Parents and early educators must develop certain competencies to promote children’s learning.
By Abha Ranjan Khanna
Early childhood, the period from birth to six years, is a time of remarkable growth and brain development at its peak. During this time, children are highly influenced by their environment and completely dependent on the adults around them. Children’s health and development, education and protection are inextricably linked to their care giving environments and therefore investing in families and communities to achieve positive, measurable outcomes for children is crucial.
Thus, early childhood care and education is about monitoring the environment that infants and toddlers are embedded in by developing the capabilities and skills of the adults that surround them.
More than just preparation for primary school, early childhood education aims at the holistic development of children’s social, emotional, cognitive and physical needs in order to build a solid and broad foundation for lifelong learning and wellbeing.
Therefore, supporting parents’ and families’ abilities to meet these needs of their children is paramount and requires a coordinated and multifaceted effort.
In most Southeast Asian countries including India, data show that children typically enroll in pre-primary education programmes at age 3, and join primary school at age 6. Assuming that children stay in pre-primary school for one to three years, this is the time that parents and early educators must develop certain competencies to promote children’s learning.
The first set of competencies includes understanding children’s holistic development and facilitating that development and learning. For this, the parents and pre-primary educators must be able to keenly observe children to be able to interpret what their behaviours mean and assess children to identify their needs.
These abilities in the adults underpin the development of preschool curricula for very young children. For example, when adults first understand themselves why it is essential that children understand what shapes mean and what are their names, they play with children in ways to teach them about various shapes like a circle, triangle, square and rectangle. This lays the foundation for children to understand that “A”, “B”, “C” etc., the 26 letters of the English alphabet are shapes with specific names that make specific sounds (Phonics).
Similarly, developing fine motor skills and visual motor coordination through play with building blocks; puzzles; play dough; cut/paste craft activities; colouring; painting and beading build the foundation for developing writing skills as children enter primary education.
Thus literacy, numeracy and language acquisition have their roots in early childhood experiences. These experiences are dependent upon adult capabilities of providing such opportunities through the daily routines of the child. Mothers who constantly talk to their very young child about what they are doing for example “Close your eyes, I am going to soap your face now”, “Give me your hands I am going to wash them now” during bath time, and say “Ooh, look at this lovely yellow dal and round, round chappati” during meal time are embedding the child in a language and vocabulary rich environment. This constitutes an important aspect of early childhood education.
Building strong beginnings by promoting nurturing care of young children by supporting comprehensive and responsive parenting skills and early childhood teacher competencies can build a strong foundation for early and lifelong learning.