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Celebrating Early Childhood Education
This column originally appeared in the Isanti - Chisago County Star
Observing a preschool classroom recently, I watched a group of four young children playing in the dramatic play space. They had a small kitchen set with a table and chairs, play food, baskets, a small closet, and a mirror. One of them was intently rearranging the entire space with another she had convinced to help. One child was stuffing food into his shirt and the last brought me a basket of foods to choose from. While we were talking about our favorite snacks, the first student said to all, “Time to sit! We must go!” She and her friend had pushed the table aside, packed a basket of food, and set the four chairs in rows, two by two. Once they were all seated, she told them, “We are flying on an airplane!” Where did they go and what were they going to do when they got there? I am not sure, but the excited look on their faces made it clear this was a great adventure.
In an early childhood family education class last month, two students were sitting on the circle time rug surrounded by vehicles. It was just after their parents had moved into the parent education room next door. A regular occurrence in our separating classes, this transition can be very challenging for some children. A young boy, no more than two, was visibly sad, looking around and likely wondering when his parent would return. The other child, a slightly older little girl, was making car sounds as she “drove” all around the rug. She noticed the little boy, gave him a flashy red Little Tikes car, and when he still seemed lost, said “We play.” With the assistance of a nearby staff person, her kind gesture kept him there instead of running to the door.
Imagination, autonomy, communication skills, friendship, collaboration, leadership, trust — these are just some of the skills children are learning and practicing each day in our early childhood classes. These skills will serve them well as they continue to gain independence and progress through life.
April 3-7 was Week of the Young Child — a time to focus on the importance of our youngest learners and their families, their teachers and caregivers, and early learning experiences and education. It provides us with an opportunity to highlight the importance of investing in early childhood, the impact of high quality care and learning opportunities for all, and the call to support parents, caregivers, and staff involved in a child’s development from birth to age five.
As research on neuroscience and learning has expanded in the recent decades, there is an important focus on the early years. We now know 90% of brain growth occurs by the time a child enters kindergarten. The neural pathways created and strengthened during their early years of care and education lay the foundation for healthy lifestyles, learning, and ongoing development later in life.
“Biologically, the brain is prepared to be shaped by experience,” says Dr. Jack Shonkoff, founding director of the Center of the Developing Child at Harvard University. He continues, “when we talk about healthy development…we cannot separate cognitive development from social and emotional development. All development builds on what comes before.”
A recent National Geographic article highlighted research on life expectancies and the implications on current lifestyles. According to scientists and demographers alike, current five-year-olds have a much greater chance to live to 100 years old. “By 2050, it’ll likely be the norm for newborns in wealthier nations, such as the United States, Europe, or parts of Asia.” The article highlights children’s early years as foundational for developing a healthy lifestyle, passion and love for play and learning, and development of critical social skills to form long-lasting relationships. “The 100-year life isn’t about striving to stay younger for longer, it’s about staying healthy enough and connected enough to maintain a sense of purpose, whether it’s found in the workplace, family, or community,” writes Tristan McConnell.
Raising and educating children is a worthy, exciting, challenging, and incredible endeavor — for it is truly in these relationships and experiences that the foundation for future success starts.
As we watch young children lead, share, laugh, create, empathize, and work together, it is nearly impossible not to be in awe. This is why we celebrate Week of the Young Child. Our community and society’s collective success depends on the investments parents, caregivers, early educators, and communities are making in our youngest learners today. THANK YOU to everyone committed to this great work.
If you are interested in learning more about early childhood opportunities and services in Cambridge-Isanti Schools, you can find information at www.c-ischools.org/early-childhood or by calling (763) 691-6691.