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Jakarta Post

Tracking global trends in early childhood education

  • Cindee Spies

    The Jakarta Post

Jakarta   /   Fri, September 27, 2013   /  12:50 pm

Children develop and grow at different speeds. Nonetheless, most children pass a set of predictable milestones even though there are diverse childhood paths along the way. Developmental milestones are a set of functional skills or age-specific tasks that most children can do at a certain age range. However, each child develops differently, and as development in one area is reinforced and enhanced by growth in others, one child may develop quicker than others.

The developmental milestones are divided into 4 areas:

1. Cognitive development

The ability to learn and solve problems by making new connections.

2. Social-emotional development

The ability to interact with others, including helping themselves and exercising self-control, to form close and secure relationships and to experience, regulate and express emotions

3. Speech and language development

The ability to understand and use language, including verbal,

non-verbal, and written means.

4. Physical development

There are two main skill sets:

'€¢ Fine motor skills; the ability to use small muscles for delicate tasks, especially using hands and fingers; and

'€¢ Gross motor skills; the use of large muscles, like jumping, catching,

and balancing.

Importance of early learning

Research into the human brain shows that the period from birth to the age of eight is a critical phase for brain development and therefore the best time for learning.

During this time in the child'€™s life, the brain is active in forming connections for specific abilities. Critical periods in brain development accommodate the development of specific skills, such as cognitive, social-emotional, language and physical skills.

Nevertheless, the influence of the external environment is crucial to brain development. If a safe and accepting environment with abundant sensory stimulation is available in early childhood, children will have positive brain development, which is beneficial to their future learning.

According to the theory of multiple intelligences, there are many aspects of human intelligence and every individual has varied strengths. Dr. Howard Gardner of Harvard University specifically proposed that children have multiple intelligences; every child has a unique way of learning differently and every child is smart. Children learn best when they are actively involved in constructing knowledge through self-directed learning activities.

From the perspective of constructivist learning theory, children are active and self-motivated in their learning process. Good early learning curriculum should focus on meeting each child'€™s developmental needs through hands-on active learning, opportunity for self-expression and peer relationships and a deepened connection with the natural world. For deep and true understanding comes when caring and encouraging adults, in rich and stimulating environments, support young children in playful exploration.

The engaging classroom setting should include areas for playing, learning, exploring and investigating that enable children to feel safe, as well as empower children to explore their environment. It is the balance of security and stimulation that encourage children'€™s cognitive, physical, social-emotional and language development. The different areas may be referred to as interest areas. Each interest area includes engaging and interesting materials. In these areas, children use their bodies, their senses, and their emerging problem-solving skills to learn and make sense of their world in the ways most meaningful and effective for them.

How to choose the right preschool for your child

The first years of your child'€™s life are a critical period of development. Keep in mind that children who are well-stimulated during these years are more prepared for formal education and more likely to master the social skills needed for their school years. Knowing the common early childhood educational philosophies will help you make decisions regarding your child'€™s education.

The key to choosing the right school for your little one is preparation, with a solid idea of what you want your child to gain from his/her preschool experience. The following guidelines, based on the NAEYC Early Childhood Program Standards, offers helpful suggestions for preschools that are suitable for your child and your family, with some information on the most popular types of preschool educational philosophies:

1. Preschool programs should focus on the child

During your visit to the school, you must observe the children'€™s interaction with peers and adults, whether the setting builds healthy and stimulating relationships. You may also ask about the curriculum; a good curriculum includes a variety of appropriate activities for this age group.

2. Preschool programs should provide qualified staff

The teaching staff should have adequate educational background in Early Childhood development. You may ask what degrees and training their teachers have and how long teachers and staff have been with the program. Teachers that stay longer in the program are more likely experienced in promoting children'€™s learning and establishing bonds with children.

3. Preschool programs should build relationships with families

You may ask how information and concerns are communicated be tween the school and families, and check that the program'€™s policies include families being involved in the program to meet their child'€™s needs.

4. Preschool programs should be well-run

You should check whether the program is licensed, has policies and practices to help keep children safe from preventable illness and injury. Observe that the facilities are age-appropriate and well maintained, both indoors and outdoors. You may also ask about the adult-child ratio, which helps determine how much individual attention your child will get.

Determining a good preschool for you precious child is not as difficult and stressful as you think. Evaluating a program based on the standards above will help you choose a high-quality program for your child to allow them to get a great start on learning.

The writer is the Early Childhood Education Specialist at Tutor Time Indonesia.

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