The earliest years of children are crucial as they lay the foundations of their learning and development and are also important when it comes to the development of cognitive, physical, social and emotional skills. In India, according to the Census 2011 data, there are 164.48 million children in the age group of 0-6 years. These numbers present a huge opportunity for us to invest appropriately in these early years – an opportunity where we can together, as a nation, build the future of our country.
When it comes to India, we have always had the tradition of valuing in the early years of a child. Initially, the early education of a child was taken care of under the settings of a joint family wherein the entire family would raise the child as per the traditional ways of teaching. However, with the transition of most Indian families to nuclear setups and the rise of women who now want to work after giving birth to a child, we have seen a shift towards the rise of early childcare centres. However, when it comes to early childhood, are we as parents allowing the child to learn and grow through play or are we so engrossed in them scoring well that we forget about the simple pleasures that children derive by just being themselves as they play and have fun?
On the occasion of teacher’s day, KLAY Prep Schools and Daycare organized India’s largest international summit on early years. The theme of this summit was Happy Adults = Happy Children. An attempt to be a thought leader in the space of early education and care, this summit helped explore ways in which we can create support systems for nuclear families and create for children a happy and safe environment where they can grow to becomes strong and confident adults. The summit also looked at ways in which we can reconceptualize early years’ education and its impact on the future.
The global summit was a one-day event that consisted of a series of keynote talks, panel discussions and workshops that addressed all aspects of early childhood education. With an exclusive set of keynote speakers and panellist from across the world, the summit was a huge success and a great start to many more such events that can change the way we learn, teach and grow.
Click on the link below to watch Priya Krishnan, CEO and Founder, KLAY Prep Schools and Daycare, as she opened the summit with her welcome note:
We have put down a summary of all the discussions and some views of the panellists.
One of our keynote speakers and esteemed panellists was Dr Peter Gray. A professor at the Boston College and an author of the highly acclaimed book – ‘Free to Learn’, his ideas on the early years of a child were all around the power of play.
According to him, children start exploring the world the moment they are born. They are designed to chase one other, climb trees and have fun. It is through these moments of play that they learn how to understand situations, react to them and deal with fear. It is how they decide what to do and it is through play that they learn and develop. A child’s play is guided by rules that are made by them. It involves elements of imagination, curiosity and creativity and it allows them to step outside the real world whenever they want.
However, unfortunately, as parents and adults who are always on the move and want their children to be right ahead, we shut off their curiosity and instead expect them to flourish in their academic worlds. In fact, over the last few decades, there has been a huge decline in the opportunities available for children to play. Children have now far less time playing outside with their friends, without adult supervision. As adults, we are always chipping away at their freedom. There are various reasons for this:
· Weight of studies: We have become very obsessed with academic success and test scores. However, what we do not realize is that these scores have nothing to do with the actual learning of a child. In fact, the education of a child cannot be measured or compared. Each child is different and learns in different ways.
· Fear of parents leaving their child alone: Parents in today’s day and age have the constant fear of leaving their children alone. And it is because of this that they accompany their child even in their playtime or organize adult-directed activities.
There was a study that was conducted in the 1990s that tried to understand whether young children with academic help would do better. The findings of this study were quite interesting – it was concluded that by 4th grade, children who had academic training did not fare as well as those who were exposed to free play.
The most important freedom in play is the freedom to quit. Through play, children learn how to be assertive and solve their own problems at their own time and in their own way. Play is done for its own sake and not for any reward. Underplay, children are free to try new things. It does not involve any amount of stress. It is not competitive like adults would like it to be.
When children play, they also learn from older children they play with. In fact, an age mix in play is considered very nurturing as it encourages children to learn from others
who are older than them. Children are resilient and it is important as adults that we do not bubble wrap them. They only way that they will really learn is by doing things by themselves.
The most important paradox of play is that while play is considered trivial, it is a place to practice new skills and a place where you are free to fail. It is under no circumstance not important.
When it comes to early childhood education, preschool teachers need to help parents understand the value of happiness that children get from play as well as the importance of making new friends. Learning does not have to be by rote. Studies have found that learning arithmetic through rote methods, interferes with the intellectual abilities of a child.
As parents and caregivers, what we need to do is to ensure that we provide our children with an environment that is safe. An environment where we take care of their needs and an environment where they feel loved and well taken care of. Once this is provided, half the job is done. What we must then ensure is that we provide children with opportunities to play and learn through play.
Watch the entire video, click below:
Dr Gray Part 1:
Dr Gray Part 2:
Jackie Harland at the global summit spoke about how emotions are contagious. According to her, “mirror neurons activate when we see someone doing something or acting in a particular manner. If we are tense about something, then it is very likely that we transfer what we are feeling to people around us and to our children in particular.” While showing our emotions is good, what is equally important is for us to be able to regulate them. As parents, we have to try and understand our emotions before we can attempt to understand the emotions of our children. Only then will we be able to speak the language of love at our home.
Emotional regulation looks at capturing our thoughts and the thoughts of our little ones especially when they tend to be negative. It is a process, not a program and therefore applies to everyone. It encourages reflective thinking and helps children and adults respond to stress factors and feelings.
Behaviour is a response to stimuli in the environment. What we need to understand are the triggers that cause children to behave in a particular manner and explore ways in which we could regulate that behaviour. There are various ways in which we as adults can support our little ones and regulate their emotions:
· By listening to them
· By connecting with them
· By first labelling their feelings and then validating them
· By empathising with them
· By just being present
As teachers, we have a direct influence on the children in our classroom, making us empathise better. After all, it has been rightly said, “10% of our life is what happens and the remaining 90% is how we respond to situations.” It is therefore in our hands to together bring the language of emotions into our classrooms. Let us use the fact that emotions are contagious to bring joy and laughter into our classrooms.
Watch the entire video below:
Ashish Karamchandani spoke about the ground realities of early childhood education professionals.
· As adults and educators, it is crucial that we start early when it comes to the early year’s education of our little ones.
· Children learn by doing, by play and by exploring experiences around them. Play is the way. It is action and reaction of play that leads to their learning.
· Learning and development happens through interaction with other children and is specially enhanced when children interact with those of different age groups.
As educators, it is very important for us to raise awareness about the lack of learning in our country and how we as parents tend to focus only on test scores. Children learn best through activity-based learning. What we need to focus on are the goals that parents want for their children and use the means that we have access to, to help a child learn and develop.
While there are a lot of policies that talk about the importance of early years’ education and look at ways of driving it, a lot of policies are just on paper. A lot of effort, therefore, needs to be put in to ensure that these policies are practised so that the child benefits in the end.
Watch the entire video below:
The summit also had a panel discussion that explored the stress factors in a teacher’s life and looked at ways in we could ensure that teachers are given an environment that allows them to understand the learning skills and abilities of each child and address them accordingly.
The international summit on early years, a first of its kind, was a great start in the space of early childhood education. A source of learning and insights, this summit not only benefitted teachers and educators but also parents. As parents and educators, it is now up to us to ensure that we go all out to do whatever we can to work towards building a stronger early learning community – a community that is united towards making children learn through new ways that include play and a community that lays a lot of focus on the early years of a child.
With children out of school, physical distancing as the new norm, and children’s rights under threat, the new world order has “turned back the clock” on years of progress made on children’s well-being. However, it’s not all bad. As a human race, we’ve been built to adapt: we’ve seen a tipping point in technology-enabled education and the promise of a new education policy in our country.