, social-emotional, and physical aspects of development is extremely important. Well-rounded foundational skills contribute to a child’s overall readiness for learning.

Research highlights the connection between early cognitive development and the acquisition of foundational skills. Cognitive skills, including memory, attention, and problem-solving abilities, are closely tied to a child’s readiness for learning. Foundation skills contribute significantly to a child’s social and emotional well-being. The ability to form positive relationships, regulate emotions, and exhibit prosocial behaviour is linked to early social-emotional development.

Studies emphasise the importance of early exposure to language-rich environments in fostering language development. Children who enter school with strong language and literacy skills are better equipped to succeed in reading and writing tasks. Research often addresses the role of foundation skills in promoting educational equity. Children who enter school with varying levels of readiness may face different challenges. Focusing on foundation skills development for all learners and those that need targeted support can help level the playing field.

While it may seem unnecessary to have all the skills in place before starting formal reading, maths, and writing, each can cause a roadblock. When a child has an issue in one area, such as struggling to hold a pencil correctly, they must focus hard on that area. When all of a child’s concentration is on that pencil grip, they aren’t paying attention to the correct letter formation or the next instruction a teacher may be giving. Children have to work on a skill until it takes up so little attention that it becomes automatic, then the job of learning letters and sounds can really begin. 

It’s a little like learning to drive a car. When you drove a car for the first time you had to change gears, check your speed, keep in the right part of your lane, look for vehicles, bikes and pedestrians and indicate before turning. There was so much to think about that it was terribly difficult and sometimes it ended very badly. But over time it became easier and easier, all the minor tasks become automatic and now you can drive without giving it a second thought. That is the stage that children need to reach with learning each new skill. It needs to become automatic which means that children can perform them with little effort, almost instinctively

Automaticity plays a significant role in reducing cognitive overload. When a skill becomes automatic, it means that the cognitive processes required to perform that skill become more efficient and streamlined. This efficiency leads to a reduction in the cognitive load associated with the task. This, in turn, supports more efficient learning, problem-solving, and cognitive performance.

Foundational skills often serve as prerequisites for more complex skills. When these foundational skills become automatic, children can seamlessly transition to higher-level skills and concepts in specific subject areas such as reading, writing and maths.

Automaticity contributes to a child’s confidence in their abilities. When they can perform basic skills without constant struggle, children are more likely to approach new learning experiences with a positive mindset and a belief in their own capabilities. This also promotes independence. Children can complete tasks and engage in learning activities independently when basic skills are automatic, fostering a sense of autonomy and self-efficacy.