The Importance of Early Childhood Education

From birth, children are active learners and their early thinking is insightful and complex. Educators must be familiar with the developmental pathways that all children follow and have deep knowledge of each child in their care.

Help your child discover his passions by exposing him to different experiences. Find out what interests him and encourage him to explore them through reading, visiting a museum, or exploring the local zoo.

Prenatal and Early Childhood Development

Early childhood education, or ECE, is the process of shaping children’s social-emotional, cognitive and physical development in a formal setting. From birth to age 8, this critical time of growth and development is the foundation for a lifetime of learning, and UNESCO recognizes high-quality ECE as one of its sustainable development goals.

These are not easy years to learn, but with support children can see themselves as capable learners and resist giving up when they encounter challenges. Alvarado’s course, Play as Pedagogy, teaches students about the importance of recognizing and supporting children’s learning through play.

Despite the overwhelming benefits of access to education, too many barriers are standing in the way of children’s right to quality education: conflict, natural disasters, poverty, disease, geographic isolation and social exclusion. UNICEF’s Let Us Learn initiative aims to remove those obstacles, with a special focus on girls.

Cognitive Development

Cognitive development is the process by which children’s thinking changes over time. It involves the interplay of assimilation (adjustments to fit new experiences) and accommodation (adding to or changing existing concepts). Swiss psychologist Jean Piaget’s theory of cognitive development has had a significant impact on research and practice in this area.

Many researchers use carefully designed experiments to elucidate what infants and young children know. These include observing how children interact with objects and their environment and measuring responses like looking time or expressions of surprise.

Although there is a great deal of debate about Piaget’s stages, developmental scientists are moving away from pitting structuralism against functionalism and toward seeing that psychological change can be both stagelike in some ways and not at all stagelike in others. Vygotsky emphasized the importance of relationships and social interactions in cognitive development. He viewed teachers as key facilitators in children’s learning. He suggested that they can promote cognitive development by helping children make meanings from their environment and experiences, using instructional strategies such as scaffolding.

Social and Emotional Development

While many milestones are tracked for children, like growth in motor and cognitive skills, social and emotional development can be just as important. A child’s ability to develop healthy relationships and cope with life challenges can impact her success in the classroom.

From the start of childhood, social-emotional development influences all other areas of a child’s growth and learning. Infants learn to recognize, regulate and express their emotions, as well as form close relationships with caregivers and other family members. Toddlers learn to share toys and play cooperatively with peers. Preschoolers become aware of their feelings and learn to manage their anger.

While SEL is not yet a core curriculum in all schools, it can be incorporated through small class sizes and teacher interaction time. It also can be encouraged through a positive school culture that values friendships and community, as well as through the nurture of student self-esteem. Children who understand the value of a supportive classroom community can feel more confident in their abilities and be better prepared for academic challenges.

Physical Development

Physical development is about a child’s ability to move their body – from the way they walk and stand up, to how they use their fingers and hands. Children need to build strong bones and muscles to support their learning, as well as develop coordination, balance and the ability to control their movements.

Children’s bodies are in a state of constant change, and the connections that form between different parts of their brain are most adaptable during early childhood. Delays in physical development can affect more than just gross and fine motor skills – it may also impact social, cognitive and emotional development.

Review the handout Scenarios – Infant and Toddler Physical Development in the Learn activity section to reflect on how to best support young children’s physical development. Once complete, share your thoughts and responses with a trainer, coach or administrator.

The Importance of Early Childhood Education
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