The Importance of Early Childhood Education

The best predictor of a good ending is a good beginning. The old adage is a true today as when it was first uttered so long ago that no one can clearly say who first spoke those words. When it comes to the education of young children this proverb has such tremendous relevance that it is hard to overstate its importance. All learning and life experience is moulded by what happens to the child in the early years of his or her life. The influence of the family is of major importance but the influence of the educational opportunities offered to young children is just as powerful and, in some ways, more powerful. For it is the impact of early childhood education that determines the attitude a child will take to formal schooling at primary or secondary level.

The world today is a troubled place. We seem to be getting better at hating one another. We seem less and less able to accept people who are different from us. In a world riddled with violence, crime, bullying, chaos and unpredictability we have to ask some important questions. Why is it that some children

Do not become violent?

Do not become bullies?

Do not become depressed?

Do not loath themselves and others?

Do not despair and give up on life?

These may not be the most profound questions being posed in today’s world but they are among the most important. Where can we turn to discern the answers to these questions? What do we know that can help us unpack the issues embedded in them and come to a vision of how to raise and educate young children?

The answers to these and other questions about children are emerging from new research about how the human brain grows and develops. Although we are a long way off knowing exactly who we can prevent violence and depression we have learned a good deal about how to foster the brain’s potential as an organ to help children grow to become contributing and productive members of society. Before we explore some of the implications from this research we need to briefly review the five areas of development that all children pass through during childhood.

Understanding Child Development

There are five areas of development that children undergo as they grow to be young adults. These steps appear in a rather predictable sequence, one after the other. They are not like steps of a ladder leading to higher and higher levels. Rather, they are like a spiral of stages through which a child cycles endlessly as they grow and mature. At some point the highest level of attainment may not be reached in a given area but that does not mean the child cannot progress to other areas of the spiral.

The five areas of child development are:

oPhysical
oIntellectual
oLinguistic
oEmotional
oSocial
They can be easily remembered by the use of the rather unfortunate acronym “PILES”.

Physical Development

This area of child development is no doubt the easiest to understand and observe. Physical development includes: gross motor skills, fine motor skills, motor control, motor coordination and kinaesthetic feedback. Let’s explain each of these briefly.

oGross motor skills are those movements of the large muscles of the legs, trunk and arms.

oFine motor skills are the movements of the small muscles of the fingers and hands.

oMotor control is the ability to move these large and small muscles.
oMotor coordination is the ability to move these muscles in a smooth and fluid pattern of motion.
oKinaesthetic feedback is the body’s ability to receive input to the muscles from the external environment so the person knows where his body is positioned in space.

Intellectual Development

This area relates to the level of intelligence of a child in general and to the various aspects of intelligence that influence overall level of general ability. Among these many aspects are:

oVerbal skills-our ability to communicate with words our ideas, attitudes, beliefs, thoughts and emotions.
oNon-verbal skills-our ability to use visual and spatial-perceptual skills to interpret the world around us.
oAttention span-the ability to sustain a focus on a stimulus for a sufficient period of time to interpret it and understand it.
oConcentration-our ability to utilise attention to juggle stimuli into various permutations as necessary to analyse it accurately.
oVisual-motor skills-the ability to coordinate the movements of the eyes and hands to manipulate objects effectively.
oVisual-perceptual skills-the ability to analyse stimuli visually without necessarily manipulating them manually.
oMemory-can be auditory or visual (or even kinaesthetic as in the case of remember dance steps) and can be divided into some important sub-types:
- Immediate recall-ability to hold input long enough to recall it straight away if required to do so
- Short-term memory-ability to hold input over a longer period of time, perhaps minutes or hours
- Long-term memory-ability to store input and recall is well after it has been perceived, perhaps days or months, even years later

Linguistic Development

Linguistic development refers to language usage. Like other areas of child development it can be divided into sub-types.

oReceptive language-our ability to understand spoken language when we hear it
oExpressive language-our ability to use spoken language to communicate to others
oPragmatic language-the ability to understand humour, irony, sarcasm and know how to respond appropriate to what another has said or asked as well as know when to wait and listen
oSelf-talk-the ability to use internal, silent language to think through problems, cope with difficulties and postpone impulses
oReasoning-the ability to think through problems, usually with self-talk but at other times aloud, create plans of action using words
oCreative thinking-although not strictly a linguistic function I include it here because many people use language creatively, in new and inventive ways (e.g. Joyce, Beckett)

