Monday was National Children’s Day! Therefore I thought it would be nice to share a post in regards to children, their learning and development and why early years are so important.
I have heard and seen many parents and caregivers ignore their children when they want to play, or stop them from playing with their toys in a way that suits them and showing them the ‘correct’ way of using them. But it is important to allow children to play, explore and be creative as it has a huge impact on their development for the future.
Early child development sets the foundation for their future learning, behaviour and health; with their experiences from childhood shaping their brain and their capacity to learn, communicate with others and respond to daily stressors and challenges. Brain development begins before the child is born, during the third trimester of pregnancy and continues after birth, following a predictable sequence (McCain, Mustard and Shanker, 2007). It is believed that all babies are born with similar brains and brain structures and that it is their own personal experiences which make their brains become more and more unique as the years go by.
Early childhood development helps to establish social competence, cognitive skills, emotional well-being, language and literacy skills, physical abilities, and is a marker for well-being in school and life resiliency. Therefore it is important that we allow children to play and explore in their surroundings, letting them take risks and push their boundaries in a safe and enabling environment. Every child is unique, meaning they will learn and develop in different ways. It is vital that we as parents, caregivers and practitioners have a holistic approach when teaching and caring for children.
The Holistic Child:
There is no single factor which influences the child’s development. There is a wide range of interrelated factors which come together to ensure the child has a healthy development:
- Health (physical and mental)
- Social status
- Access to stimulating learning environments
- Access to high-quality health and social services
- Adequate nutrition
- Clean water
- A secure nurturing parent-child relationship
The holistic approach is the concept that sees each individual child as a whole person. There are six stages of development that must be well understood so that we are able to assess where a particular child is in terms of their development in comparison to the general ‘norm’. The general ‘norm’ is an estimate of where a child should be in terms of development by a certain age; however as mentioned before, every child is unique and therefore may develop in different ways at different times.
Children develop physically from the top down, starting with gaining control of the head, then the arms, down to the legs and feet. Children develop gross motor skills which include movement and control over large muscle groups leading to crawling, walking, running, jumping and climbing. They also develop fine motor skills which include fine and precise movements of the hands and fingers, leading to writing, drawing, colouring and using cutlery. The physical development also includes sensory developments, taking in the information received from their sense of smell, touch, sound, taste and sight as well as developing a sense of awareness and balance.
This takes place in the part of the brain that is used for recognising, understanding and reasoning, helping children to make sense of what they have seen, heard, touched etc. This also includes language development and communication skills. Helping children to understand receptive speech and how they can express themselves through language.
Emotional and Social Development:
This is when children start to understand their feelings about themselves and others, helping them to know how and why they feel a certain way and how to act in response to their feelings as well as how to be helpful when others are feeling in certain ways.
Moral and Spiritual Development:
This is when children develop an understanding and cherishing of values and ethics such as honesty, integrity and fair play as well as understanding the consequences their actions can bring. This help to develop a sense of responsibility and empathy allowing the children to flourish and become one with their authentic self.
There are many things that children do which help them to develop in each of these areas and there are many things that we can do as parents, caregivers and practitioners to ensure that each area is being developed efficiently.
Forest schools are great in terms of development; children are able to use the great outdoors throughout their learning. For example their gross motor skills are being developed through balancing on logs and climbing on trees and rocks, whereas their fine motor skills are being developed through building shelters using natural materials, carving, whittling, tying knots and building fires. On top of this, all their senses can be developed by their surroundings.
By planning and discussing how to build shelters and what materials they can use, develops their intellectual development. This also encourages them to practice communicating with others and working as a group in order to get things done, therefore improving their language and literacy skills.
Not being time restricted can help give the children a sense of calm, allowing them to persevere with finishing the task at hand. They are also building resilience by trying again when things do not work out the first time around. The children feel a sense of satisfaction when they manage to complete their tasks. This all helps to strengthen the children’s emotional development.
By cooperating and collaborating with other children and teachers, children enhance their social skills. Working together to problem solve and get things done.
Enhancing their moral and spiritual development comes from learning and making rules for games and working them out so that they are fair and just. Being outside also teaches children to respect the woodland areas and their environment.
As you can see, things that we can see as silly or dangerous (such as collecting sticks or climbing trees) can be important and beneficial to the development of children. Therefore it is important to let them explore and experiment.
According to the Eary Years Foundation Stage (EYFS) there are four themes which underpin the guidance for practitioners working with children, these themes come together to create the perfect learning environment for children in the early years and ensure that their developmental needs are being met.
These themes are:
- Unique Child – Every child is unique, they are constantly learning, they can be resilient, capable, confident and self-assured. It is important that practitioners observe the children who are under their care, making sure to watch their learning and development and assessing their progress, making plans for the child’s next steps and seeing whether they need any additional help and support. It is important to help children become confident so that they can develop a positive sense of self. On top of this, it is important for practitioners to treat all children and families with the same level of respect.
- Positive Relationships – Children learn a lot through having positive relationships with their peers as well as with a key person. They learn to be strong and independent through the relationships that they have with others. It is important to be warm and loving towards each and every child, giving them a sense of belonging. As a practitioner, you must be kind, sensitive and responsive to each of the child’s needs, feelings and interests. Allow children to express their individuality and support their efforts as well as being able to set clear and consistent boundaries where needed. Being a key person for a child is a big responsibility. It is important to treat each child with the same level of care and understanding, giving each of them the same opportunities, listening to them and being a supportive role model to them.
- Enabling Environments – Children learn and develop well when they are faced with a good enabling environment. Seeing practitioners and parents share a positive relationship and working together to ensure the needs of the child are met, both in the school setting and at home. Not only is communicating with the parents and caregivers of the children important, but it is also important to make sure that the learning environment for the children is stimulating and relevant to children from all cultures and backgrounds. It is good to provide rich learning opportunities through play and playful teaching and to support children as they choose to take risks and explore. It is also important for children to refer to their environment as being a safe place for them to be in. We want them to feel safe and content in their surroundings.
- Learning and Development – As mentioned previously, children learn and develop in various ways. Therefore this framework makes sure to cover education and care for all children in the EYFS, including children with special educational needs and disabilities. Practitioners must ensure to teach children through a range of challenging and playful opportunities across the prime and specific areas of learning. It is vital that children have the opportunity to take part in playing and exploring, active learning and creating and thinking critically.
We want to help children to develop into confident, resilient adults who are able to look after themselves and others, communicate well and express themselves fluently. In order to do this, we need to care for and support them throughout childhood and into adolescence.