“Does early childhood education REALLY matter? And do I as a parent  have to get involved in it?”

As an early childhood educator, I get asked that a lot. This is even more so when both parents are working at full-time jobs. When we come home, we’re tired and the last thing we want to do is to TEACH our children. And I understand when parents say, “After all, that’s what we pay teachers for… Leave teaching to the teachers!”

However, as parents, can we afford to do that? If we think about it, how old are children by the time they go to school? 7 years old? 6 years old? 5 years old?  What about the years before that? Who is the teacher before school starts? Unfortunately, the short answer is YOU!

Did you know that ….

  • The brain is the only organ that is not fully formed at birth.
  • During the first three years, trillions of connections between brain cells are being made. These years are a time when the brain develops and much of its ‘wiring’ is laid down.
  • A child’s relationships and experiences during the early years greatly influence how their brain grows.
  • The overall development of children in their early years has a direct impact on the adults they will become.
  • The first five years of a child’s life shapes their skills, abilities and values.
  • They also shape their health and physical development, happiness and learning achievement throughout childhood, the teenage years and ultimately adulthood.
  • Children are born ready to learn and interested in the world around them.
  • It is critical that we provide real opportunities for children to learn, develop and have fun during those years.
  • Incredible leaps in skills, knowledge and understanding happen in the first eight years of life.

Think of all the above as you being the potter, and your child’s brain being the clay. You have the opportunity to shape this tiny being – your child! As a parent, you are the single most important influence in your child’s life – especially in the early years.

One of the most important things children learn in the early years is about themselves. An important part of that self-concept is the picture they have of themselves as learners. For children, their self-esteem comes from knowing that they are loved by people who value them, not just for their achievements, but for themselves. Saying, “I love you because you’re you” not “I love you because you can ….” helps them to feel good about themselves. Having good self-esteem help children try new things and gives them a firm base for their learning and development.

In the eyes of the child, we parents are superheroes – at least before they reach their teenage years. Then they don’t want to know us. (“Please drop me a block away” type of thing – but that’s another article.)

Grab these short years that you have by role-modelling for them. YOU can show your child that it is okay to be curious, explore, ask questions, tackle problems, try to figure things out, experiment, try something and fail sometimes. I’ve always maintained that there are lessons to be learnt for success and failures. Success is a short-term experience. With failure, if we tackle this right, our children will learn to pick themselves up and try again.  YOU can model for your child that being a good learner means having a go, seeing yourself as capable and taking reasonable risks. We don’t want children who refuse to try because they’re afraid of failure but neither do we want our children to chase success at ANY cost.

What do children need to their support learning in the early years? The list is long and among them are:

  • adults who help them to stay safe and healthy
  • good learning materials
  • and experiences to learn from, and time to get involved with them.

As parents, we can provide all of the above. However, we will only do so if we believe that early childhood education REALLY matters.