Emotional Development

This aspect of development, along with social development, is probably one of the most underrated but yet most important aspects of learning how to live in the world. No matter how excellent intellectual, physical and linguistic development may be we are doomed to live lives of frustration and difficult if we have not gained satisfactory emotional development. It includes:

oFrustration tolerance-the ability to cope effectively when things do not go the way we want or expect
oImpulse control-the ability to think before we act and not do everything that comes into our head
oAnger management-ability to resolve conflict without recourse to verbal or physical violence
oInter-personal intelligence-understanding the attitudes, beliefs and motivations of others
oIntra-personal intelligence-understand our own attitudes, beliefs and motivations

Social Development

oSharing-knowing how to ask to use the materials that belong to another
oTurn-taking-knowing when it is your turn to do something and when to ask if you can do it
oCooperation-the skills of working with others towards a group goal of task
oCollaboration-the ability to communication your input in a meaningful way when working with others.
Again it is necessary to repeat that emotional and social development play a hugely important role in our ability to live lives of dignity and respect. They also largely determine how well we will get along with workmates, bosses and loved ones including life-partners.

When we recognise that all children pass through each area of development we design educational programme for them that are developmentally appropriate. Most pre-schools have done just that. Unfortunately many early years settings succumb to pressure and push children towards academic goals and objectives, sometimes almost obsessively. Indeed, the curriculum in our junior and senior infant classes is largely developmentally inappropriate. It is far too teacher and parent-centred and far too little child-centred. Regardless, appropriate or inappropriate, it is not enough to focus on child development alone in our work with young children. We must begin to recognise the inborn potential locked within the child’s brain.

The Human Brain

Locked inside the brain are the potentialities that make us human. We are born with the potential for:

oLove Hate
oPatience Mistrust
oTenderness Violence
oHope Despair
oTrust Suspicion
oDignity Corruption
oRespect Revenge
It is the responsibilities of adults to unlock the positive potentialities of the brain and prevent the negative from appearing.

All educational experiences of children in the early years, indeed all educational experiences of children across the entire school years, must place an emphasis on releasing the positive potential that lies within the brain. Recent brain research, much of it conducted by Dr. Bruce Perry in Texas, has illuminated six core strengths, each of them related to brain growth and development that must be a focus in development appropriate educational programmes for young children.

The Six Core Strengths

Bruce Perry and his colleagues at the Child Trauma Academy in Texas have identified six strengths that are related to the predictable sequence of brain growth and development. These six strengths, if nurtured and fostered appropriately, will help a child grow to become a productive member of society. They are:

oAttachment
oSelf-regulation
oAffiliation
oAttunement
oTolerance
oRespect
Attachment

The first of the six core strengths occurs in infancy. It is the loving bond between the infant and the primary caregiver. Early attachment theorists’ conceiver of the primary caregiver as the mother but it is now recognised that it could as well be the father, grandparent or any loving person. The primary giver, when providing consistent and predictable nurturing to the infant creates what is known as a “secure” attachment. This is accomplished in that rhythmic dance between infant and caregiver; the loving cuddles, hugs, smiles and noises that pass between caregiver and infant. Should this dance be out of step, unpredictable, highly inconsistent or chaotic an “insecure” attachment is formed. When attachments are secure the infant learns that it is lovable and loved, that adults will provide nurture and care and that the world is a safe place. When attachment is insecure the infant learns the opposite.

As the child grows from a base of secure attachment he or she becomes ready to love and be a friend. A secure attachment creates the capacity to form and maintain healthy emotional bonds with another. Attachment is the template through which we view the world and people in it.

Self-Regulation

Self-regulation is the capacity to think before you act. Little children are not good at this, they learn this skill as they grow if they are guided by caring adults who show them how to stop and think. Self-regulation is the ability to take note of our primary urges such as hunger, elimination, comfort and control them. In other words, it is the ability to postpone gratification and wait for it to arrive. Good self-regulation prevents anger outbursts and temper tantrums and helps us cope with frustration and tolerate stress. It is a life skill that must be learned and, like all the core strengths, its roots are in the neuronal connections deep inside the brain.

Affiliation

Affiliation is the glue of healthy human relationships. When children are educated in an environment and facilitates positive peer interactions through play and creative group learning projects they develop the strength of affiliation. It is the ability to “join in” and work with others to create something stronger and more lasting than is usually created by one person alone. Affiliation makes it possible to produce something stronger and more creative than is accomplished by one alone. Affiliation brings into the child’s awareness that he or she is not an “I” alone but a “We” together.

