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Beyond care: what else does early learning provide?

Beyond Care What Elase

When we are looking for a place for our children to spend their time early education, what exactly are we looking for? We are looking for care; to make sure they are looked after and protected. But we are usually looking for more beyond that. We are looking for our children to be appreciated, celebrated and nurtured into forward-thinking and imaginative adults. So, what can we expect from early childhood education to ensure not only are their care needs being met, but also the additional benefits of individuality and a continued curious mind going into later years? There are several techniques and philosophies that centres are now applying to nurture young minds and create positive learning environments in preschool years.

You may have heard of, or seen mentioned in your Early Childhood Education quest, the Pikler Principles. Emmi Pikler was a Hungarian paediatrician who introduced new theories of infant education and put them into practice at an orphanage she ran. She was primarily concerned with eight principles of early childhood education and she knew that in order for babies to develop in the way that nature had intended, certain things must be implemented.

These included:

  • The long term impact of free movement on a baby’s spirit, intelligence and physical being.
  • Respect being shown to babies at all times – and clarifying what that entailed.
  • The importance of a way a baby is touched and supported in the important birth to two-years period.
  • That no baby needs ‘help’ to reach their milestones in life. We can however support them with patience. 1

As a matter of principle, we refrain from teaching skills and activities which, under suitable conditions, will evolve through the child’s own initiative and independent activity.” – Emmi Pikler

Pikler’s eight principles centre on respecting children’s rights, their brain development, attachment and connectedness, and uninterrupted play and free movement. Pikler focuses on children aged zero to five as these are seen as the most fundamental years in a child’s development – with zero to two seen as the most critical.

Through implementation of this philosophy children learn to grow an identity from a young age. The identity you will fall in love with and watch with pride as it grows in front of you. These children have a faster development of their own independence, and the predictability that comes from a Pikler environment enables them to increase their motor skills and ability to self-regulate.

Self-regulation refers to how well we manage stress, how much energy we expend, and how well we recover” – Dr Stuart Shanker

The calm environment that envelops children within a Pikler world is observation focused and independence driven. These children are learning how to show their emotions and manage stress within a controlled and composed setting, building their resilience for the outside word.

Children’s ability to manage stress is also a hot topic with Harvard and their studies into children’s brain function. These studies are developing daily at Developing Child. Our children’s brains are unique and highly impressionable, especially between the ages of birth and five. The effects of toxic stress (different from normal, positive stresses) are so damaging that they can cause irreversible damage before six years of age. By maximising positive experiences and reducing negative experiences we can help to build children’s brains and build resilience for stress factors they may experience later in their life. By allowing our children to experience positive stresses in a safe environment, we are letting them explore natural consequences and learn the coping techniques that will allow them to build positive reactionary processes for the future.

Children are also learning their cognitive control at this stage, their ability to process their current surroundings and adapt their goals rather than remaining inflexible. We have all had a situation where someone can’t seem to vary their opinion no matter how the circumstances surrounding it have changed. Studies have shown this type of brain flexibility can be learnt, and the best time to begin learning it is before bad habits have already been formed. Your child’s beautiful, developing brain needs to build this resilience so they will crave the types of adaptable thought patterns that come from this.

So, how do we speak to children to help aid this brain development? Hanen literacy explores the decoding and critical thinking skills children need to make sense of the language around them. We often forget to marvel at how amazing it is that children learn to speak with feeling and inflection at such a young age. They are capable of learning dialects, understanding social cues and reading emotions of adults around them.

A child’s learning happens in two equally important places – the home and the classroom” – Hanen Literacy

The ways educators speak with children, the language they use and the questions they ask can help to build children’s critical thinking skills such as their comprehension, their vocabulary and conversational speech. Teaching children words is not enough to help them understand why things are said, how they are paired together and with what intention. A child is always learning. They watch what we say and how we say it and they learn their cues from this, their inflections.

  • Are they engaging with what educators are saying?
  • Are the educators using a tone that mimics theirs?
  • Are they getting to the child’s level and communicating with them in a way that ensures they are being heard?

These are all ways we can make sure that their young minds are absorbing the information we are giving them and learning how to apply it in their worlds. Children will learn to speak better as a result of this. Their social capability will develop, and they will have increased confidence in using language.

Our foremost concern for our children is that they are being cared for. We want to ensure that when they are not with us, they are being treated with care and respect. However, beyond care is really where the magic happens and children are lead to being the greatest versions of themselves for later years to come. The way we teach them to absorb information in those early years will set them up for a lifetime of learning.

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