Early Years Matter
When someone is asked to think of early years education, the minds of the majority of people will go to simplistic ideas: finger painting, playgrounds, puzzles, nursery rhymes, building blocks, free play… the stereotypical images of childhood. Their minds will very rarely go to the more complex, significant aspects of the early years of a person’s life.
The Early Years
The early years of someone’s life will build a foundation for the rest of it and they are years that we passionately believe should never be overlooked. How we turn out as adults, is effected by how we lived out our early years: hopefully these years are positive but if not, if these years of someone’s life have had a negative effect on the outcome of a person’s adult life, you will typically find many attempting to reshape their thinking, their behaviours, their emotions, their instincts… all that are the result of their early years.
For a tree to be strong, it needs strong roots. Gardeners will spend more time on the planting of a seed than the maintaining of a tall tree. They will ensure the seed has the correct sunlight, the correct soil, the correct amount of water – it is delicate in these first few days and weeks: if they get it wrong, it will not grow. After it grows and it grows strong, it will with stand tall and endure many blows and remain strong for hundreds of years, confident in its abilities and strength. The early stages are the most significant.
For a building to endure the years, it needs strong foundations. Builders will spend more time on the columns of a building than any other part. An engineer will tell you if a building is strong by testing it’s columns – it’s foundations. If the foundations of the building are not strong, the whole construction will fall to pieces at the first blow it endures. After the foundations are built and they are built strong, the building will stand firm for hundreds of years, withstanding many blows, confident in its ability to endure whatever is thrown at it. The early stages are the most significant.
Why then, if gardeners are spending so much time on seeds and builders are spending so much time on columns, are we not spending the same amount of time on children? Why are we not putting in the same amount of effort into raising young people?
The early years of a person’s life will shape their inner voice: the one that tells them as an adult that they are good enough. The voice that encourages them to grab any opportunity, that tells them they can work hard to achieve anything, that they should believe in themselves.
The early years will determine the confidence of an adult – knowing their boundaries, their limits, how to stand up for their own ideas, thoughts and beliefs. How to stand up for themselves.
The early years of a person’s life will shape the idea of relationships that they have in their lives. Early relationships will teach children how they should speak and treat their loved ones, how they should be spoken to and treated themselves by others.
People’s early experiences with the world around them will teach them how to approach the world: how to be compassionate, how to help, how to give and not just receive, how to live positively in a community.
In the early years of our lives our minds are open as are our eyes and our ears. A child will absorb whatever is in their environment and will take that as a norm. Once reaching adulthood, if one comes to find that what they knew is not what is right, they will spend many years trying to correct and change their whole foundations and, as with the tree and the building, this takes effort, resources and time and still may not be successful.
So, our argument is simple: why not aim to get it right at the very beginning?
Early Years Education
The term Early Years Education is often a term that will intimidate parents as they picture their young child being made to sit on a chair for long periods of time completing worksheets and stereotypical crafts that the teacher will then “fix” themselves.
Early Years Education is too often misunderstood both by parents and educators themselves.
In our opinion and based on our own experience, Early Years Education should be a holistic, positive experience for each child.
A Positive Introduction to Education
An Early Years setting is the first introduction a child will have to education and it will build their view of education. This first introduction will form their opinion of “school” and if it is not a positive one, it will effect their view for a very long time afterwards.
An environment that is too oppressive will have a negative effect of their experience as will an environment that is under stimulating. An environment that does not feed a child’s curiosity will lead them to believe that education is tedious as they seek other ways to stimulate their growing minds. An environment that is oppressive will lead a child to believe that educational environments are places of pressure as opposed to pleasure. An environment that is intimidating will result in a young child forming an opinion of educational environments being negative places as opposed to places full of love and enjoyment.
This is where it is important for educators to recognize the needs of their young students and provide learning opportunities for all learners, differentiating between abilities and know their children well enough to provide an environment suitable for their needs all the while making sure their children feel loved and valued.
A positive early experience to education will enhance a child’s already naturally existing love of learning.
Following a curriculum, we believe, is important in early years education as it ensures that educators may pay close attention to milestones and targets, ensuring that each child is progressing appropriately. A curriculum will also ensure that a child is comfortable when they reach primary school age meaning they will be confident when they take their next steps away from the comfort of their preschool setting and confidence is key. As mentioned earlier, the minds of many will go to finger painting and puzzles when they think of early years education and while these two specific examples are activities that can (and should) be done in an early years setting and have objectives that can be linked to a curriculum (for example, colour recognition), the objectives of a curriculum, in our opinion, are not the beginning and end to a child’s early years education.
What do we think is important in early years education?
Alongside a curriculum, we, ourselves like to focus on the following areas in many ways:
Home Economics: very simply, life skills – giving the children the skills to feel confident in simple life tasks and making them feel involved in real life situations will help them develop into responsible, independent, self sufficient individuals.
Habits: Healthy eating, exercising, knowledge about nutrition, living an environmentally friendly lifestyle, charity work, manners, respect of others… these are all habits that, if learned in early years, will become habitual to a person as they grow.
Mental health: coping methods, self-regulation, understanding of emotions, self belief, self confidence, self defence… we strongly believe that these are aspects of a person’s character that can be developed more easily in childhood than they can in adulthood.
So, we sincerely hope that next time you think of Early Years Education, your mind does not wonder to simply finger painting and puzzles…
Early Years Matter.