Early Learning Centres can be overlooked as little more than a baby-sitting service, yet it’s an important opportunity to give your child the best possible start and prepare them for school. By MICHELA HOMER, BESTSTART.
Parents or whānau looking for early childhood care can be forgiven for being confused. The terms daycare and childcare can be misleading because they could be mistaken to mean that centres and their teachers simply babysit or entertain children. Adding to this is a perception that children are just playing in their early childhood centres. Play is just play, right? Children are entertaining themselves and having fun – right?
In fact, although the above is true, early childhood education is so, so much more! Early childhood trained teachers have three-year degrees, and all teachers work within the world-renowned early childhood curriculum, Te Whāriki.
There’s a huge amount of planning that goes into every day at an early learning service. Teachers are masters of setting up environments that challenge and grow children’s physical abilities, vocabularies, curiosity and social interactions. They prompt, ask open-ended questions and follow children’s interests to extend their understanding of the world around them. They follow every aspect of a child’s physical and emotional wellbeing.
But there’s still the impression that children just ‘play’ at early childhood – that the real learning starts at school. Research tells us that from birth to the age of seven, children’s brains are hard-wired to learn through play. Children who have the best outcomes as adults are those that have had the most opportunities to learn this way.
In the early years, children are sorting through real-life situations that they experience through play – and this early learning can form the foundation of their life-long patterns. They are busy learning how to form relationships, how to problem-solve, the excitement of curiosity, how good it feels to do exercise, how to negotiate, take turns, learn resilience, take safe risks, establish healthy eating habits and much, much more.
Trained teachers know and understand your child’s physical, emotional and mental development and they have the skills to extend their learning. They understand how to use language and be responsive to your young child’s verbal and non-verbal speech. They provide activities to keep children amused, stimulated, delighted and inspired to learn. They are sensitive to your child’s needs and signals as they know that interactions form the basis of strong brain learning foundations.
The skills that older children learn at early learning centres enable them to start school feeling confident and able to cope in a classroom and be excited lifelong learners.
Early childhood teachers are skilled in supporting and extending children in this important first stage of their learning journey. A teacher who encourages, suggests, plays, and leads with passion and kindness can make a lasting impression on a child’s life. For all these reasons and more, we have huge respect for early childhood teachers as vital figures in children’s learning journeys in early learning centres.