When parents get to the point of registering their children in a nursery or kindergarten they usually put as a priority the respect shown towards their child. But is this the only thing parents should be concerned about? Is the kindergarten just a place for children to pass their time while they are away from their parents or is it a fundamental investment in that child’s future? What is special about early childhood education that parents should know and invest in?
Early childhood education covers all of pre-school education and care, referring to babies from a few months old up to the age of six when they attend reception class. The diversity of early childhood education includes:
- Nurseries and kindergartens
- Reception classes in public and private primary schools
- Family groups
- Any activity that is appropriate for this age range
Three of the best-known approaches of early childhood education in Europe are Montessori, Waldorf and Reggio Emilia, and all three practices are offered by nurseries and preschools in Cyprus. All three are considered strong alternatives to traditional educational systems and inspire educators to reform their approach. Even though there are slight differences between them, all focus on helping children realise their full potential as whole people. Having these three early childhood education approaches recognised and serving as role models for many educational centres underlines how important early childhood education really is.
In Waldorf schools they believe in the unity of spirit, soul and body, focusing on the balance between thinking, willing and feeling. The educational focus is on bodily exploration, constructive and creative play, and oral (never written) language, story and song. Rudolf Steiner, the creator of Waldorf schools, believed that “It is important that we discover an educational method where people learn to learn and go on learning their whole lives”.
In Montessori classes children choose their activities and explore them without interruption in a well-prepared environment that helps them choose well. The new curriculum is presented by educators to the children only when they show readiness to accept the new knowledge. Maria Montessori believed that “the education of even a small child, therefore, does not aim at preparing him for school, but for life”.
The Reggio Emilia approach focuses on the child as a social human being who develops through relationships with others and the environment. Teachers support children to investigate and explore and do not provide focused instructions on reading and writing. Loris Malaguzi, founder of the Reggio Emilia approach, believed that educators’ task is “to help children communicate with the world using all their potential, strengths and languages and to overcome any obstacle presented by our culture”.
Following the philosophies of these great pedagogues it is easy to see there are some very important skills to be gained in early childhood. Education starts from the date of birth, and nowadays, we find an increasing number of young parents participating in family playgroups, music groups or sensory groups. Early education lies in various areas and parents should invest in this even before registering their children at a nursery. All great pedagogues emphasise the importance of movement, music making, storytelling and free play in early childhood. Through all these children discover themselves and the world they belong to, preparing them to grow into independent adults in the future. In the words of Zoltán Kodály, one of the most famous music pedagogues who closely collaborated with Katalin Forrai, an early childhood educator who dedicated her entire professional life to music education, ‘only the best is good enough for our children.’
Parents should invest in early childhood Education and collaborate with professionals in different settings to help their little ones gain all the skills they need for their future life as students, adults, independent and creative citizens of this world.
The World Health Organization (WHO) emphasises the importance of early years in a child’s life in building a foundation for optimal development. WHO head of child health and development Bernadette Daelmand says ‘we must ensure young children and caregivers receive the early interventions they need to thrive, even in humanitarian settings.’
All forms of early years education should consider that ‘every child is a competent learner from birth who can be resilient, capable, confident and self-assured’. Children learn from a very young age to be independent and strong from a base of loving relationships. Early childhood educators should secure an environment that will support children’s development and learning. Children develop and learn in different ways and all areas of learning are equally important and interconnected. So, all forms of early childhood education, either in a kindergarten, with a child minder, at a playgroup, sensory or music group, should provide the opportunity for children to play and explore. They should engage children into active learning, offering opportunities for mental and physical involvement as well as decision making and creating an environment for personalised learning. Educators should guide children to develop creativity and critical thinking and invest in creating all areas of learning and development that include:
- personal, social and emotional
- communication, language and literacy
- problem solving, reasoning and numeracy
- knowledge and understanding of the world
- physical development
- creative development
In conclusion, early years education matters and parents should invest in offering the best education to their children from a very young age in various and different settings.
- Maria Demosthenous is a music educator specialised in early childhood education