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Early childhood education needs a re-think

– Kadambari Rana, independent educationist 

For centuries child behaviour had been a fascinating area of observation and discussion but it become a systematic, research-based, investigation led scientific discipline only about a century ago. Experts working in the field of developmental psychology, which examines complex human behaviour, slowly began to trace the roots of adult human behaviour to their childhood experiences to construct scientific and acceptable conclusions.

This slowly gave birth to child psychology as an independent scientific discipline. Today, world over, scientists, experts, researchers, scholars and teachers accept that the foundations for adult characteristics; abilities, interests, motives, goals, desires, social attitudes, personal responses and professional habits are determined by factors that have influenced people’s early childhood.

Therefore, the factors that shape an adult are all based in early childhood which calls for a ‘RE-THINK’!  

Significance of early childhood: 0-6 years

This period can also be referred to as ‘incredible infancy’. Explorers in early years become life-long learners. Our objective should be to stimulate them and not pull them back from their investigations.

At this stage the brain is developing at a very fast speed, by 6 years 90% of the brain is developed, so one can imagine the significance of this age bracket. This is also the time when logical and biological pathways are set, so learning should be experience based. Child should be an active participant in her learning.

Uni-dimensional learning has serious limitations therefore learning should be by and large a ‘sensorial experience’. ‘’Research has proven that experience based brain development in early years sets neurological and biological pathways that affect health, learning and behaviour throughout life.’’

Serve and return

There is something known as the ‘serve and return process’. This means that when a child expressing by action, observation or words her interest in something then she is serving her needs of curiosity.

This need must be met by ‘return’. As adults we must observe their curiosity and help them quench their needs by responding by answers or joint exploration etc. The connections the child is making must not be left unattended, because then they sometimes lose interest in making those connections.

Serve and return principle is based on ‘positive interactions and experiences’ between the child and the adult. Positive experiences have a lasting impact on the architecture of the brain. Genetic do play a role in aptitude but without positive experiences in aptitude but without positive experiences these aptitudes can also not develop successfully.

Impact of lack of understanding of the needs of a child on success rates of efforts 

This usually happens because adults, whether they are parents or educators or even educational institutes PLAN the learning path WITHOUT understanding the needs of a child. The needs of the child can be broken down into broad areas such as physiological needs, safety needs, need for love and belonging, need for socialization, intellectual needs, need to discover and make mistakes, need to participate and communicate and even spiritual needs.

Spiritual needs for children can be simplified into self-actualization tasks that contain within themselves a sense of accomplishment and a sense of happiness. So, one of the biggest reasons why success rate of so much effort put by parents and educators is so dismal is because of their own lack of understanding of the NEEDS of a child. Then comes a lack of understanding with regards age-appropriate behaviour.

Expecting too less or expecting too much because parents and educators do not understand the age-appropriate behaviour, which includes both what they can do and what they cannot do. So, before the adults start charting out a path for children, they must first understand what are the needs of the child. Although needs within a certain age bracket can be generalized yet we must remember that each child is unique.

Consequences of not responding to children’s needs 

The immediate environment in which the child resides or operates, interacts with the child to develop emotional needs and social needs. ‘How’ children interact and engage with their immediate environment shapes their personalities, ‘how’ children socialize, successfully results in a healthy personality.

When we are able to respond to a child’s basic needs (food, sleep, protection, care and love) and successfully meet her needs she feels loved and cared for. This develops in them a sense of security and trust; they feel re-assured that someone is there to respond to their needs. Contrary to this when no one is responding to the child’s needs, there is no one to reassure them, and the seeds of mistrust are sown (at an early age).

Benefits of allowing children to assert themselves 

In early childhood it is natural for children to assert themselves. They are asserting themselves because they want to choose, select, make a choice. This is also the time when most toilet training happens. They want to pick out their own toys, they want to pick out their own clothes.

But several times adults snub them and do not allow them to carry forward with their choices. This happens because adults believe they know better or this may also happen because parents or teachers want to protect the children.

The outcome of this control in early childhood has a long-term impact on the children’s adult lives where it often becomes visible that as adult’s they will always tend to hold themselves back in making decisions. Since they would have been excessively discouraged from making choices in early childhood therefore reversing the tendency and converting them into decision makers will become a herculean task later in life.

Every child is a unique individual and has skills and abilities that can be further enhanced and developed. A good early childhood care and education programme respects the different pace of development of all children and ensures that the child develops physically, socially, emotionally, morally, and intellectually to their full potential.

Thus, the main aim of providing quality care and education during the early years is to enable the child to develop as a holistic individual and realise his/her potential to the fullest in all the areas of development.

Other articles by Kadambari Rana:

Enhancing high school learning for Indian students

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