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The Importance of Early Childhood Education

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The Importance of Early Childhood Education

By Dr. David Carey
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?

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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:

Physical

Intellectual

Linguistic

Emotional

Social

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.

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

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

Motor control is the ability to move these large and small muscles.

Motor coordination is the ability to move these muscles in a smooth and fluid pattern of motion.

Kinaesthetic 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:

Verbal skills-our ability to communicate with words our ideas, attitudes, beliefs, thoughts and emotions.

Non-verbal skills-our ability to use visual and spatial-perceptual skills to interpret the world around us.

Attention span-the ability to sustain a focus on a stimulus for a sufficient period of time to interpret it and understand it.

Concentration-our ability to utilise attention to juggle stimuli into various permutations as necessary to analyse it accurately.

Visual-motor skills-the ability to coordinate the movements of the eyes and hands to manipulate objects effectively.

Visual-perceptual skills-the ability to analyse stimuli visually without necessarily manipulating them manually.

Memory-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.

language-our ability to understand spoken language when we hear it

Expressive language-our ability to use spoken language to communicate to others

Pragmatic 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

Self-talk-the ability to use internal, silent language to think through problems, cope with difficulties and postpone impulses

Reasoning-the ability to think through problems, usually with self-talk but at other times aloud, create plans of action using words

Creative 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:

Frustration tolerance-the ability to cope effectively when things do not go the way we want or expect

Impulse control-the ability to think before we act and not do everything that comes into our head
Anger management-ability to resolve conflict without recourse to verbal or physical violence

Inter-personal intelligence-understanding the attitudes, beliefs and motivations of others

Intra-personal intelligence-understand our own attitudes, beliefs and motivations

Social Development

Sharing-knowing how to ask to use the materials that belong to another

Turn-taking-knowing when it is your turn to do something and when to ask if you can do it

Cooperation-the skills of working with others towards a group goal of task
Collaboration-the ability to communication your input in a meaningful way when working with others.

gain 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:

Love    Hate

Patience   Mistrust

Tenderness   Violence

Hope    Despair

Trust    Suspicion

Dignity    Corruption

Respect   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:

Attachment

Self-regulation

Affiliation

Attunement

Tolerance

Respect

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.

David J. Carey, Psy.D.
297 Beechwood Court
Stillorgan
Dublin, Ireland
http://www.davidjcarey.com

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Barney – Mr. Golden Sun Song by RAFFI

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Preschoolers love to sing and dance and act silly. Add lots of music to your list of rainy day activities for kids! Here is a favorite from RAFFI – as sung by Barney & Friends. Mr. Golden Sun !

Barney – Mr. Golden Sun Song

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Multicultural Music in Early Childhood

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Multicultural Music in Early Childhood

Multicultural Music in Early Childhood

By Marlene Rattigan

Music is a universal language. Exposing children to the music, songs and dances of other cultures should simply be another aspect of the music and movement program, integrated quite naturally on a daily basis.  In the home setting, if another language is not spoken, exposing children regularly to the sounds of another language through music is a good idea.

Why is it a good idea? Young children learn by being actively involved in the process, through exploring and experimenting, through copying and acting out.  And so it is with learning music, including the music (and language) of another culture, the foundations for which are best learned while developing primary language.  As such, a successful early childhood music program must incorporate movement (including dance) and should quite naturally involve learning across the curriculum.  In other words, through music, the child can also develop language, mathematical concepts, physical development as well as social and emotional outcomes. Music, of course, is not exclusively reserved for the school domain. At home or in a childcare centre, music, including music from other cultures, should form part of the structure of everyday play. EVERY child has the right to a musical education. Like other forms of verbal and non-verbal communication, exposure to music should start at birth and even before.

It is important to bear in mind that not every child will naturally take to singing or learning to play a musical instrument. Physical expression through dance and drama is the way some children prefer to enjoy their musical experience. How wonderful to extend that experience by using the dances, the music and the costumes from another culture. And what child doesn’t love dressing up?

In musical interpretation there should be no pressure on the child to “get it right” because there is no right or wrong but simply the joy of participation. When a child feels successful at something, the child gains enormous confidence. This is critical where children are suffering from low self-esteem due to poor academic achievement. The more you can extend the creative arts experience, therefore, the better.

