At no other time in a person’s life does one learn and develop as fast and intensely as in the early years. The care and attention a child receives in the first eight years of life – particularly during the first three years – are critical and influence the child for life. Learning is not confined to children of a certain age or to a formal school environment. In fact, babies learn rapidly from the moment of their birth. They grow and learn the most when they receive affection, attention and stimulation in addition to good nutrition and proper health care. Investments in early child development through early learning activities and improved school readiness along with health and nutrition interventions increases the likelihood that boys and girls will complete primary school.
Encouraging children to play and explore helps them learn and develop socially, emotionally, physically and intellectually. The importance of play in cognitive development cannot be overlooked. Play is central to children's learning, regardless of the actual content. The process of play is a powerful, multifaceted learning experience. Children's play involves exploration, language experimentation, cognition, and the development of social skills.
Children learn how to behave by imitating the behavior of those closest to them. As such, parents, teachers and caregivers need the knowledge and skills necessary to provide the child with the best early learning environment and interaction. All parents and caregivers should know the warning signs that indicate the child’s growth and development are faltering.
Parents, teachers and caregivers determine the level of development of infants and young children through interaction and play. Their involvement is crucial for early learning and lays the foundation for future learning in school. The overarching goal of early learning is to ensure disadvantaged children enter school on time and are cognitively, socially and emotionally ready for school.
The Education for All Global Monitoring Report 2007, published by UNESCO, focuses on early childhood care and education and finds it remains the forgotten link in the education chain in most developing regions. It calls upon countries to expand and improve early childhood care and education encompassing care, health and nutrition in addition to education. The report also includes statistical tables.