How important are your child’s first years of education to their future?
Nursery, foundation stage, preschool, reception, kindergarten – no matter what you call it, there’s no doubt that your child’s first step into the world of education is an important one.
Formally referred to as early years education, this introduction to school is vital for a child’s future, setting them up with life skills for ‘big kid school’ and beyond.
“Starting school is daunting for many children,” notes Simon Hetherington, owner of maths and English tutoring institute, Kip McGrath. “Getting it right before you actually get to school can affect interest, motivation and future success.”
Razan Nabulsi, director of training at learning support and brain training centre, Dots & Links, adds: “Early years education is formally associated with an educational stage where children aged three to six attend either part-time or full-time educational organisations. It is exposing children to a stimulating environment that develops their cognitive abilities and as a result develops their personal, social and emotional skills as well as their physical skills and most importantly their communication and language skills. Children’s cognitive abilities at this age are developing rapidly and it is a critical time in their development that has a long-term impact on their success in the future.”
If you’re a parent, you’ll know that children are always learning and their inquisitive nature knows no bounds. Parents play an integral role in supporting this curiosity and developing it into practical skills. But providing children with a more formal environment offers them much more than what they could learn at home, according to Razan.
“Social skills development requires children to play together and learn how to take turns, share and follow rules in play,” she notes. “If parents choose to work with their children at home, it is very important that they provide their children with plenty of opportunities to interact with groups of children regularly. In Abu Dhabi, there are a few play groups and plenty of opportunities to keep children busy through music classes as well as physical development activities.”
Key skills children should be learning at this age include forming connections, understanding rules and boundaries, sharing, forming friendships, having positive self image, empathy, independence with daily tasks like using the toilet and feeding, using language to think and communicate with others as well as pre-reading and pre-writing skills, fine motor skills such as colouring, gross motor skills like catching and even balance and coordination.
“At the age of three, children’s brains are starting to develop logic and reasoning skills,” Razan notes. “They start to understand that the world doesn’t revolve only around them and that they are part of a bigger community.
“It is very important to prepare your child before being in ‘big kid school’,” she adds. “It is like getting them ready for their next and very important stage in their education and development. Lacking those basic skills will result in difficulties in different areas, which will have a negative impact on the child’s self esteem and learning outcomes.
“These skills are the foundation for success later on in school and in life. Children’s brains are rapidly changing and losing the opportunity to create brain connections at this age could result in difficulties later on in school and in life. Difficulties could be seen in children who have had poor and less stimulating environments and then intervention programmes need to be put in place to support them. It is like they always have to catch up with their peers, which could be very tiring emotionally and mentally.”
While technically early years education is a form of structured learning, both Razan and Simon are in agreement that it should still be flexible and fun.
“Research shows that the best approach to early years education is a child-centred approach where children are leading the journey of learning,” Razan notes. “Rigidly structured environments can lead to a less productive education and therefore limited cognitive development.
“Children’s brains at this stage learn best through play so it is very important to provide a safe, predictable environment that is full of play-based and open-ended activities. Of course children learn best when they are having fun!”
Simon adds, “You need to engage children, even at that age. Yes, it’s the basics of learning but it’s how the children experience that. It’s really giving that engagement that they need to make it a positive experience. If you turn children off by giving them repetition and hard learning from an early age, they’re not going to enjoy school.
“If a student doesn’t want to learn, they’re not going to learn effectively.”