For the development of a young child, stimulation and early learning make a world of difference
The importance of play must be considered. Play is how young children learn to navigate the world and build narratives, knowledge and social skills. Play is an essential business for children.
A young child’s brain is full of innate potential, and the early years offer an irreplaceable window of opportunity to set a path towards success in primary school and later in life. Quality early childhood education generates a positive learning sequence, while lack of access to early education widens achievement gaps and restricts opportunities in later years. Children who fall behind at a young age often never catch up with their peers, perpetuating cycles of underachievement and high dropout rates that continue to harm vulnerable children into their youth.
Parents and caregivers are the principal architects of a child’s environment and brain development in the early moments of a child's life. The tools they use are the basics of engaged parenting. They include talking, playing, storytelling, reading and singing. They include love. These activities may seem minor. But they have a significant effect. By interacting and responding to a child, the parent stimulates the neural connections that build a foundation for brain development – and the child’s future health and wellbeing.
Children between 3 and 6 might be just beginning life’s journey. But in fact, more than 85 per cent of their brain development is already nearly in place. These early years provide a critical window of opportunity for girls and boys to build the foundations of learning and develop skills to help them succeed in school and throughout their lives.
Playing is a critical learning activity for young children. Children learn best through play. Play creates powerful learning opportunities across all areas of development – intellectual, social, emotional and physical. Through play, children learn to forge connections with others, build a wide range of leadership skills, develop resilience, navigate relationships and social challenges, and conquer their fears. When children play, they feel safe. Children play to make sense of the world around them. More generally, play provides a platform for children to express and develop imagination and creativity, key skills critical for our technology-driven and innovative world.
Governments and other stakeholders must create an enabling environment to encourage playful interactions between parents/caregivers and children. This includes developing policies that promote play-based learning and affirm children’s right to play, and investing in parenting support programmes that support caregivers’ health and well-being.
Early learning has multiple benefits for the child as well as the community. Quality early education sets a strong foundation for learning outcomes. Children who attend early education activities are likelier to stay in school and attain minimum reading and mathematics competencies in primary education and beyond. Early learning is an effective strategy for promoting economic growth. Quality early education narrows early achievement gaps for children from disadvantaged households and places them on an equal footing with their well-off peers.
Quality early education sets the stage for a positive transformation in learning outcomes throughout a child’s lifetime. Successful learners move more efficiently through the education system, which makes investing in quality early learning opportunities cost-effective, reducing the need for remedial efforts and resources to compensate for lost learning.
Early education should play a central role in the continuum of learning and development. It can facilitate close collaboration with parents in the earliest years and provide a bridge into education systems through the primary years and beyond. Quality early education leads to better intellectual and social-emotional development for children, as a solid start to learning forges neural pathways that later ‘catch-up’ efforts can never hope to reproduce. Further, children’s participation in quality early education helps children establish healthy behaviours that last a lifetime.