Furthermore, by exposing children to other cultures in a positive way, they gain understanding and learn acceptance of others. They need to be made aware that somewhere in another corner of the world are children just like them. These children are also having fun by singing songs, chanting rhymes, playing games and dancing.  In this way inherent social values are gained, especially discovering that difference simply means diversity.  Thus, it encourages a sense of harmony and inclusion rather than discrimination and distrust.

Studies show that exposing children to the sound, rhythm and intonation of language and music from diverse cultures assists them to discriminate between sounds, which assist with the acquisition of language skills. Listening is a skill that needs to be taught, as opposed to hearing which is a sense we are born with. Listening to the sounds of another language encourages concentration. In time, it starts to make sense, in the same way that as babies, we all learned to understand the spoken word. Introducing children to Languages Other Than English (LOTE) cannot start soon enough. Far from confusing children, learning another language actually enhances the learning of their mother tongue.

Unlike adults, children absorb the language of another culture easily. Children who come from bi-lingual households quickly learn to discriminate between the two languages and use them both appropriately. They soon become aware that communication, in whatever form, gets them what they want.

Whether in a classroom, a nursery or at home, children are naturally attracted to the sounds of another language. Most adults can remember the foreign songs that they learned at school.  How many English songs from school can we remember? And why limit it to songs? Include finger plays, dances and relaxation music. To the child, it is not important what the words mean as the music conveys the mood and that is everything.

Music is a universal language. Exposing children to the music, songs and dances of other cultures should simply be another aspect of the music and movement program, integrated quite naturally on a daily basis.

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Using Flannel Boards in Early Childhood Education

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What is a flannel board or story board?  It is an invaluable and versatile educational tool for preschool teachers and children.  The story board has become an integral part of the preschool curriculum. It is basically a story-telling board covered in a flannel or felt  material that teachers can use with preschoolers to tell visual stories with pictures, storyboard shapes and a variety of other manipulatives that are made from flannel or felt cut-outs (flannel sticks to flannel).  Flannel boards can come in a variety of sizes and can be mounted on a wall or be a smaller table-top style with an easel that easily folds up to put away.

 

The table-top style is great for small groups of children and encourages more participation and interaction and can easily be stored away.  The larger wall-mounted style is more permanent and better for large groups such as in a classroom setting.  Flannel boards or story-boards can be purchased commercially but it is very easy to make your own.  Some of the commercially bought ones have a magnetic side on the reverse for use with magnetic manipulatives and some may have whiteboards on the reverse.

 

Story re-telling is an important skill in developing language and memory skills with preschoolers.  Pre-literacy is important and even toddlers will benefit from listening and watching as older children play. Younger children always learn by observing and modeling older children.  Most preschool settings have a multi-age population and age overlaps for various groups, just as most families do.

 

Encouraging a child to re-tell a story or a number sequence or identify colors and shapes is a great independent activity as well as partner fun.  Re-telling reinforces learning and abstract concepts.   Preschoolers will gravitate toward this anyway if the materials are left on the board for their use.  They will also make up their own creative stories using the flannel board shapes in a free-play setting.  Children enjoy touching and feeling the soft manipulative shapes.   

 

For parents, flannel board play is a great independent activity for quiet times such as waiting at the doctor’s office, long car rides or just before bedtime or nap time. Flannel boards are also fun for rainy day activities for kids. Teachers love to use them for everything from storytelling; abc kids games, themed lesson-plans to teaching songs, rhymes and finger plays.

 

Flannel board sets are soft, colorful felt cutouts of shapes, alphabet letters (upper and lower case) colors, numbers or story characters and props.   Commercial sets can be found for fairy tales, nursery rhymes, popular literature, safety lessons, maps, the seasons, calendars, animals (zoo, jungle, farm, pets, etc.), special holidays, dinosaurs, multi-cultural ideas, Bible characters, games, transportation and many more early childhood themes. They can be purchased pre-cut or teachers and caregivers on a budget can make their own designs from felt. 

 

Flannel board activities are fun for families, pre-school centers, Head Start centers, home daycare providers, home school families, early childhood education settings, Sunday school teachers, special education classrooms,  librarians, and school teachers in the lower elementary grades.  Even teachers in higher grades may find good use of flannel boards for teaching the States or other geography, maps or math lessons. The usefulness is virtually endless. From Rainy Day Prek!


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