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The Importance of Early Childhood Development and Play

creative brain

According to Harvard universities’ neuroscientist Jack Shonkof, brains are built not born”

In children between the ages of two and seven, major brain development occurs. The first 2000 days of a child’s life is not about preparing them for Grade one, it can also not be viewed as a pre-cursor to “real” learning. Recent research has proven that what happens in the first five years dictates a child's long-term prospects for health, wealth, education, lasting friendships and happiness. Early Childhood Development has the possibility of nurturing capable and responsible future citizens.

A 20-year study of children in Jamaica by Nobel laureate James Heckman Paul Gertler and others showed that early stimulation interventions for infants and toddlers increased their future earnings by 25 percent.

In the three to five-year age group, the stimulation and learning that comes from play, reading, singing and interacting with their peers is immensely important.  Play in the pre-school years enables children to explore and make sense of the world around them as well as provides an opportunity for them to use their imagination and creativity. Therefore, a play-based curriculum provides an ideal method to teach and develop fundamental skills. The play should be structured with various learning apparatus or activities provided and supervised in a stimulating environment.

Teacher helping girl
Happy children on jungle gym

For this reason, play opportunities and environments that promote play, exploration and hands-on learning are at the core of effective pre-primary programmes.

When children choose to play, they are not thinking “Now I am going to learn something from this activity.” Yet their play creates powerful learning opportunities across all areas of growth. Development and learning are complex and holistic, and yet skills across all developmental domains can be encouraged through play, including motor, cognitive and social and emotional skills. Indeed, in playful experiences, children take advantage of a range of skills at any one time.

By choosing to play with the things they like to do, children actually develop skills in all areas of development: intellectual, social, emotional and physical. For example, while children are playing, they can try out new social skills (e.g., sharing toys, agreeing on how to work together with materials), and they often take on some challenging cognitive tasks (such as figuring out how to make a building with smaller blocks when the larger ones are not available). Children are ‘hands-on’ learners. They acquire knowledge through playful interaction with objects and people. They need a lot of practice with solid objects to understand abstract concepts. For example, by playing with geometric blocks they understand the concept that two squares can form a rectangle and two triangles can form a square.

From dancing a pattern such as step forward, step back twirl, clap and repeat, they begin to understand the features of patterns that are the foundation for mathematics. Pretend or ‘symbolic’ play (such as playing house or market) is especially beneficial: in such play, children express their ideas, thoughts and feelings, learn how to control their emotions, interact with others, resolve conflicts and gain a sense of competence. Play sets the foundation for the development of critical social and emotional knowledge and skills.

Girl playing with building blocks
Group of children at play

Through play, children learn to forge connections with others, and to share, negotiate and resolve conflicts, as well as learn self-advocacy skills. Play also teaches children leadership as well as teamwork skills. Furthermore, play is a natural tool that children can use to build their resilience and coping skills, as they learn to navigate relationships and deal with social challenges as well as overcome their fears, for example through re-enacting fantasy heroes. More generally, play satisfies a basic human need to express imagination, curiosity and creativity, which are key resources in a knowledge-driven world. They help us to cope, to find pleasure, and to use our imaginative and innovative powers. Indeed, the critical skills that children acquire through play in the preschool years form part of the fundamental building blocks of future complex “21st-century skills”.

“At school children love the opportunity to dress up in the fantasy corners in our classrooms and are intrigued by the STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) activities that form part of our structured play. Children marvel at the age-appropriate science experiments and we have added further play-based developmental activities by introducing Cubetta, (A robot used to introduce and develop coding skills) to begin teaching the fundamentals of coding from an early age.

“Our many years of existence allows our children to benefit from an enriched experience enhanced by a well-equipped environment in which they play.

“Sometimes parents are sceptical of a play-based curriculum as there is a misunderstanding of the importance of just letting children play and the expense of the perceived informal learning environment.  A structured day that incorporates supervised play activities as well free play with their peers is vital for their development.  Teachers who are qualified and experienced in ECD guide the children through the activities building self-esteem.  Engaging in and paying attention to conversations also develops a child’s language ability.”  Derryn Randall HOD of St Martin’s Pre-Prep Phase. 

Reference source:
https://www.unicef.org/sites/default/files/2018-12/UNICEF-Lego-Foundation-Learning-through-Play.pdf

Learners learning through play

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