Michelle Tamaro and her daughter Aria who will start kindergarten Tuesday. Credit: Ben Symons.
Aria Tamaro can rattle off a long list of new things she is looking forward to when she starts kindergarten on Thursday.
Having watched her older siblings take the same step, the five-year-old from North Parramatta knows there will be new friends, new teachers and new activities. But, most of all, Aria is excited to have new books to read.
"I love all books, I love colourful books," she said, listing the Spot series and comedian Andy Lee's Do Not Open This Book, as among her favourites.
Almost 65,000 kindergarten students will start at NSW public schools this week as a new syllabus that mandates the use of phonics when teaching pupils to read is rolled out in all classrooms.
Most state and Catholic schools return on Tuesday, while some students at NSW's independent schools started late last week.
The new kindergarten to year 2 English and mathematics syllabuses will be mandatory across the three school sectors for the first time this year, as part of an overhaul to the NSW curriculum that places heavier emphasis on literacy and numeracy foundations in early schooling.
The curriculum has a greater emphasis on phonics, a method that teaches students to sound out letters and letter combinations when learning to read. For example, they might learn that the short "c" sound can appear as "c" as in cat, "k" as in kit and "ck" as in duck.
A statewide phonics screening check, conducted in public schools after a term of remote learning in 2021, suggested more than 40 per cent of year 1 students were not meeting benchmarks.
Trialled across 400 schools last year, the new curriculum also increases the focus on core skills such as spelling, handwriting and structuring a sentence.
In maths, lessons will shift to be grounded in mathematical reasoning, ensuring students understand how they arrive at an answer. The teaching of addition and subtraction will also no longer be separated, instead taught as opposite components of the same process.
NSW Education Minister Sarah Mitchell, whose own youngest daughter will start kindergarten this week, said the first syllabuses of the state's curriculum reform were designed to build strong literacy and numeracy foundations for learners' early years and beyond.
"The students starting kindergarten next week will be the first of the 'curriculum reform generation', benefitting from these evidence-based, back-to-basic syllabuses from their very first day," she said.