During the first years of life, children explore, experiment, play and interact with the physical and social environment around them. This is how they go about and engage in activities that enrich their knowledge. People who are part of a child’s daily life, such as family, caregivers and professionals, become significant actors or active agents of child development. In fact, they are responsible for the care, protection, stimulation and affection of a child in order to ensure that they can develop into happy, healthy and independent individuals.
It still hasn’t been established with certitude which is The appropriate age for a child to begin formal education has not been establish with certainty, but it is clear that early intervention has a huge impact on children. Early education and stimulation are structural pillars in the field of ECD, given the proven positive impact on the development of a child’s cognitive skills and learning abilities. The UNESCO has identified five development areas that are better fostered when children receive proper care and early stimulation. These areas include physical welfare and motor development; social and affective development; learning attitude; language and cognitive development and general knowledge. These are a few of the reasons why education must be considered an integral part of child care (UNESCO, 2007).
WHY IS EARLY EDUCATION IMPORTANT?
Recent research shows that a child’s first environment has a significant impact on the way their brain develops. A baby is born with billions of neurons, representing their possible full potential at birth. However, in order for these neurons to fully “grow”, they need to make connections among themselves. The more stimulation a baby receives, the more positive neuronal connections will be made and better chances of success in all aspects of their his or her life (Chamorro L.E, 2011).
Early education begins with the recognition of children as active knowledge subjects, which implies a different approach to childhood in pedagogical terms. Depending on the normative framework, early childhood education is divided in two parts: 1) integrated early education, from gestation up through four years old; and 2) formal pre-school education usually provided from four or five years old. Even though ALAS’ work has focused on integrated early education, it is important to highlight the importance of a proper articulation between these two, in order to generate a successful transition into the formal education system.
International experiences have shown us that early education is not assumed as conventional early schooling and educational spaces. The focus of early intervention is the intended pedagogical innovation and the interaction with children, which seeks the recovery, development and enrichment of everyday situations, artistic practices, cultural and various problem-solving situations that day to day involve children in constant development.
With the proper focus and the appropriate social and cultural adaptations, early childhood education can be provided in family or in institutional environments.
As previously mentioned, family plays a main role in a child’s development and learning capability. Studies indicate that good parenting practices are more predictive of psychosocial, emotional and cognitive development, compared to care provided in institutions (VARGAS- BARÓN, 2005). Therefore, it is essential to involve parents in ECD programs, as they hugely contribute in their child’s development, providing learning stimulation through games and healthy environment interaction. It is important for families and educational agents to understand that if children don’t receive integral care during their childhood (especially if they have a learning disability), finding a solution in the future will be even more expensive. Learning deficiencies identified during early childhood not only remain, but are exacerbated in time.
Family support programs include orientation and support in child rearing, child bonding, health prevention and promotion, care and child nutrition, among others. These services must take the social and cultural context into account, in order to assure a pertinent and inclusive approach.