Early Childhood Education: The Key to Success in Life
Nelson Mandela, the well-known statesmen, once said, "Education
is the great engine to personal development. It is through
education that the daughter of a peasant can become a doctor,
that the son of a mineworker can become the head of the mine,
that the child of a farm worker can become the president of a
The truth of this statement can only be fully appreciated if one
considers the enormous importance of preschool education. The
famous Japanese violin teacher and educationist, Shinichi
Suzuki, once expressed a great truism when he said, "The destiny
of children lies in the hands of their parents." The direction
and the quality of this destiny are largely determined -- by the
parents -- in the first seven years of the child's life.
A study by High/Scope Educational Research Foundation of
Ypsilanti, Michigan, showed the significant value of early
learning. From 1962-1967, 123 African Americans, all aged 3 to 4
and born in poverty, and therefore at a high risk of later
failing in school, were randomly divided into two groups. One
group was exposed to a high-quality preschool program while the
control group was not exposed to any preschool programs. The
program that the experimental group was exposed to was based on
High/Scope's active learning approach. In the study's most
recent phase, 95% of the participants were interviewed at age
27. Additional data were gathered from the subjects' school,
social service and arrest records. The most significant findings
of this study were:
* Almost a third as many of those attending the preschool
program, opposed to those with no preschool exposure (71% vs.
54%) graduated from regular or adult high school, or received
their General Education Development Certificate.
* At age 27, four times as many of those exposed to the
preschool program, opposed to those with no preschool exposure
(29% vs. 7%) earned $2,000 or more per month, and they also
scored higher on home and car ownership.
* At age 27, only one fifth as many of those with proper
preschool exposure, opposed to those with no preschool exposure
(7% vs. 35%) had been arrested five or more times, and
significantly fewer arrests for drug dealing were made under the
preschool program group members. (7% vs. 25%)
* The rate of out-of-wedlock births was lower among the group
that had received preschool exposure. (57% vs. 83%)
There is a proverb that one never gets too old to learn. This,
however, is only partially true. There are indeed certain
aspects of learning that can only be acquired effectively during
the first seven years of life. Parents, who are desirous of
offering their child an adequate preschool education, should
therefore take care to concentrate on these aspects of learning.
Some of the most important of these skills and aspects of
learning are discussed below.
Language ability has been found to be an important predictor of
reading ability. It is therefore of the utmost importance that
parents should do everything possible to ascertain that their
child be given optimum opportunities for language acquisition,
more so because of the fact that, before the age of seven, a
child has a phenomenal ability to learn language. From the age
of eight years, the child's ability to learn language is equal
to that of an adult. It is therefore very unwise if parents do
not exploit the wonderful opportunity that is presented only
once in every child's life, and only for a short space of time.
Parents should talk to their toddler as often and as much as
possible. The more the small child is exposed to language, the
quicker he will start to understand speech and later also start
speaking. It is important that on a daily basis time should be
set aside for story reading and/or story telling. However, it is
vital that the same story be read or told over and over every
day. The same story should be read to the child for several
months before a new story -- a slightly more advanced one -- is
introduced. This new story must also be read over and over for
Effective language acquisition is dependent upon ample
repetition of the same words, phrases and language structures.
Concentration is both an act of will and an acquired skill. For
that reason it is important that parents make sure that the
small child will receive enough opportunities to exercise this
skill, so that he will be able to sit still and concentrate for
at least 20 minutes or so by the time that he goes to school.
>From about two years the parents can start reading stories to
the child. It is important, however, that the child must sit
still and listen to the story. He must not be allowed to run
around or play during the reading. To make this possible, the
parent must start with a short story of about five minutes, and
then little-by-little increase the time. In this way the child's
attention span can gradually be stretched.
3. Work attitude:
The idea of school readiness is a universally accepted concept.
