Wednesday, 15 June 2016

Preschool Education- The base for all later education

If we look at the beginning of any skill that we have learnt in our life, and trace it’s origin in our lifespan, we find that the roots or the foundations for these skills lie in the years from birth to 7 years. Most child development experts and psychologists also concur with this. 
Knowing this helps us plan for providing  the best possible environment for children to grow up in. A play home or a preschool is the first step for the child outside of his sheltered home environment, where s/he starts truly functioning as an individual rather than just as a part of the Mother-Child dyad. 
Thus, pre-school education is one of the most important services that has to be planned out carefully and appropriately, more so perhaps than secondary school or higher education. 
Preschool education is any structured program offered for early childhood education. These may follow one of several methods and pedagogies, like Montessori, Waldorf (Steiner) , play way, Nursery, Kindergarten (Froebel) or a mix of all these methods. They may be offered through private preschools or government-run Anganwadis.   
Whatever be the methodology or the theoretical framework followed by  a preschool education program, there are certain basic things that a preschool program has to follow. The basic purpose of any preschool education is to provide an environment that is conducive to overall development. By this we mean all activities, experiences and materials have to focus on development of good health; physical fitness and motor skills; positive emotional and social health; good communication skills; intellectual curiosity and exploration; independence and self-expression.
There are certain methods that are required to be used for achieving these purposes, whether it is teaching the child concepts like colours, shapes or anything else. 
The first and foremost thing that has to be kept in mind is the readiness that the child has for learning whatever is being offered. The child’s growth, maturity and development should determine what the next “lesson” is going to be, not the “curriculum” or “syllabus”. Forcing the child to learn things s/he is not ready for is the pathway to surface and short-term learning gains only. The results of this kind of incomplete learning in preschool years is definitely going to tell in the later years- in fact, as early as IIIrd standard. 
Just as we cannot hurry the preschool child, we should not hold back the child either. Young children have an innate need and inclination towards new learning, and progress at varying speeds. Not only do young children learn at different speeds, they also learn in different ways. Some need to see things and learn, some listen and learn, some touch and learn, and some others learn through movement. Many also will learn using more than one of these methods.  Any good preschool system has to cater  not only to the varying needs of the children in it’s classrooms, but also the varying modalities of learning. 
The preschool child is one who will learn by doing. Abstract concepts have no impact on this child. S/he has to explore the environment ,  do things and learn. The chalk-and-talk method would work in higher grades, but is not much use during preschool years. For this reason, all activities have to be meaningful and hands-on for the child- whether it is counting or learning the alphabet. For building skills and concepts to last a lifetime, they need to be taught experientially. In this context, it is important to mention that repetition has it’s own role to play in concretising concepts in the young mind. If a preschool child insists on repeating activities of a particular nature, s/he should to be allowed to do so. 
Preschool systems need to build in maximum play into their daily routines. These children are full of energy and imagination. Play is the main vehicle for their growth, development and learning. Through play they can learn motor skills, social skills, develop positive personality traits, benefit intellectually, build their language repertoire, and so on and so forth. In fact, research now points out that children who have adequate opportunities to play in early childhood perform significantly better in later academics and have better life skills. On a flip note, look how much we spend in later life, from school to working life onwards, to develop “personality and life skills”. All we needed to do was let our preschoolers play!!
The preschool child is like a sponge- as Montessori terms it- The Absorbent Mind. The sponge will absorb whatever kind of water it is dipped into. It will not be able to discriminate dirty from clean water, but will absorb everything. So too these young minds. The environment around the children in early childhood will be taken in by children as is. For this reason, preschool education has to ensure a positive environment at any cost. There has to be an affectionate environment which is stimulating and rich in language, amongst other things. A positive, warm and caring environment and adult in the preschool will make a vast difference to the children’s learning capacities and skills. It will also ignite a zest for and love of learning in the child, which will yield many positive results in later life.
The last, but not the least, important thing to keep in mind in the planning for preschool education is the choice of content in the curriculum. Not only does it have to be developmentally appropriate, it has to connect meaningfully with the child in real-life terms. The child has to make a meaning out of any preschool activity and connect it to real life. Otherwise, there is no assurance that whatever has been taught will stay for any significant period of time. This is particularly true about the teaching of languages. Children will struggle to learn reading and writing if we are not able to connect the skills to real life instead of teaching them as rote memorisation and mechanical hand activities respectively. If we start teaching things from what is known to the child, s/he immediately makes meaning out of it, connects to the activities and gets maximum benefit out of the experience.
If we want our preschoolers to learn to spell and write c-h-r-y-s-a-n-t-h-e-m-u-m or h-i-b-i-s-c-u-s, 

we have to give them these flowers to see, touch and smell- a workbook alone is not going to help at all !!  
[ published in DH, Bangalore]

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