Saturday, 28 December 2013

The Long Term Benefits of Learning Young

President Obama’s call, in his State of the Union address, for making preschool available to every four year old in the country is a welcome statement. Studies have proven beyond any doubt that children who attend preschool do far better when they reach kindergarten than those who were denied this benefit. To put it in monetary terms, the Institute for a Competitive Workforce, an affiliate of the United States Chamber of Commerce, has found that for every dollar invested in early childhood education, savings of up to $17  in the future are possible.Another way of defining the benefits of good preschooling can be found in a Cincinnati program known as Success 6 where effective preschool education has raised the volume of “ready to read” children entering kindergarten to 57%, a significant improvement over the 44% level of a few years ago. An interesting fact is that over 80% of these “ready to read” children continue to read at or above their age levels even at the end of the third grade. The significance of the is number lies in the fact that research shows that children who are not good readers by the time they reach the third grade are four times more likely to drop out of high school than children who can read at the appropriate age level. This is a testament to the long lasting results that effective preschooling provides.

The Growth Years

A child’s brain grows to about 85% of its full capacity in the first five years of life. This, coupled with the development of evaluation and assessment abilities, albeit underdeveloped, in the child, means that what is internalized by the age of five is what will remain as the foundation for further knowledge acquisition as the years pass.

The argument that educating children before they are of kindergarten age is damaging to them may be seen to have some at least partially valid points. But a carefully planned and effective preschooling program can overcome all of these. It is thought that making young children attend preschool regiments them too much. However, if done properly, preschool will help them to focus and refine their curiosity and natural enquiring instincts so that they are better able to find and retain the information and facts they are in search of. And the argument that preschool denies a child the essential freedom to play is easily countered. The knowledge and cognitive abilities that preschool provides to a child add to the value and meaning of the playing that is done. And the balance that naturally comes between preschool and less organized play activities at home allow for an understanding to develop of the difference between formal and informal activities. This in turn leads to an instinctive appreciation of the benefits that both have to offer.

We Cannot Afford To Be Left Behind

While the benefits that come from effective preschool education cannot be denied, it is often seen as affecting only the children who receive it. What is often not understood here in the USA is that the effect is on the nation and its future as a whole. While debate rages about universal preschool in the country, China is reported to have set itself a goal of ensuring that at least 70 % of the children in the country get 3 years of preschool education. India is spending huge amounts to modernize and increase the reach of its primary and preschool education system. Both countries are today prime movers of economic growth and are seen as the future economic superpowers. The focus that nations like these are placing on preschool as a means to ensure long term development and strength is something we cannot afford to ignore.

Friday, 13 December 2013

Playground Risks for Young Children

Children are by nature adventurous and often do not know their own limits. Because of this young children and toddlers need careful supervision while playing. But the natural desire of adults to keep children safe often comes into conflict with the natural need of children to explore and develop risk taking abilities and judgment. That is why assessing playground risks for young children is very important and why an objective evaluation of the quantum of risk is essential.  To allow unsupervised play is obviously dangerous. But to cosset children too much will stifle their creativeness and ability to learn the art of making risk assessments – a loss that could hurt them in many ways as they grow older. An understanding of risk levels in common playground activities will allow for an effective balance to be maintained between supervision and cosseting.

The Levels of Risk

Recent studies have identified six risky play activities. These are:

·         Climbing and / or playing at heights
·         Running and other high speed activities or motions
·         Playing with potentially harmful objects
·         Playing with or in dangerous element
·         Play that becomes excessively rough
·         Any activities where the child may be lost of disappear from sight

Of all of these, the most dangerous has been found to be play that requires climbing or movement at considerable heights above ground.

Children Are Inconsistent

While the risk areas can be broadly identified, the reaction of children to these risks varies greatly. For example, most children are aware of the rules for safe use of playground equipment, and that many activities can be potentially harmful. But these same children also usually admitted that the rules were often flouted because to do so was attractive and increased the “fun” element. Another problem is that children’s attitude to risk factors is not consistent. Some children will understand the risks involved with playing near water or a cliff, but others will not.

The bottom line here is that while there are some generalizations that can be made about the nature and types of risk that children are exposed to while playing, no generalization can be made about the type and nature of supervision that is required. The psychology of each child will need to be understood in order to evaluate the amount of risk the child will accept and in consequence, the amount of supervision that is required.

Rebels Without A Cause

To say that young children need careful supervision when playing is to state the obvious. But overdoing this can be counterproductive. Children,as already stated, are by nature risk takers – either because they do not see the risk or cannot appreciate the consequences and dangers or because they are in search of new experiences. If new experiences and the exhilaration that comes with them are denied to these children, the frustration levels will rise. And after a time this will build to the level that rebellion, albeit unconscious, against the restrictions will arise. Because the children are not able to understand the reasons for their frustrations or communicate them, their attitude and perceived negative behavior is often seen as simple indiscipline and unwillingness to accept authority. The common reaction to this is often to increase the levels of supervision and control exercised on these children without any effort to understand that it arises from the natural need to experience the exhilaration that comes from new experiences – an exhilaration that should not be stifled.

Parents and preschool teachers need to go the extra mile to ensure that while children are kept safe, they are not prevented from feeling the rush that comes from new experiences and limited amounts of risk.