Attunement

Attunement is the strength of seeing beyond ourselves. It is the ability to recognise the strengths, needs, values and interests of others. Attunement begins rather simply in childhood. A child first recognises that I am a girl, he is a boy. Through the early years of education it becomes more nuanced: he is from India and likes different food than I, she is from Kenya and speak with a different accent than I. Attunement helps children see similiarities rather than differences because as the child progresses from seeing different colour skin and different ways of speaking he or she begins to recognise that people are more similar than different. That brings us to the next core strength.

Tolerance

When the child develops the core strength of attunement it learns that difference isn’t really all that important. The child learns that difference is easily tolerated. Through this learning the child develops the awareness that is difference that unites all human beings. Tolerance depends on attunement and requires patience and an opportunity to live and learn with people who at first glance seem “different”. We must overcome the fear of difference to become tolerant.

Respect

The last core strength is respect. Respect is a life-long developmental process. Respect extends from respect of self to respect of others. It is the last core strength to develop, requires a proper environment and an opportunity to meet a variety of people. Genuine respect celebrates diversity and seeks it out. Children who respect other children, who have developed this core strength, do not shy away from people who seem different. An environment in which many children are grouped together to learn, explore and play will foster the core strength of respect.

How the Brain Grows

The brain grows from the bottom to the top. Each of the core strengths is related to a stage and site of brain growth. In infancy attachment bonds are acquired and lay down emotional signals deep within the brain. At the same time the brain stem is seeing to it that bodily functions can be self-regulated. Later on in childhood the emotional centres of the brain come under increasing control so temper tantrums disappear and the child controls their emotional life. In mid-childhood the child’s brain begins to develop the capacity to think and reflect on the external environment. It is at this stage when the frontal areas of the brain begin to mature and it is at this stage in brain growth when the core strengths of affiliation, attunement, tolerance and respect can mature as well.

The Classroom and the Brain’s Core Strengths

The education of young children must be undertaken with the core strengths in mind. Classrooms where there is peace and harmony among a wide variety of children will create opportunities for affiliation, tolerance and respect to develop. These classroom must be characterised by play, creative exploration of objects, lessons which are activity-based not teacher-lectured. There must be challenge to the brain in the form of innovative lessons and teaching methodologies. Cooperative learning activities must be part of the school day. The classroom should occasionally consist of an opportunity to engage in cooperative, mixed-ability groupwork. There must be an opportunity for long-term, thematic projects to be explored. The teacher should be a guide, always teaching with the core strengths in mind, always observing children and noticing which of them need more structure and guidance as they grow through the core strengths. The teacher must also be a person the children perceive as predictable and caring, patient and kind; a person who will not obsessively focus on mistakes.

Whose Responsibility is It?

We have learned that the child’s brain grows in a predictable sequence and associated with this growth are six core strengths for healthy living in the world. Every child is born with a brain possessing the potential to full develop these core strengths. However every brain must have an opportunity to interact with a classroom and home environment that facilitates the development of these strengths. It is the responsibility of adults, particularly parents and teachers to get it right.

All Education is Great and Sometimes Life Experience is a Great Education

Over the years, I have found wonderful sites for both real-life education, correspondence courses and online education. And the best opportunities there are for all people, no matter where or how they live are those that are at the sites for free online education. You can learn all types of subjects, from gardening, language, health, counseling, arts, music, collage art, power lifting, organizing, publishing and so many more topics, by just going online and doing the search for the topics. You will find correspondence courses, real-life courses at high schools, colleges and private schools and you will also find online courses. You can find religious, spiritual and Bible courses online also. Just keep on searching and you will come up with all the information that you need to take your education one step further than it is already.

Have you attended elementary school, only to have to quit due to lack of resources, money or transportation? Have you started high school but had to quit due to health reasons or family problems? Have you gone to some college but had to leave because the college was too expensive? Usually, during your life, you might have had to quit school at one time or another. And usually what happens is that it takes many long years to go back to be re-educated or for anyone to finish the education that they began already. I am living proof of that since I began college so many years ago but had to drop out due to lack of funds. Yes, I had the dream and the promise to myself that I would one day go back to finish college, but that had not happened for many years after the first drop out happened. And yes, some of us drop out of college, unwillingly, more than once, and usually it is due to lack of funds or lack of time, but never due to lack of ambition or yearnings.

Most who attend college see what an advantage college brings to their lives and they stick with it. And most who have even attended continuing education courses at the colleges or high school evening courses do know and realize that education opens up great doors in one’s life. So, are you going to let any inconveniences or any lack of funds or time continue to stop you from getting the best education?

