Well-known statesman Nelson Mandela once said: “Education is the great engine to personal development. It is through education that the daughter of a peasant can become a doctor, that the son of a mineworker can become the head of the mine, that the child of a farm worker can become the president of a great nation.”
The truth of this statement can only be fully appreciated if one considers the enormous importance of preschool education. The famous Japanese violin teacher and educationist Shinichi Suzuki once expressed a great truism when he said, “The destiny of children lies in the hands of their parents.” Parents largely determine the direction and quality of this destiny in the first seven years of their children’s lives.
A study by HighScope Educational Research Foundation of Ypsilanti, Michigan, showed the significant value of early learning. From 1962-1967, 123 African Americans, all aged 3 to 4 and born in poverty and therefore at a high risk of later failing in school, were randomly divided into two groups. One group was exposed to a high-quality preschool program, while the control group was not exposed to any preschool program. The program the experimental group was exposed to was based on HighScope’s active learning approach.
In the study’s most recent phase, 95% of the participants were interviewed at age 27. Additional data were gathered from the subjects’ school, social service, and arrest records. The most significant findings of this study were:
- Almost a third as many of those attending the preschool program, as opposed to those with no preschool exposure (71% vs. 54%), graduated from regular or adult high school or received their General Education Development Certificate.
- At age 27, four times as many of those exposed to the preschool program, as opposed to those with no preschool exposure (29% vs. 7%), earned $2000 or more monthly and scored higher on home and car ownership.
- At age 27, only one-fifth as many of those with proper preschool exposure, as opposed to those with no preschool exposure (7% vs. 35%), had been arrested five or more times, and significantly fewer arrests for drug dealing were made under the preschool program group members (7% vs. 25%).
- The rate of out-of-wedlock births was lower among the group that had received preschool exposure (57% vs. 83%).
There is a proverb that one never gets too old to learn. However, this is only partially true. Certain aspects of learning can best be acquired effectively during the first seven years of life. Parents desirous of offering their child an adequate preschool education should, therefore, concentrate on these aspects of learning. Some of the most important learning skills and aspects are discussed below.
Language ability is a significant predictor of reading ability. It is, therefore, of the utmost importance that parents do everything possible to ascertain that their children are given optimum opportunities for language acquisition. Before seven, a child has a phenomenal ability to learn language. From the age of eight, the child’s ability to learn language is equal to that of an adult. Parents should exploit the fantastic opportunity presented only once in every child’s life and only for a short time.
Parents should talk to their toddlers as often and as much as possible. The more the child is exposed to language, the quicker they will start to understand speech and speak. Time should be set aside for story reading or storytelling daily. However, the same story must be read or told repeatedly. The same story should be read to the child for several months before a new story — a slightly more advanced one — is introduced. This new story must also be read over and over for many months.
Effective language acquisition depends upon ample repetition of words, phrases, and language structures.
Concentration is both an act of will and an acquired skill. Therefore, parents must ensure that the small child will receive enough opportunities to exercise this skill to sit still and concentrate for at least 20 minutes or so by the time they go to school.
Parents can start reading stories to their children from about two years. It is important, however, that the child sit still and listen to the story. They should not run around or play during the reading. To make this possible, the parent must start with a short story of about five minutes and then, little by little, increase the time. In this way, the child’s attention span can gradually be stretched.
3. Work attitude
The idea of school readiness is a universally accepted concept. However, readiness for work is even more important than school readiness.
Over the past decades, there has been a tendency to try to make learning fun. The truth is that learning is work. Naturally, work — just like learning — can often be very interesting, and it can even be enjoyable. Moreover, there are always aspects of work — and therefore also of learning — that are neither interesting nor enjoyable. Regardless of this, however, they have to be done.
It is important to teach a child that work has to be done to the best of one’s ability — even when there are aspects of work that are not interesting or enjoyable. Children whose parents succeed in teaching them this face a brighter future.
Two common symptoms of learning-disabled children are low muscle tone and that they never crawled. Both these problems can usually be prevented.
Low muscle tone may indicate weak muscle strength. The general muscle strength of the body is, to a large extent, determined by the strength of the back muscles. Muscles remain weak when they are not exercised. Parents should, from very early in their life, provide their child with opportunities to exercise his muscles, especially the back muscles. This can — and should — start from as early as a month or two.
By following a straightforward procedure, parents can lay the foundation for their children to have good coordination and strong muscles later. From about a month or so, the little baby should be allowed to spend time on the floor in the face-down position. The baby will lift their head, and this will develop strong back muscles. Being left in this position will also encourage the baby to try to move forward, encouraging them to start crawling.
Later, when the child is a little older, hand-eye coordination can be developed by playing throwing and catching games with the child with a ball or beanbag. As a preparation for good handwriting, fine motor control can be developed by letting the child crumple papers. Start by tearing pages from an old telephone directory and giving the child one page at a time to crumple into a tight ball with one hand only.
5. Body parts
Put on a pair of glasses with blue lenses. Everything you look at will have a tint of blue.
The great German philosopher Immanuel Kant (1724-1804) once said that we “see things not as they are but as we are.” This axiomatic statement is based on the fact that human beings approach and interpret our world from inside our bodies. Just like everything appears blue to persons with blue lenses, our perception of our world is tinged by our knowledge of our own bodies. The child, who has inadequate knowledge of their own body, will be inclined to misinterpret the world around them.
For an example of this, consider the phenomenon of reversals. Our bodies have a right and a left side. Therefore, it is inevitable that we shall interpret all objects we encounter in terms of two-sidedness. Unless the child has been familiarized adequately with their sidedness, there is the distinct danger that he may misinterpret the sidedness of other things — like b’s and d’s.
Bath time presents an excellent opportunity to teach the small child body parts and sidedness. The teaching should commence as soon as the child can sit in the bath. Don’t simply take the little foot and scrub it; rather, hold your hand and then say, “Give me your right foot,” and wait for the child to place their right foot into your hand. If they give you their left foot, say, “No, the right foot,” and then scrub only this foot. Next, nominate another body part, with left or right, and wash this. In this way, go through all the body parts, each one — where applicable — with left and right.
If a parent continues doing this every night for two or three years, the child will have no uncertainties about left and right or body image. The effect of this, among other things, will be that the child will not have any difficulties distinguishing between b’s and d’s.
Counting can be regarded as the language of mathematics. It is, therefore, just as important to teach a child from very early in life to count well. The easiest way to teach a child counting is to start with their fingers, first with the fingers of one hand and then later with both hands. Remember that, like with anything else, much repetition is required.
Color is another essential, basic thing that should be taught to children early in life. It is important to start teaching the basic colors first: white, black, red, green, blue, and yellow. Again, much repetition is required. One can, for example, play games with colors, e.g., “Put all the yellow blocks into the green box.”