As conversation surrounding the importance of early childhood education continues to take place in communities across the United States, it’s critical to remember that early education impacts children in a way that shapes the rest of their lives, including social and emotional competency. Children are not born with self-regulating skills, as noted by a Harvard University study in 20111, their ability to follow directions and create self-discipline must be shaped from a young age.
Children’s emotional competences are fundamental to support their long-term achievement both academically and as an active member of society. Because early experiences with routine, cooperation and exploring the world around them are so fundamental for children, the role of early education goes beyond in-classroom learning. Development comes from children’s relationships with teachers and caregivers, and how safe and comfortable they feel interacting with them.
Parents are a child’s first and most important teachers. Even before a child is enrolled, there is much that is done at home in creating and supporting social and emotional competence.
In preparation for preschool, it is important for parents to talk to their children about their days—what will happen, what to expect and about changes that might occur. This creates routine from early stages, teaching children to predict their days, thus making them comfortable with new situations and the world surrounding them.
When a child has a secure relationship with their teacher it allows them to take calculated risks, such as trying a new food or activity, knowing that they will be safe regardless of outcome. This willingness is vital to the child’s social, emotional and academic growth. For it is through these risks that they learn and build trust in themselves—what they can accomplish—and in others, trusting that their teachers are there to provide support.
The routine that was initially introduced at home is then maintained by the teacher, who creates an environment of predictability, while also allowing the child to have his or her first play interactions where they demonstrate and grow social and emotional skills. The day-to-day situations created from playing will evolve with them throughout the course of their lives. The skills they develop in early education, such as acknowledging and identifying feelings, following directions, self-efficacy, and self-regulation, will help them succeed in the future.
As part of early learning, all of this happens while the teachers watch, give advice and assist when necessary. However, it is the relationship the teachers have created with the children, being in tune with the child’s needs and making sure they have what they require, that gives the children the freedom to react and learn from their actions.
The relationships children develop with their first teachers have a profound influence on their behavior—today and in the future. Therefore, it is imperative for parents and teachers to work together to support their child’s development.
For a continuation of learning from home to the classroom, parents and educators should have a relationship in which communication is at the forefront. When teachers tell parents about a child’s day at preschool or when parents share with teachers how the child is developing at home, it creates awareness of the child’s strengths and needs, so that it can be the focus when switching from classroom to home.
A lifelong love of learning is built at the earliest levels and is the result of the bond young students develop with their teachers. The earlier that bond can be created, the better for the development of the child.
By Lisa Keiper, Education Director, Rainbow Child Care Center
1Harvard University, (2011). Building the brain’s “air traffic control” system: How early experiences shape the development of executive function. Center of Developing Child, 1-18. Retrieved from www.developingchild.net.