I urge you, if you ever dropped out of anywhere, any school, university, high school, elementary school or college, to get back to education in any form that you can get back there to. Right now, today, enroll in an online course. Or enroll in a correspondence course, or weekend course or in a course given at your local high schools. This is something that you should do for yourself to let your mind continue to grow but also to give your spirit wings and to give your personality a confidence boost. Here are some interesting schools that you might want to look into:

  • Check out the high schools and colleges in your area and inquire about continuing education courses, free courses and free courses at any city buildings, such as CAMBA or others.
  • Apply as paraprofessional in the Board of Education in New York city, any borough, and once hired, you receive your college education paid for by the city of New York.
  • Online courses (do a net search for free online education)
  • Check out the women’s groups in your community. Many times there are education courses for displaced homemakers and for victims of violence.
  • Look up CAMBA online and inquire about their free courses in your own neighborhood.
  • Look for free Adobe-PhotoShop courses online
  • Check out YouTube and do a search for DIY (Do It Yourself courses). These are video instructions and most of them are excellent and in all topics.
  • If you live in New York, dail 311 and ask for referrals to free education courses.

Rule number one in your life should be never let anyone else stop you from getting that education. That means put education first and you will be rewarded for that. If you are living with someone who thinks that your education is not important, set them straight, and even if you cannot convince them otherwise, YOU TAKE your steps needed to continue your education. Do not let anyone give you negative ideas about your education. Remember this–it is YOUR education, so keep at it, keep on persisting and you will be successful.

There are many schools that I would recommend; here are a couple of them:

  1. National Institute of Photography
  2. National Radio Institute
  3. People over a certain age are eligible for free college courses in most cities. Ask about the MY TURN possibilities at your local city colleges.
  4. For reference material or more leads check out the page of http://www.refdesk.com

Your ears, eyes, imagination and mind are your best sources of education throughout your lifetime. Use them together with all the online sources and you will truly have your BEST FREE ONLINE EDUCATION

Sometimes education comes in the form of life experience or from advice from informed individuals. So, in that spirit, I give these little bits of information as part of a free online education quick-course in where to find adequate physical rehabilitation for yourself. Here in these next few lines is the QUICK COURSE:

  1. If you have no family or if you are on Medicare or Medicaid, never, ever take physical therapy inside a residential place such as a nursing home or physical rehabilitation and care center. INSTEAD, opt for having your therapy at home or living at your own home and apartment while going out a few times a week or day for your physical therapy.
  2. Insist onnotbeing admitted to a nursing home or rehab and care center if you have no relatives who will visit or if you have Medicaid or Medicare. (DO only what is safe for you to do; seek advice in this area).
  3. When at all possible and when recommended by a doctor, use a physical therapy place that uses water in the treatment (Some have pools, whirlpools and other water-related therapies to use to help you make progress.
  4. If you are considering being admitted to the New Vanderbilt Rehabilitation and Care Center but would rather have recommendations for other places instead, feel free to write to me (first leave a note here stating that you are contacting me and that you have sent an email to me) . I am glad that you are remembering that the choice of where you do your physical therapy is still your choice, not the hospital’s choice. So if there is a place that you refuse to go to,stick to your ideas and choose other places. You can find a list of places on the net. But like I said, the best option is at your home or apartment. I will not answer any emails unless the writer leaves a public note here at this site for me.
  5. Know that if you are going to stay, even temporarily, in a physical rehabilitation and care center, they control every aspect of your life, including what time you get up, what time you have medicine, whether you take medicine or not, what time you can have visitors, what time you can have phone calls–if any, and what you eat, where you go, and what happens with your life in-between physical therapy sessions. Some places will even put you in diapers when you do not need to wear diapers–just because it is more convenient for the staff to change diapers when they feel like it than for them to gather staff to help you to go to the bathroom. So , know that sometimes in those facilities, control is the key issue and most times, the staff controls everything about your life, even whether you get admitted there or get discharged from there. So think twice before you decide to go into a physical rehabilitation and care center and if you decide to do so, even after reading this, please ask for MANY referrals to good places. Word of mouth is a remarkable advertising tool, so use it.

See that? In less than six paragraphs you have just received an education about physical therapy and rehabilitation and care centers. So, one of the ways that anyone can learn is by word-of-mouth, by consumer recommendation and just be listening and hearing the experiences of others who might have been through the same situation that might be in now.

Article updated November 17, 2008