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Of Early Childhood Education

An insightful interview with Asma Maladwala, co-owner and director of Inspire Children’s Nursery in Dubai, about the importance of early childhood education. Asma, a teacher at heart and by profession and has spent most of her career in the classroom. Asma has extensive experience working with children – from early childhood through adolescence, both in the United States and the United Arab Emirates. She has undergone extensive training in child development, teaching pedagogy, behavioral modification, Applied Behavioral Analysis, development of individualized programs, and diagnosis and assessment.

 

BB: What is early childhood education, and what age group of kids does early childhood education encompass?

AM: Early childhood education is the education and care of young children. The age range encompassed varies from country to country, but usually refers to the ages prior to compulsory education. In the UAE this is from 0 – 4 years of age, while in other countries it can extend up to the age of 8 years.

BB: Why is early childhood education important? 

AM:Experiences in the early years contribute to brain development and function more than any other period of learning. This is the phase of brain development where the basic architecture is being formed and every experience contributes to that. It is also the period where the brain has the most elasticity, so is able to acquire skills more easily such as a second language, or the ability to read/play music.

“The first years of life are important, because what happens in early childhood can matter for a lifetime. Science shows us what children must have, and what they need to be protected from, in order to promote their healthy development. Stable, responsive, nurturing relationships and rich learning experiences in the earliest years provide lifelong benefits for learning, behavior and both physical and mental health.” *

Early childhood education is important as it helps set the foundation for learning later on in life. Children who have access to high quality early learning opportunities are more likely to be successful into adolescence and adulthood. 

“Early learning begets later learning and early success breeds later success, just as early failure breeds later failure. Success or failure at this stage lays the foundation for success or failure in school, which in turn leads to success or failure in post-school learning. Recent studies of early childhood investments have shown remarkable success and indicate that the early years are important for early learning. Moreover, early childhood interventions of high quality have lasting effects on learning and motivation.” **

Various studies have shown a further correlation between access to high quality early childhood education and completion of high school, university, as well as lifetime earnings. 

BB: When, in your opinion, should children be enrolled in school and why?

AM: While there are significant advantages to enrolling children into quality early childhood programs, it is equally important to ensure the child is ready. Every child is different and only a parent will know best if their child is ready to manage a social environment. Quality early childhood programs provide many rich learning opportunities for children that they cannot always get at home, including very valuable opportunities to socialize. However, based on the child’s personality, they may be ready to manage the inevitable separation anxiety sooner in some cases, and later in others. Parents should consider how their child reacts to ‘strangers’ and how well they cope with being away from mom/dad/nanny before enrolling their child in nursery.

BB:What are the current and hot issues in the field of early childhood education?

AM:The use of technology in early childhood education has been a ‘hot’ issue for the past couple of years. With the increased impact technology has on learning and education, experts have debated and explored the value of introducing technology in the early years, and how best to exploit the advantages it brings whilst promoting hands-on, child-led learning.

Multilingual learning is another ‘hot topic’. While it is an accepted fact that children learn languages best in the early years, the best approach is constantly being reviewed, explored, and tested, with arguments for and against the introduction and teaching of multiple languages simultaneously versus consecutively.

BB: Out of the various preschool philosophies available, like the Montessori Method, which do you prefer and why?

AM: My personal preference is The Creative Curriculum® (used at Inspire Children’s Nursery) due to its play-based, child-centered and individualized approach. Research has increasingly shown that young children learn best through play and when they are provided with the opportunities and freedom to explore, discover, inquire and problem-solve in a safe and stimulating environment. The Creative Curriculum® encapsulates this approach, while ensuring individualized attention is paid to each child’s development. Every child is observed and their development monitored frequently so that teachers can adapt the environment and learning opportunities to meet the needs of all children.

BB:What is your opinion on the UAE’s present system of early childhood education?

AM: Developments are occurring rapidly in the UAE across the education sector, including early childhood education. The value and importance of early childhood education in laying the foundations for a sustainable and prosperous society are widely recognized across the country and a great deal of work is happening in the sector to raise the bar and improve the quality of early childhood education provision.

BB: Do you agree that parents should be extremely involved with their child’s education? If yes, what are some of the strategies that parents can use to continue educating kids beyond the schooling hours?

AM: Absolutely! The more involved parents are in their child’s education, the more enriched the child’s experience is and the better the outcomes. As a first and critical step, parents (and educators) need to ensure there are open channels of communication (formal and informal) between home and school/nursery. Parents need to be aware of the learning taking place at school and what their child’s strengths and weaknesses might be so they can reinforce learning across environments. This is also advantageous for behavior management so the child is receiving consistent messages at home and school about acceptable behavior. 

Engagement with the child is also important. This means the parents have rich and valuable interactions with the child that extend beyond typical daily routines (getting dressed, meal times, etc.). I always encourage parents to have projects they work on with their child at home, e.g., building something, an art project, gardening etc. that will provide meaningful experiences and positive interactions between the parent and child. These projects should be based on the child’s interests so that they remain positive and parents should try to take the child’s lead. Constructive and meaningful play is the best way in which young children learn, and it is important their learning continue at home.

Reading with your children is an important activity that inculcates and reinforces a love of learning, as well as building the foundational skills for literacy. Children who have access to literacy rich environments develop stronger literacy skills throughout their life.

 


References

* National Scientific Council on the Developing Child. Young children develop in an environment of relationships. Cambridge, MA: National Scientific Council on the Developing Child; 2004. Working Paper No. 1. Available at: http://developingchild.harvard.edu/library/reports_and_working_papers/wp1/

**Heckman JJ. Invest in the very young. 2nd ed. In: Tremblay RE, Boivin M, Peters RDeV, eds. Encyclopedia on Early Childhood Development [online]. Montreal, Quebec: Centre of Excellence for Early Childhood Development and Strategic Knowledge Cluster on Early Child Development; 2007:1-2. Available at: http://www.child-encyclopedia.com/documents/HeckmanANGxp.pdf

 

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