PERIVOLI OKONJIMA COUNTRY SCHOOL
EARLY CHILDHOOD DEVELOPMENT
According to Unicef (2015) early childhood is considered to be of the most important in a child's developmental phase throughout their lifespan.
Learning begins at birth. As stated by CGECCD (2013), the early years, also defined as from zero to age eight, are the foundations for life long learning. The most problematic failure occurs however in the lack of education within the early primary years (CGECCD, 2013).
Globally within poverty stricken countries the most dropouts take place within the first two years of school as mentioned by CGECCD (2013). Many children who do continue with school end up in persistent patterns of underachievement and leave school unable to read fluently or calculate let alone solve problems or think critically (CGECCD, 2013).
In addition the earliest grades according to CGECCD (2013), are often taught by the most inexperienced and least trained teachers, who are given large classes, with few hours of learning per week with little to no materials. Schools should be ready for all children, learning is a basic human right and thus here at the Perivoli Country School we strive to focus on those crucial early years, helping children from all ages develop and improve their skills, ultimately giving them the best chance at a brighter future.
According to Unicef (2015) 7.6 million children under the age of 5 die each year worldwide. Over 200 million children survive but do not reach their full potential (Unicef, 2015). These countries have an estimated 20 percent loss in adult productivity thus what happens during their early years of development is extremely crucial for a child’s development. This period offers great amounts of opportunity, equally however vulnerability to negative influences if children aren’t exposed to proper guidance and given the opportunity to develop to their fullest human potential.
A good foundation in the early years of development, according to Unicef (2015) makes a big difference through adulthood and gives the next generation a better start. Early years of childhood form the basis of intelligence, personality and social behaviour, as well as their capacity to learn and nurture oneself as an adult (Unicef, 2015).
As mentioned by Unicef (2015), there is consistent and strong evidence, which shows that:
- Brain development is most rapid in the early years of life. When the quality of stimulation, support and nurturance is deficient, child development is seriously affected.
- The effects of early disadvantage on children can be reduced. Early interventions for disadvantaged children lead to improvements in children’s survival, health, growth, and cognitive and social development.
- Children who receive assistance in their early years achieve more success at school. As adults they have higher employment and earnings, better health, and lower levels of welfare dependence and crime rates than those who don’t have these early opportunities.
- Efforts to improve early child development are an investment, not a cost. Available cost-benefit ratios of early intervention indicate that for every dollar spent on improving early child development, returns can be on average 4 to 5 times the amount invested, and in some cases, much higher.
Encouraging children to play and explore helps them learn and develop socially, emotionally, physically as well as intellectually (Unicef, 2015). Play is often overlooked and the process of play is an extremely powerful multifaceted learning experience. Children’s play includes all activities from exploring, language experimentation, cognition and the development of social skills.
As mentioned by Unicef (2015):
“Based on new research and a new understanding of the complete well-being of the child, early child development is increasingly being put on the agenda for children’s rights. Ensuring the healthy cognitive, social and emotional development of young children merits the highest priority of every responsible government, organization, community, family and individual for the sake of raising healthy children worldwide. Reaching children in a holistic manner and incorporating health, nutrition, water and sanitation, education and interventions that support their full development is crucial.”
As mentioned by Expat (2015), growth of mental and physical abilities progress at an incredible rate with a high proportion of learning taking place between the ages from birth to six. Thus quality and focused attention is crucial during these stages to enable children to grow to their best potential.
During the first three years parents are the main players in the child’s learning experience as well as education (Expat, 2015). What parents do and what the children are exposed to play a large role in the development of the child.
In third world countries such as Namibia, often the children’s parents were never given the opportunity to learn either and thus don’t have the intellect to better their children’s chances by making sure their young years are spent doing intellectually stimulating activities. The fact remains as stated by Expat (2015) that the environment in which the child is placed in during the younger years should be as positively stimulating as possible.
It is crucial and very useful to understand how language unfolds; toddlers first learn words to describe the familiar people around them as well as the objects they are surrounded with on a daily basis (Expat, 2015). Then words of action are learnt and lastly they learn words to describe their own personal world with regards to their ideas, as mentioned by Expat (2015). Thus the caregiver’s time spent with the toddler is of serious importance, as this has a vast impact on the child’s speech development and is directly linked to the time spent reading with and talking to the child.
THE IMPORTANCE OF PLAY
Play is vital, not only from a fundamental learning and emotional development perspective but also as a social behaviour. Play is mutli-faceted, according to Expat (2015), although it should be a fun experience for children often many skills are learnt through play. Children learn about relationships, social skills and develop values as well as ethics during that time (Expat, 2015). Water play and sand play are the favourite amongst pre school children and are valuable teaching tools for pre school children with hands and fingers being their very first art tools. Soon they manage to pick up thick paint brushes, sponge wedges, chalks and many more instruments such as crayons and colouring pencils (Expat, 2015).
Letting children do what they want encourages individuality and decision making, thus art toys such as play dough are also important as it initiates poking, rolling and shaping and gets their little minds active and ultimately helps develop reasoning skills, problem solving as well as creativity, as stated by Expat (2015).
Pretend play is very popular with children in preschool and kindergarten phases. This kind of play is important to their individual growth as it allows them to express themselves and events in their lives (Expat, 2015).
Various psychological theories dealing with human development talk about "stages". Basically according to child development and psychological research every individual will progress through the same stages in a fixed chronological order, with genetic and or environmental factors speeding or slowing down the rate at which each individual reaches the next stage (Unicef, 2015).
Younger Years (Birth-6 years old)
At this stage the most influential people in a child’s life are the people they are surrounded by the most, these being their family members and early childhood educators.
At Perivoli we focus on providing these group of children with the most stability and care possible. Although the youngest children at the Country school are between 5 and 6 years of age, it is very important to allow these children the chance of developing all their necessary skills in a supportive and stimulating environment. The children’s parents work and live on Okonjima, with most of them barely having completed high school. Thus at Okonjima, part of the Environmental Education program is teaching the adults how to take care of their kids in a way that will allow them to later on join the Perivoli Country School.
According to Unicef (2015) some of the Cognitive developments experienced in this stage resemble the following:
- Early experience of shapes, colours, people, animals, sounds, rhythms, places - developing language.
- Developing awareness and sensitivity to differences in gender, race, disability and early formation of social attitudes.
- Difficulty in distinguishing fantasy from reality and difficulty in understanding causality (that one thing/action leads to another).
- Concentrating on the concrete aspects of reality (what I can see, hear, touch).
- Difficulty in understanding codes and conventions of television (like close-up, rerun, flashback, thought bubbles).
- Growing awareness of gender and other “differences”.
Middle Years (Seven -10)
This stage is based on children gradually developing into more independent and separate human beings, confident enough to explore their world around them.
Language is more developed, new and enormous amounts of information is learned as well as additional skills acquired. Curiosity pushes their little minds into strange unchartered waters, which is how social skills and friendships are formed. This is also the time where children are more prone and receptive to a variety of exclusion practices, such as gender, race stereotyping as well as bullying (Unicef, 2015).
What children are exposed to at home and during their school or pre school hours is what impacts their attitudes, views as well as behaviours.
As mentioned by Unicef (2015) the Cognitive development experienced in this stage are:
- Better distinguishing between fantasy and reality.
- Understanding inner motivation of characters.
- Understanding causality (that one thing leads to another).
- Using more sophisticated language.
- Developing problem-solving and critical thinking skills.
- Developing understanding of television and other media codes and conventions (use of camera shots and editing, sound and music cues, etc.)
More information on child development milestones: Unicef child development information (pdf)