Early childhood comprises a number of life stages, marked by developmental milestones. The period of time from a child’s birth to age 8 is referred to as the period of Early Childhood. It is very crucial in children’s lives because it is when they first learn how to interact with others, including peers, teachers, and parents, and also begin to develop interests that will stay with them throughout their lives. Also, some of a child’s most important cognitive development happens during this period and by taking an active role in the early childhood education process, parents and educators can ensure that their children have all the support they need to develop to their full potential. In addition, in the first few years of life, more than one million neural connections are formed each second – a pace never repeated again. Hence, Early Childhood Education is of interest not only to classroom teachers, childcare providers, college and university faculty, and researchers but mainly to parents and family relations as the children are more receptive to human contact during this time.
Early Childhood Development (ECD) has always been given primary focus when it comes to child education research and practices across the globe. At the same time, there are a lot of assumptions among scholars and parents in understanding the meaning of early child development and related practices. The main purpose of this article is to highlight how these assumptions need to be examined and questioned to understand the dire need for a complete child-centric meaning for ECD against the western narratives of child development.
The current narratives of Early Childhood Development (ECD)
At present, the science and techniques of ECD are closely tied to western narratives of progress, and the children’s development is linked to their economic prosperity when they grow up. Under the lens of ECD, the children are figured as human capital, investments in the future, or alternatively, as waste Einboden R, Rudge T and Varcoe C (2013).
The current narratives of ECD and the recommended early child development practices are widely based on the outcome of EDI (Early Development Instrument). Being the world’s most successful and widely-used population-based tool to monitor the state of early child development, EDI captures the ability of a child to be school–ready but does not seem to capture the significance of historical, social, and cultural contexts to portrayals of brain development of a child.
As much as this theory had influenced many nations to make educational policy changes and pedagogical decisions, it has gone so deeply into the educators’ and parents’ beliefs that getting the child ready for school is considered the main milestone of early child development. But focusing on the practices that can be functional in the child’s local context is completely ignored.
The questions below which need thorough examination by both parents and educators.
- Is the value of a human-defined as a productive citizen in a market economy?
- Can the children feel needed and valuable in their own right?
- Isn’t conceptualizing the child merely as potential capital, a violation of that child’s existence (O’Neill, 1994)?
- Are academic successes or failures located at the site of the child or the education system?
The need for local contextualization
From the above narratives, it is evident that the tremendously diverse children’s needs, thoughts on indigenous knowledge, cultural traditions, parenting practices, family contexts, multilingualism, purpose, and aims of early childhood education, views regarding children, concepts of learning, and views on teachers/teaching were not placed at the center, but the nation’s market economy by conceptualizing the children merely as potential capital.
Placing the children at the center as those who have the right to be heard regarding decisions affecting their lives will help us to understand the true meaning of a child’s development.
6 child-centered early childhood practices
Socio-cultural factors – A large-scale force
Many ECD studies recommend sociocultural factors as the most valuable aspect of child development. The researchers believe that higher mental processes of the individual have their origin in social processes. Socio-cultural factors such as language, aesthetics (appearance), religion, values, attitudes, social organization, family, and community play a significant role in shaping the child’s future.
The home/family background
The African proverb says, “It takes a village to raise a kid.” But in the modern world, even the family is not available to raise the kids because of juggling parental responsibilities and having a career to maintain. The family is the foundation from which the learning activities of any child take off. Parents can model positive relationship behaviors by spending time with their children. In turn, the children can assist their parents in the house by doing chores which makes them active and have a better understanding of life. By engaging their children in relationship-building, physically healthy, and learning activities, parents can open a plethora of doors of learning for their young and active minds.
From birth, talk with your child and treat them as a talker. The key is to use many different words in different contexts. The adequate use of language is critical in a child’s emotional development because this is the primary way the children express themselves, articulate their needs, and try to receive and reciprocate emotional support with their loved ones.
Exposing the children to their own culture can help them to build values, language, belief systems, and an understanding of themselves as individuals and as members of society. Hence it is important to have children participate in all the familial cultural activities and festivals along with multi-cultural exposure. This can help a child’s development in many ways, such as feeling confident in themselves or being comfortable interacting with others as they become adults.
Community / Family Relations
It is very important to have the children communicate with the community as often as possible. Community plays an exceptionally important role in a child’s development because the child grows connected to the neighborhood or the family relations and the people in it. Local customs and the way people communicate make up an integral part of any individual, especially a child – whose immediate environment is their entire world.
Aesthetics, or a set of values relating to nature and the appreciation of beauty, should be incorporated into early childhood development. In doing this, young children will see the connection and importance of music, visual arts, and pretend-to-play in their education. It will help increase motivation and develop appropriate interpersonal skills.
To sum it up, it is crucial to examine where early childhood education goals and practices come from, what and whose purposes they intend to serve, and whether they are functional in the local and familial context.
Given the social and ethical complexities of the world that children live in, a unified conception of the early childhood education approach may not be possible. However, a constant endeavor to think and look at what well-intended approaches may be more effective for a child’s development in their everyday life and may make them feel valued in their own right is what is needed from parents and educators. This new understanding can definitely enable parents and educators to create a nurturing and inclusive environment for the children to blossom naturally to their true potential.
Rochelle Einboden, Trudy Rudge and Colleen Varcoe. Producing children in the 21st century: A critical discourse analysis of the science and techniques of monitoring early child development. Sage Publications, Ltd, 2013.
O’Neill J (1994) The Missing Child in Liberal Theory: Towards a Covenant Theory of Family, Community, Welfare, and the Civic State. University of Toronto Press, Toronto, Canada.