In terms of human development, the importance of early childhood education can’t be overstated.
A child’s early years are the foundation for their future development, providing a strong base for lifelong learning and learning abilities, including cognitive and social development. Well-established research continues to emphasise the importance of early childhood education as an essential building block of a child’s future success.
As the organisation Zero to Three says in its booklet titled “Getting Ready for School Begins at Birth”: “The brain is the only organ that is not fully formed at birth. During the first three years, trillions of connections between brain cells are being made. A child’s relationships and experiences during the early years greatly influence how their brain grows.”
As Early Childhood Educators, we at Skippy’s have firsthand knowledge of how important the very early learning years are. “The foundations are built long before your child gets to Kindy,” says Kerry Blake, Nominated Supervisor and Educational Leader. “Too often we see carers who believe that Kindy is important because it establishes school readiness, but the years before Kindy don’t really matter. Nothing could be further from the truth.”
What are some important areas of learning in the very early years?
Health and physical wellbeing are the basis for all learning and development. Such areas as eating habits, attitudes towards exercise and self-care routines build from the child’s earliest experiences.
One of the most important things children learn in the early years is about themselves – that is, they develop a picture of themselves that affects the way they approach any situation, task, or relationship with another person.
In other words, they develop a self-concept. An important part of that self-concept is the picture they have of themselves as learners: is it okay to be curious, to explore, to ask questions, to tackle problems, to try to figure things out, to experiment? Is it okay to try something and fail sometimes? Being a good learner means having a go, seeing yourself as capable, and taking reasonable risks.
There are many different ways to categorise learning in the early years, but whatever the categories, it is important for parents, and others who work and live with children, to keep in mind the broad range of kinds of learning that are important in the early years, such as:
use of the body, including hands
respect for others
how to relate to others, both adults and other children
how to resolve conflict
problem solving skills
getting used to the things that make people different from each other
self-knowledge - understanding of feelings, a sense of your own strengths, talents and uniqueness
a sense of belonging to family, community, culture
how to look after and take care of yourself
behaving in acceptable ways and controlling your own behaviour
What do children need to support learning in the early years? They need:
adults who help them to stay safe and healthy.
Positive caring relationships that are ongoing - the most important factor in supporting a child’s learning. All children need people, or at least one person, who believe in them, care for them, and want to support them as learners. Children do some of their most powerful learning from copying what people around them do, so it is important that they are with adults who are learners themselves.
adults who appreciate the uniqueness of each child, and who respect the child’s feelings, needs and interests.
help to learn to control their behaviour and patient teaching about what behaviour is accepted.
materials and experiences to learn from, and time to get involved with them.
opportunities to ‘be in the world doing things.’ Children need to be actively involved in meaningful experiences. Learning happens best in context, that is, when there is a real need to know. Going to the supermarket, working in the garden, cooking with an adult, helping to wash the car, as well as going to the park or the beach are some of the best kinds of learning experiences. Young children especially need chances to get actively involved. ‘Hands-on, minds-on’ is the expression sometimes used. TV, DVDS, computers and other forms of technology, can also be wonderful tools for learning, if used in moderation and with the help of an adult.
books to look at and read, stories to listen to, and people to have conversations with. Loving language and books makes a great and strong start to developing a wide vocabulary and literacy skills. Children can benefit from having stories read to them from the very beginning, even before they are able to understand what is being said.
time to really get involved and build relationships with other children and adults.
a group experience. This might be a playgroup, a childcare care centre, a kindergarten program, school or outside school hours care. In order for children to benefit, these experiences need to be of a high quality. In addition, the relationship between parents and professionals can support parents in child rearing particularly if services are co- located and working in an integrated way.
Encouragement, but without being ‘pushed’ and put under pressure to learn things earlier than they would if they were not pushed. Learning happens best when caring adults work with the child, have loving relationships, and explore the world together in ways that are interesting and fun.
The role of Early Learning Centres in delivering quality early learning
“Early childhood care and education (ECCE) is more than preparation for primary school. It aims at the holistic development of a child’s social, emotional, cognitive and physical needs in order to build a solid and broad foundation for lifelong learning and wellbeing. ECCE has the possibility to nurture caring, capable and responsible future citizens.” – UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization)
High quality early years education and care contributes to the social, emotional, physical, behavioural and cognitive development of children. The early learning provided through child care services and kindergarten can have a notable positive impact on a child acquiring the skills needed to flourish and enter their formal years of schooling with confidence and readiness.
The early childhood sector also delivers vital support to families. Without it, parents and carers of young children may be unable to return to work or struggle to provide for their families. Early learning should be viewed by communities as a valuable place for children to spend their time. This gives parents the confidence that choosing to utilise early childhood education for their children is a choice to give children access to a fantastic start in life that will benefit their development and wellbeing.
Early learning centres deliver education through discovery and play
Early learning gives children the chance to discover their surroundings and explore the world from a safe place with the comfort and security of caring adults. While some families can provide these experiences and do a great job, early childhood education ensures that all children have access to stimulating and educational experiences, supported by educators who are trained to deliver them.
The play-based approach taken by early childhood providers means children benefit from partaking in activities that are engaging and lots of fun, while also fostering skills and creativity that will contribute to their learning for life.
Early learning centres are well positioned to support the development of critical skills for school and beyond, through play-based learning activities. These skills include:
Numeracy, Language and Literacy Skills - Language provides the foundation for the development of literacy skills. Learning to communicate through gestures, sounds, and words increases a child’s interest in—and later understanding of—books and reading. Talking, reading aloud, game playing, and singing all stimulate children’s understanding and use of language, and help them learn to become good communicators and eager readers.
Thinking Skills - Children are born with a need to understand how the world works. They start by making basic associations such as, “I call out, dad comes.” As they grow, they develop more and more complex ways of figuring things out. In their everyday experiences, children use and develop an understanding of math concepts, such as counting and sorting and problem-solving skills that they will need for school. For example, a 2-year-old figures out that she needs to get one more cookie because another friend has come to the snack table.
Self-Control - the ability to express and manage emotions in appropriate ways is essential for success in school and healthy development overall. It enables children to cooperate with others, to cope with frustration, and to resolve conflicts. Young children learn these skills through interactions with others and guidance from adults.
Self-Confidence - When children feel competent and believe in themselves, they are more willing to take on new challenges, a key ingredient for school success. Self-confidence is also crucial for getting along with others and working out the many social challenges—such as sharing, competition, and making friends—that children face in school settings. Self-confident children see that other people like them and expect relationships to be satisfying and fun.
Brains are built over time, from the bottom up
There are only about 2000 days from the time a baby is born to when that child begins school, and so much happens before they even start their first school day! While the brain cells are formed before birth, the connections, the wiring that forms the architecture happens in infancy and early childhood. Early learning plays a key role in how that wiring is formed - either as a strong or weak foundation, and at Skippy’s, we make every moment count.
The Early Learning Matters website has great resources for parents, including learning activities by ages, and learning benchmarks by both category and ages.