THE EARLY YEARS
During the dynamic years from age one to five, children develop a sense of themselves in relation to family and community; they are exploring the world through play and seemingly endless questions which require caregivers’ validating responses; and they are ready to learn a healthy lifestyle from the powerful adult role models with whom they identify strongly.
Why are the early years so important?
The quality of nurturing and stimulation that a child receives in the first few years of life can have effects on development that last a lifetime.
· Early childhood experiences have powerful effects on the development of children’s physical and emotional abilities and influence their intellectual development in the areas of math, logic, language and music.
· The brain develops according to the quantity and quality of the stimuli it receives. There are eight neural pathways: touch, sight, sound, taste, smell, temperature, pain and positioning.
· Daily exercise increases nerve connections in the brain. This makes it easier for children to learn. The brain develops most strongly when all pathways are being stimulated. A child read to on her parents lap learns more than language – she is developing emotional responses, such as the ability to trust and a sense of safety.
· There are periods of time known as "windows of opportunity" in the child’s brain development when it is especially open to certain kinds of learning:
· up to 18 months of age for the capacity to establish a secure attachment;
· from the latter part of the first year to the end of the second year, for the capacity to inhibit and regulate intense feelings: and
· up to the end of the fourth year, for optimal vocabulary and language development.
· The more words a child hears by age two, the larger his/her vocabulary will grow.
· Toddlers taught simple math ideas, like bigger or smaller, and more or less, do better in math when they are older.
· Early exposure to music helps develop skills which improve a child’s ability to think things through and make decisions.
· Patterns of behaviour and emotional response set in the early years are very difficult to change or make up for with later intervention, even though the brain continues to develop and mature in many areas.
· Before six years of age, there are critical periods of development during which children need adequate stimulation for optimum brain development. If these periods are missed, children are much more likely to develop learning, behavioral, emotional or health problems later in life.
How do children develop?
To encourage children’s best development, we need to understand the ways they grow.
· Children’s physical development includes learning large muscle skills like jumping, running, and throwing, and small muscle skills like cutting, pasting and drawing.
· Cognitive development involves children’s increasing ability to think and solve problems, using such toys as puzzles, number and matching games, and blocks.
· Social / emotional development is about learning to experience, identify, express and control feelings; and about how to relate to others through dramatic play, cooperative games, and helping.
· Language development includes learning words, rhythm, and signs and symbols by reading, and playing with silly language and jokes.
What do children need for healthy development?
· To thrive, children need an emotionally and physically safe environment; enough nutritional food to eat, exercise, warmth and affection.
· To help their intellectual development they need encouragement and guidance from adults in a stimulating environment in which they can play, learn and explore.
· Stimulating interaction involves reading, talking and playing with children.
· Children also need warm and supportive caregivers who are responsive to their needs and who exert consistent positive discipline.
What are the effects of high quality early childhood education?
High quality early childhood education can improve childrens’ chances for success in later life.
· The care that children receive in the early years influences later success in school.
· Readiness to learn in kindergarten is the best indicator that children will do well in school.
· The "readiness to learn" measure is used to determine a child’s developmental level in 5 areas: physical health and well-being; social competence; emotional maturity; language richness; and general knowledge and cognitive skills. This measure is given to children when they first enter school and is an indication of brain development during the critical early years.
· High quality early childhood education can help children to:
· understand and use language;
· control aggression;
· play and work with other children;
· accept adult direction; and
· focus attention and do things independently.
Why is high quality early childhood education a good investment?
The benefits from early childhood care and education programs far exceed their cost.
· Healthy Babies, Healthy Children is a new province wide intervention program designed to screen for families who are at risk. Similar programs include the infant development program and the preschool speech and language program.
· Rightstart is an early math enrichment program developed by a researcher from Stanford and the University of Toronto. The program is directed at preschool children and is designed to build basic understanding of numbers. Four-year-olds, two years after being enrolled in the Rightstart program had a better understanding of numbers than children who did not take part in the program.
· Better Beginnings Better Futures is a program designed for high risk families with both child-focused and parent-focused components including parenting supports and education, nutrition, play groups, home visiting, and resources.
· Examples of other Canadian programs include: Community Action Program for Children; and Child Care Resource Programs that provide support for non-parental and parental caregivers, among others.
To think about…
There is encouraging evidence that good nutrition, nurturing and responsive caregiving in the first years of life, linked with good early child development programs, improve the outcomes for all children’s learning, behaviour, and physical and mental health throughout life" (Early Years Study, pg. 6).
Posted by the Voices 4 Children
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