Junior primary at St Teresa's School
Junior primary at St Teresa's School

Taking Your Child out of School Could Cost You More

Over the past 18 months, in the Junior Primary Phase at St Teresa’s School in Craighall Park, Johannesburg, we have noticed a worrying trend.

Parents are choosing to take their young preschool children out of school, thinking that they can slot back into formal education once things return to normal with regard to COVID-19. As educators and specialists in early childhood development, we know that the stimulation and consequent growth of the brain, the body and the emotional heart, has an influence on every aspect of a child’s future life.

Our advice to parents is to think carefully about what educational building blocks are necessary for their child’s overall development and how best to ensure that their child is in a stimulating environment where their needs are prioritised. There are no shortcuts when it comes to attaining the growth and development that is necessary for a child’s success in primary school, high school and later in life.

Why is early childhood education so important?

It is well documented that the first 2000 days – or five to six years – of a child’s life are critical to their emotional, cognitive, social and physical development. During this time, the brain’s architecture is forming and the child’s physical environment has a significant impact on brain development.

In the foundation phase, educators are experts on the various childhood development stages, and their training and experience means that they can specifically provide what the child needs at crucial moments for their development.

How do young children actually learn?

Young children learn with their senses: sight, touch, sound, smell, movement and taste. Preschoolers learn through play and it’s important that they have the opportunity to play in a variety of ways all day, every day. Sometimes they learn with their hands, sometimes with their heads, and sometimes with their hearts.

In order for brain development to occur, children need certain types of stimulation to create synapses or connections between neurons in the brain. As educators, we want to create plenty of opportunities for those synapses to be formed because it helps children to fully understand and process the world around them.

According to research by Karyn Purvis, scientists have discovered that it takes around 400 repetitions to create a new synapse in the brain, unless it is done in play, in which case it only takes 10 to 20 repetitions.

The importance of play in learning

Let them make a mess

For further cognitive learning to take place, the development of the child’s sensory system is vital. ‘Sensory play’ gives the child the opportunity to see, touch, feel, smell, hear and taste different things. Sensory play is often called messy play and can involve sand, water, mud, sawdust, grains, paint, dough etc. This play should be creative, explorative and experimental.

When your child is interacting with these materials through messy play, disorganised information going into the brain throughout the play is then refiled in an orderly manner. In other words, letting children play in the mud literally helps their brains grow. The messier a child is when they go home, the happier I am, as I know that their brain is being developed through the creation of new synapses.

Imagination, fantasy play and emotional development

Imaginative and fantasy play give children the opportunity for self-expression. They can develop life skills to control impulses, to problem-solve and to make plans. By interacting and engaging with other children, in an environment where caring educators explain and unpack emotions, children learn to understand their own emotions. This then leads to an understanding of others’ emotions, which allows them to respond in an empathetic manner.

The young children learn to express their needs in an acceptable manner, to work collaboratively together, to listen to opinions, and to form their own opinions. Debating and negotiating, which are essential life skills, start at a young age and need to be guided by caring educators with good values and morals.

A happy child is a learning child

Messy children are learning childrenChildren need to form positive relationships in a nurturing environment where the educators actively seek a positive connection with them and thereby allow them the freedom to feel safe, loved and accepted. Familiarity with the feeling of emotional well-being influences the developing brain. Put simply, a happy child is a learning child.

In the Junior Primary at St Teresa’s School, we encourage a love of learning by stimulating toddlers’ natural curiosity. The ‘what’ questions of the toddler are replaced by the ‘why’ questions of the preschooler. A good educator plans well, but then follows the curiosity of the children in her care.

There are days where you look back and not much of what you had planned has taken place. However, when you reflect on the learning that has in fact taken place, you feel content that the children have actually engaged with one another and grown in wonder, curiosity and knowledge. We consider it a privilege to be the custodians of early childhood education and learning.