Children’s brains are very malleable, which means they grow and change. Children are constantly learning and growing, and this continues into their adult years. However, studies show that a child’s brain is at its most flexible stage during the first five years of life. In fact, recent research has found that babies can begin processing complex thoughts as early as 3 months. Researchers at Birkbeck University of London found that 3-month-olds were able to recognize the difference between cats and dogs after being shown several pictures of cats. When a dog was shown, the babies looked at it longer, indicating that they noticed a difference between the two animals they had seen. Additionally, researchers at the University of Otago in New Zealand found that 3-month-olds showed the beginnings of understanding object permanence. The babies knew that an object had disappeared because they looked for it in the area that it was hidden. What parents can learn from these research findings is simple; they should treat their children as if they are capable of learning even at a young age and, therefore, intentionally engage their babies in different learning activities. Examples of activities parents can do with their babies are: sorting blocks by colors, counting them, building with them, or arranging them from smallest to largest.
As children grow out of the baby stage and become toddlers, their brains are still very malleable. Since the first five years are the most important years, children should be given many different opportunities to learn and grow during these crucial years. At home, parents can teach their children as much as possible through the five senses. Parents can do this with different objects and toys throughout the house. Another good way to explore the five senses is through nature. Children can observe many things in an outdoor environment, such as the color of the grass and the shape of a leaf. They will be able to hear various noises as well, such as the wind whistling and crickets chirping. Children can investigate other senses in nature by smelling flowers, digging in the dirt, and so on.
Additionally, parents can continue to encourage learning at an early age by reading to their children. This helps build early language skills, which is the foundation for reading ability and school readiness. Many types of books can be used, but fairy tales are especially good for building a child’s imagination. Students who have been exposed to reading at home are much more likely to learn to read on schedule.
Children should be learning at an early age in their homes, but studies show that preschool is a very important factor in their learning and development as well. New research from Learning Policy Institute indicates that children who attend preschools are more prepared for elementary school than children who don’t attend. Moreover, children who receive a quality early education have shown greater cognitive and social-emotional growth compared to their peers. The Learning Policy Institute study found that an early educational environment had an especially positive impact on early literacy and mathematical skills. Important skills such as attentiveness, persistence, impulse control, and sociability are also built when children attend preschool. In addition, the study found that children who attend preschool are less likely to be retained or be identified with special needs later.
Since preschool prepares children for Kindergarten, they are more likely to be successful for the remainder of their time in school. A child who enters Kindergarten and is already behind will continue to stay behind, especially if that child comes from a low-income family. Often, students like this are misdiagnosed with learning disabilities because they haven’t had the educational support they need to thrive. Head Start is a program that works to help close this achievement gap in children from low-income families. It promotes school readiness by supporting the development of the whole child. Recent research from the University of Michigan confirms that Head Start has positive long-term implications for children. It found that children who attend Head Start and other preschool programs are more likely to achieve a higher education when they are older. This in turn helps them become more economically self-sufficient as adults and contribute positively to society. Children who receive an early education are also more likely to avoid prison, live healthier lives, and raise stronger families. The benefits of preschool are numerous and last a lifetime.
However, in order for a child to gain these fantastic benefits from preschool, the school they attend must be one of quality, meaning that rigorous standards and proven curriculum must be in place. The teachers at the school should be well-educated and able to teach the content well. The teachers should also be fully prepared for their lessons.Since each student comes from different environments and developmental levels, teachers should differentiate lessons to meet individual student needs. When lessons are differentiated, children feel empowered and learn self-efficacy, which is the belief that they are capable of learning when they put in effort and persistence. Once learned, this skill will allow children to find success throughout life.
Teachers have a huge opportunity to help students achieve success because they spend so much time with them every day. Teachers can and should use this time to encourage their students in many different areas of development to meet their “whole child” needs. A way that teachers can foster creativity and higher-level thinking in preschoolers is by giving them tissue paper and then allowing the students to explore different features of it. Students could observe the crackling noise it makes when they shake it, or they could observe the way it shines when it catches the light. Teachers can also reinforce ethical behavior and social-emotional growth through activities such as creating rules together with their students. For example, a teacher may discuss with her children how to stay safe while playing with blocks. She can write rules that the children come up with themselves and write those rules on a large poster. These rules may include things like “Don’t throw blocks,” or “Everyone should help during clean-up time.” These types of activities help children understand the need for rules and, since they have a stake in creating them, they are more likely to follow them. Creating rules also helps to encourage good character development.
Teachers should not only teach lessons but provide students with the emotional support they need to become successful. Some children do not receive the support they need at home, but a teacher’s positive influence can alter the direction a child’s life is going. For example, studies have shown that when a young child faces adversity in his or her home environment, their brain will rewire to favor aggressive or anxious tendencies to cope with the difficult environment. Often, these tendencies will overshadow their brain’s use of cognition, reasoning, and memory. For this reason, children from adverse backgrounds are more likely to be placed in special education programs, be retained, or have behavioral issues. However, a teacher can help a child overcome these poor circumstances. Since the brain is malleable and continually developing, a student can still meet his or her full potential despite negative environments. This occurs when a child has at least one adult in their life who provides a stable, caring, and supportive relationship. A teacher’s influence can make all the difference!
To conclude, children begin learning at a very early age, so they need to be provided with many different learning opportunities. Children need a quality early education and positive emotional support from teachers and parents to grow. All these factors combined will help children achieve lifelong success.