Trying to succinctly express the importance and benefits of child care and early childhood education, might almost be impossible.
I know when I’ve been asked in the past about it, my answer has probably been more long-winded than anyone truly wanted to listen to. With over 13 years of practical experience within this field and all of my ongoing studies and learning regarding child development, I feel confident that the benefits of child care are virtually endless. With scientists saying that ‘90 percent of brain growth and learning pathways are formed by the age of five years’, I’d say that alone at least hints at the importance.
I’ve personally observed the difference between children who have attended some form of early childhood education before five years old and those who haven’t. My cousin, a primary school teacher, has also shared with me the noted differences she observes between children who have attended more than just preschool alone before starting school. We both agree, there’s a clear difference and a clear head-start of sorts for children whom have received that bit extra. Of course, we’re generalising here and all children are individuals, but more often than not, this generalisation has been an observed truth in my experience.
Many parents have heard about the benefits of children socialising; of how giving children that opportunity to interact with other children, particularly those of the same age and/or stage of development, helps to promote a sense of confidence and security among children.
We all recognise that for a child starting their first year of primary school, being around so many children could be daunting. Often, parents will attempt to create and foster social opportunities for their children before school age. Playgroups and story times exist in most council areas and these are often quite popular among toddler and preschool aged children.
Social interactions, when guided or supervised effectively where needed, can enhance a variety of cognitive and emotional skills such as:
- Turn taking,
- Verbal and non-verbal communication skills,
- Creating bonds and friendships,
- Conflict resolution,
- Problem solving, and even
- Developing a sense of humour and positive social understandings.
All of these skills help to make formal schooling less daunting for children. They ooze into other developmental areas and other learning topics and help to enhance the learning that is possible.
What parents often don’t realise, is the importance of learning through play in these early, formative years.
Through carefully planned and prompted games, activities and resources, educators within child care and early childhood education services can scaffold the learning of children in a range of developmental areas. To learn to write, for example, a child first needs to develop muscle strength, hand and eye coordination, an ability to cross their midline, bilateral integration, hand dominance, visual skills and the ability to differentiate between various written symbols or text and object manipulation.
Without any of these skills, learning to write may be hindered. So when you see children playing with playdough, or making slime, or using ‘tap tap’ boards to hammer tiny nails into cork boards, what you’re actually witnessing is the development and encouragement of pre-writing skills.
Maths and science skills are also explored through play based learning in the early childhood education and care settings. Play with scales, experimenting with texture or sensory stimulation, investigating opposites, counting activities, creating patterns with small wooden tiles – all of these ‘games’ are, for example, scaffolding math and science concepts.
If you look closely at the activities and play you may see in many child care services, we can quickly see where these activities are leading. Keeping these areas and learning topics play based and fun, ensures children are engaged, interested and makes learning an enjoyable experience.
We can still ‘let kids be kids’ whilst teaching them life and school skills.
EMOTIONAL AND COGNITIVE
Possibly the most important benefit of early childhood education though, is the emotional and cognitive learning.
Being able to trust an adult other than their parents or guardians, being able to respect, feel safe and comfortable with adults and children in a setting outside of the home is the beginning of shaping our child’s identity and wellbeing.
It creates a foundation for behaviour and interactions within a formal schooling environment. It prompts the confidence and assurance children need to be able to continue to facilitate their own learning once in a class room of 20 or more students.
Following instructions and respecting the boundaries set by other adults and even other children, is the beginning of social respect and understanding.
The routines (be them flexible or structured) that child care services offer, can help children to familiarise with a classroom environment and develop a sense of agency and knowledge of self.
Learning to settle and direct their attention and focus when mum or dad is not around, is yet another aspect of emotional and cognitive learning that occurs within an early childhood education setting.
LEARNING DIFFICULTIES AND AREAS OF CONCERN
A benefit of early childhood education that may not be achievable by parents alone can be assessing and recognising learning difficulties or delays.
Whilst this is not something that all parents might encounter, it’s definitely an area that benefits from child care and early childhood education services. It also provides reassurance to parents, to know that there are others out there with a strong sense of care and commitment to the growth and development of your child.
Sometimes we may be unaware of small delays that our child is experiencing because we are with them so closely and so often. A child care service and their qualified educators can often recognise any difficulties or areas of concern. This recognition allows educators and guardians to either work together to create and implement strategies to help the child, or can open up pathways to finding and receiving professional help if needed – like speech therapy, for example.
Whilst doctors and health nurses are professionals who may recognise and assist when any difficulties or delays are suspected (and they should be contacted should any concerns present), they most likely don’t see the child regularly enough within a social or learning setting, to have the best representation of the child’s abilities.
Recognising any areas of concern early on, and receiving early intervention strategies and guidance early on, can often positively impact a child’s learning and abilities.
Many children, for example, with minor speech delays and no other causes of concern, may show an improvement in language development within 2 – 6 sessions of speech therapy when received in earlier years. I know parents often feel upset and uncertain when confronted with a possibility of learning difficulties for their child, but the earlier these concerns are recognised and addressed, the better the outcome may be by the time the child is of school age.
The importance and benefits of child care and early childhood education are endless. Like adults, all children are individuals. Learning settings, various methods and learning pedagogies will benefit each individual slightly differently, but to have something rather than nothing (in terms of early childhood education) is highly advantageous.
Of course, education is an expense no matter when it begins. Child care can be even more of an expense than primary school in some areas, but when you reflect back on that 90% brain growth statistic before the age of five, it makes it worth considering and budgeting for.
The Australian Government is introducing a new Child Care Subsidy to assist families with the costs of child care. We prepared a concise overview The New Child Care Subsidy – An Overview for Parents to help you understand the changes and how they may impact you.
I don’t know of any parent who doesn’t strive to give their child the absolute best that they can and with so many options available for child care and early childhood education, I’d say it’s well worth researching.