Give me a dozen healthy infants, well-formed, and my own specified world to bring them up in and I’ll guarantee to take any one at random and train him to become any type of specialist I might select – doctor, lawyer, artist, merchant-chief and, yes, even beggar-man and thief, regardless of his talents, penchants, tendencies, abilities, vocations, and race of his ancestors.
The famous words of the founder of modern behaviourism, John Watson.
No doubt, Watson overstated his point. Genes and environment, each contribute to a child’s overall development but studies in the last three decades have clearly shown the significant role of environmental stimulations of early years in the developmental trajectory of human life. You can’t do much about genes but you can surely provide the right environment for the growth and development of children. It is during the first eight years of life that children develop the cognitive, physical, social and emotional skills that they need to lead a healthy life. And therefore, the responsibility on the shoulders of parents and teachers of young children is beyond explanation.
Evolution based studies highlight young children are most receptive to significant adults (parents, teachers, and caregivers) in early years, probably because of their high dependence on adults for physical, social and emotional needs. Moreover, brain development is happening at a rapid speed in children in the early years. By the age of six, 85% of human brain development is complete.
In addition to that, human development is a holistic endeavour. Development in one particular domain is actually a result of multidisciplinary actions. For example, chewing food by an infant is physio-motor development but is rooted in various functions of the brain (cognition) as well. Running towards mom when she opens her arms is a sign of physical development of a child but is rooted in the attachment (emotion) to mother. And therefore, the best development of children happens when they are given optimal stimulation in every developmental domain.
Apart from the family atmosphere, the most crucial agent in the holistic and healthy development of young children in preschool. The most obvious impact of pre-schooling and nursery teachers is seen in intellectual and cognitive growth of children. It is an established fact that children learn best in quality preschool programs. Be it numeracy to literacy, from family to community, from music to movement, from art to craft, the world of pre-schoolers is full of stimulation. But that is just the tip of the iceberg. There is much more exploration happening in preschools and in fact, the most important offering of formal schooling is the social stimulation given to children through group settings.
During the last quarter of the century, there has been a significant change in the social system of urban India. There is a clear shift from joint family system to a nuclear family. Cars are getting bigger and homes are getting smaller. Recent social studies of urban India indicate 88 % of homes have four members with no senior citizens and just 11 % of homes in metros of India have more than two children. In this dearth of child-to-child interactions at home, preschool teachers and peers are the saviours. The art of socialization is learnt in community dining and group activities in classrooms. All the lessons of leadership and management are learnt in the early years when children fight for that piece of a toy in group settings!
In summary, apart from parents, preschools are the defining force in developing healthy and balanced individuals. Preschool teachers not only play the most important role in preparing children for elementary schooling but also lay the foundation of success in later years of life. The first and foremost way to develop healthy individuals and rightfully catering to young minds is to understand the significant role that teachers play in children’s lives. Teachers need to be well aware that their professional efforts are impacting the future of the country. It is not just a job but it is actually building the nation. Teachers are today’s heroes who are shaping tomorrow’s heroes. And to carry out such consequential task on a daily basis, teachers need to invest in their own physical and emotional health.
Studies have shown that children need to learn basic life skills like self-control, behaviour management and emotional regulations in early years to be “successful” in later years. Self-regulation lays a foundation for a child’s long-term physical, psychological, behavioural, and educational well-being. Academic success and higher-order brain functioning is very much a result of a stress-free mind. And to develop stress-free minds in classrooms of early years, nursery teachers need to cater to their own emotional health. To calm a mind, you need a calm mind! To raise a healthy child, you need a healthy mind! So, the mantra for significant adults around young children: Self-care is not selfish. Rather, invest in yourself before you invest in others.
Children learn best in a stress-free and playful environment. Be it home or be it in the classroom, the best brain functioning of human life is always recorded in a cheerful and stimulating environment through various studies. Moreover, to provide the right kind of exposure to the curious minds of young children, teachers need to hone their skills at regular intervals. Like any other profession, it is important for nursery teachers to stay abreast with the latest developments in the field of early childhood care and education. Teachers in India need to develop a strongly connected network and should share best practices with each other. The thought leaders and policymakers of country need to join hands in providing such platforms to early childhood professionals. International Summit on Early Years by KLAY Pre Schools and Daycare in Bangalore on Sep 5th, 2019 is one such initiative where 800 professionals are coming together to learn and grow.
In today’s world, there is growing momentum for investment in early childhood care and education across the globe and India is no exception in that. The significance of early years in the healthy development of human life is beyond debate now. It is high time that as a nation, we focus on developing healthy children who will define the health of the country in the coming years.
(Child Psychologist and Family Counsellor)
The author is a developmental psychologist who is working with children and families from the last two decades in countries like India, USA, Australia and Singapore.