However, readiness for work is probably even more important than
school readiness. There has been a tendency over the past
decades to try to make learning fun. This is certainly one of
the reasons why there is so much learning failure all over the
world at present, because learning isn't fun; it is work.
Naturally, work -- just like learning -- can often be very
interesting, and it can even be enjoyable. Moreover, there are
always aspects of work -- and therefore also of learning -- that
are neither interesting nor enjoyable. Regardless of this,
however, they have to be done. It is of the utmost importance to
teach a child that work is something that has to be done, and
done to the best of one's ability -- also those aspects of work
that are not interesting or enjoyable. The child whose parents
do not succeed in teaching him this, faces a very hard and
Nowadays, two of the common symptoms of children, who have
difficulties with learning and with reading, are that they have
low muscle tone and that they never crawled. Both these problems
can be prevented in a very simple and easy way.
Low muscle tone is merely an indication of weak muscle strength,
and a baby will only crawl if his parents teach him to do so.
Children can only do what they are taught to do.
General muscle strength of the body is to a large extent
determined by the strength of the back muscles. Muscles remain
weak when they are not exercised. Parents should from very early
in his life provide their child with opportunities to exercise
his muscles, especially the back muscles. This can -- and should
-- start from as early as a month or two.
By following a very simple procedure, parents can lay the
foundation for their children to later have good coordination
and strong muscles. From about a month or so the little baby
should be allowed to spend as much time as possible on the floor
in the face-down position. The baby will lift up his head, and
this will develop strong back muscles. Being left in this
position will also encourage the baby to try to move forward,
which will encourage him to start crawling.
Later, when the child is a little bigger, eye-hand coordination
can be developed by playing throwing and catching games with the
child with a ball or bean bags. Fine motor control, as a
preparation for a good handwriting, can be developed by letting
the child crumple papers. Start by tearing pages from an old
telephone directory, and giving the child one page at a time to
crumple into a tight ball with one hand only.
5. Body parts:
Put on a pair of glasses with blue lenses. Everything you look
at will have a tint of blue.
The great German philosopher, Immanuel Kant (1724-1804), once
said that we "see things not as they are but as we are." This
axiomatic statement is based on the fact that we human beings
approach and interpret our world from inside our bodies. Just
like everything appears blue to the persons with blue lenses,
our perception of our world is tinged by our knowledge of our
own bodies. The child, who has inadequate knowledge of his own
body, will be inclined to misinterpret the world around him.
For an example of this, consider the phenomenon of reversals.
Our bodies have a right and a left side. It is therefore
inevitable that we shall interpret all objects that we encounter
in terms of two-sidedness. Unless the child has been
familiarized adequately with his own sidedness, there is the
distinct danger that he may misinterpret the sidedness of other
things -- like b's and d's, for example.
Bath time presents an excellent opportunity to teach the small
child body parts and sidedness. As soon as the child is able to
sit up by himself in the bath, the teaching should commence.
Don't simply take the little foot and scrub it; rather hold your
hand and then say, "Give me your right foot," and wait for the
child to place his right foot into your hand. If he gives you
his left foot, say, "No, the right foot," and then scrub only
this foot. Next, nominate another body part, with left or right,
and wash this. In this way go through all the various body
parts, each one -- where applicable -- with left and right.
If a parent continues doing this every night for two or three
years, the child will certainly have no uncertainties about left
and right or body image. The effect of this, inter alia, will be
that the child will not have any difficulties distinguishing
between b's and d's.
Counting can be regarded as the language of mathematics. It is
therefore just as important to teach a child from very early in
life to count well. The easiest way to teach a child counting is
to start with his fingers, first with the fingers of one hand
and then later both hands. Remember that, like with anything
else, much repetition is required.
Color is another very important very basic thing that should be
taught to children very early in life. It is important to start
teaching the basic colors first, white, black, red, green, blue
and yellow. Again much repetition is required. One can, for
example, play games with colors, e.g. "Put all the yellow blocks
into the green box."