Your Child’s Early Head-Start Starts Earlier Than You Think

A child’s mind is like a sponge; it soaks in information and responds to it at an extremely fast rate. Years of research on this subject have led luminaries such as Nobel Prize-winning economist James J. Heckman to come to this conclusion: investment in high-quality early childhood programmes is critical.

Any parent who has suffered bouts of anxiety attacks about kindergarten enrolment has an inkling of the importance of education during the early stages of their child’s development. Research has shown that 75 per cent of brain development takes place in the child’s first three years. By the time he is five, the proportion goes up to a whopping 90 per cent! We call these years “formative” for a reason.

What happens during this period is an expression of the effects of nature and nurture. The foundations of the brain’s architecture are established early in life through a series of interactions between a child’s personal, social and environmental condition. These interactions combine to determine how genetic predispositions are expressed.

This means that the quality of a child’s early environment and experiences at the right stages of development are crucial in determining the strength or weakness of the brain’s architecture, which in turn, determines how well the child will be able to think and control emotions.

According to Heckman, the “rate of return to a dollar investment made while a person is young is
1 higher than the rate of return to the same dollar made at a later age.” This means that the benefits enjoyed by the same investment are greater at an early age than at a later age. But how do we apply this principle in real life?

Here are some simple guiding principles to bear in mind when it comes to nurturing your child’s early development:
• Successful early childhood education should lead to the holistic development of a child – mentally, socially, emotionally and physically. When choosing an early childhood provider, it is important to remember that from birth until a child is about eight – with particular emphasis from birth until age three – early childhood education should ensure that children have the skills necessary to enter school ready to learn, thus providing the foundation for future success.

• The school environment must create a playful and engaging experience. Teachers should create a positive, fun environment while trying to improve educational outcomes – so that children think that they are playing, but we know they are learning. At Knowledge Universe, the pedagogical approach we take is to institutionalize processes so that caring and responsive adults are vital to a child’s development. This starts with strong interaction between teachers and children and by creating an environment where a child has the confidence to explore and grow.
1 NBER Working Paper No. 9495, “Human Capital Policy”, James Heckman, Pedro Caneiro

• Parents must also get involved. When parents know what is going on in school, they can recreate their own version of this at home. The most important thing is to understand the importance of the reciprocal feedback with a child, and to engage in positive, reinforcing behaviour, while keeping the child’s environment fun and playful.

• Encourage your child to think out of the box. Extending education typically involves turning routine behaviour into something more involved in abstract thinking – by encouraging the child to think outside of the obvious situations presented to him. For example, when reading a book, ask your child what will happen next. This enlarges the usefulness of a children’s book to involve more thinking. When going shopping, ask your child to help create a list of things that are needed, and then go through the list at the grocery store. There are a lot of powerful things that you can do to expose your children to environments and situations that will help them grow and develop.

• Remember that different skills are developed at different stages. It could be harmful if you impose something on your child if they are not ready for it. He or she may become frustrated, leading to the creation of a negative environment. In other words, don’t push them too much – remember that it always has to be playful in these formative years.

When it comes to giving your child the right head-start in life, it’s best not to concentrate only on the academic aspect. If you enrich the early part of their childhood with positively reinforcing experiences, you’ll set them on the right path for the rest of their lives.

Grace Sin is the Director of Education of Morris Allen English. She spent a great amount of time in the early childhood and education industry. Grace was the Curriculum Manager of Learning Vision. A dedicated teacher and the consummate professional, she was nominated for then MCYS’ Best Teacher Award and won the Knowledge Universe (now Busy Bees) Star Award (Teacher) in 2005 before progressing to become the Nanyang Polytechnic (NYP) Centre Principal in 2008. With more than 15 years of experience in the field under her belt, Grace is also an expert in the Reggio Emilia education philosophy.

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