User:Phaello/sandbox/Early Childhood Development/Raising Children for Optimum Development
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This is a paper I wrote in 2002 and presented to parents at Leseli Community Centre, as a means of sharing with them what research says about factors that may have lasting effects on the development of their children.
Parents, baby sitters and care givers can play a major role to help children become the best they can be. First children must be healthy, well fed and receive proper security from adults. The foundational work to the child can be done by you as a parent, what we see children as when they grow up is to a great extend the result of what has happened to the child during the early years, long before the child can go to school. The “wiring diagram” for each person’s brain (i.e. how the neurons will be connected in the brain) is determined by the genetic makeup of an individual. But for the actual connections to take place that is dependent on the stimulation and experiences in the environment (Gabbard and Rodrigues 2001).
Brain Development and the environment
Positive early experiences are very important for optimal development of children. These experiences have a lifelong effect on the learning capabilities and behaviour of children, as Isbell (2001) puts it:
"The early environment where young children live will help determine the direction of their brain development. Children who have severely limited opportunities for appropriate experiences will be delayed; this may permanently affect their learning. But, children who have the opportunity to develop in an organized and appropriate environment are challenged to think and use materials in new ways."
Critical periods (Windows of opportunity) are periods when development occurs faster than other times. It is the time when the brain is most ready to learn something new. Several areas that include language, logical thinking, music, vision and emotion have these prime times of development. If a child misses the right stimulation at this time, it is a very serious loss in terms of the development of specific functions. In abnormally deprived situations lack of stimulations may result in impairment of the child. These windows open wide during the early years and begin to narrow as the child gets older. For instance, Basic gross motor skills have their window open from prenatal stage to about 5 years of age. (Gabbard, C. & Rodrigues L. 2001).
At around 4 years too many connections in the child who was exposed to stimulation have been made. Connections that are not repeatedly stimulated get pruned (Berk 1999).
Raising the young children
Many parents and caregivers already do most of the things that we are going to point out here. But most of them are done without the knowledge of how far they take a child’s development, such that they can easily be ignored or repeated even if they have a negative impact.
The development of a child should be viewed holistically: physical, cognitive, emotional and social development. Each one of these areas of development is broad and will need different kinds of activities/experiences. For an example, physical development refers to body size growth and motor skills. For body growth to occur nutrition and proper health care are required; while motor skills will require a number of physical/manual activities that will enhance muscle activity and coordination.
Attachment is such important factor in the child’s development. It presents the child with the sense of security and affection. Research has shown that children who were securely attached as babies “have favourable relationships with peers, closer friendships, and better social skills” (Berk 1999 page 282). Breast feeding is one aspect which brings about attachment and strong bonding between the baby and the mother. Sleeping with the baby as Basotho mothers do, carrying the baby on the back, are among the things that create a strong attachment and a feeling for total security for the child.
Story telling and Reading
While the western nations emphasize the importance of reading to children of all ages, Basotho tell stories to children - Litšomo; and just like reading enhances the language acquisition of the child, the stories do. Without doing away with reading to children, litšomo should be made for young children as they also contain cultural heritage. Children learn language when they hear it spoken. The brain connections grow stronger as the child listens to the language. Most adults talk more slowly, louder and clearly when they talk to children, this makes it easy for babies to learn the language. Hearing repeatedly how the words sound like, gets the child ready to talk. Repetition gives children the chance to listen to words and get their sounds right. So what do we need to do with our children?
“Talking, singing, and reading to your child is not only important for brain development, but a wonderful opportunity for closeness with your child” (Canadian Institute of Child Health).
Emotional development of the child is influenced by the responsiveness of the caregiver. If the child’s emotions are interpreted as annoying by the caregiver, the response will not be a positive one. A caring response will not only provide emotional security, but it will also impact on the cognitive development of the child (Isbell R. 2001).
Violence has a negative impact on the normal development of the child. It can be violence in the family, in the community, “in TV, videos, video games and movies” (Bales et al).
Play and development
The years 2 to 6 are known as “the play years”, because this is the time when the child engages in more play. Play supports every aspect of development. It will support the physical growth, the fine motor skills, the language skills, emotional and cognitive development (Berk 1999). A Mosotho child always plays outside where she/he fiddles with soil, plays with other children or siblings; argues with others, engage into small fights and so on. It does not help to keep the child in the house, confronted with video machines, to watch movies; play computer games; not using their hands to develop the motor skills; not running around to exercise their bodies; not arguing to develop language skills, and reinforce emotional and social development. According to Bales et al (2002) “Brains need bodies that move, mental challenges and interaction with others. Television offers none of these things. Whenever possible, don’t waste time on it… . Children don’t need expensive toys to get smarter…”. Toys and machines do not have any emotions.
Outdoor play helps children to learn about their world/environment. They need to touch and feel objects and form their own constructs and understanding about different objects. Their language develops faster as they seek to get labels for the objects and names of children they play with (Isbell 2001).
Play helps children to make sense of their world. Some of the games they engage in stimulate imagination, creativity and understanding, thinking skills, how things work, fine motor skills, cooperation and sharing with others. It is through play that children can investigate and experiment on various things. Play “promotes longer attention spans” and allows children to “practice different roles” (Bales, D. W., Hanula G. M. & Bowers, D. 2002).