Early childhood is usually defined as the period from birth until the age of eight. It is the stage during which the physical development of children occurs in conjunction with their cognitive and emotional development. In this phase, they develop their skills by observing and connecting with the world around them. According to scientists, from birth to age five, a child’s brain develops more than any other time in life, and it is the time when a child can grasp knowledge at the fastest pace. So, the experiences formed in these early years tend to have an influence on their notion of ‘personhood’.

Early childhood education: Early childhood education encompasses a wide array of programmes that take place in private pre-schools, public schools, organisations working for the welfare of underprivileged children, and child-care centres. The principal objective of these programmes is not only to highlight the ways in which children become ‘active learners’ but also to bring to the fore the synergistic relationship between their physical and emotional well-being.

Early childhood education heralds the beginning of formal education and lays the foundation for lifelong learning. The National Curriculum Framework for early childhood care and education states that learning during the pre-primary years happens more by observation and experience than by incorporating thorough teaching in a classroom.

Though this is a calculated move to free pre-primary education from the burden of structure, it has certain setbacks. The curriculum often runs the risk of being oversimplified as playtime, with little scope for learning. On the contrary, an over-structured preparatory curriculum aimed at training a student to gain admission in a well-known school is also not desirable for tiny tots as it can over-burden them. During the early years, children require proper cognitive, social and emotional development, along with solid pre-literacy and pre-numeracy skills i.e. recognising alphabets and numbers.

Without focusing on these factors, developing a child holistically is not possible, as these skills can make their foundation strong. Therefore, it is important to strike a balance in early childhood curriculum, where children get the best opportunity to adapt these skills without being over-burdened.

Methods to make early childhood education meaningful

Learner-centric approach: Learning is a lifelong process and every individual is constantly learning and evolving through the dynamic interactions between their experiences. A shift of focus from teachers to students, i.e. a learner-centric approach, is essential for children and their overall growth. Installing such an approach in schools develops a lifelong love for learning among students and helps them develop a problem-solving attitude. Sharing resources, empowering them with significant responsibilities, paying proper attention to their activities, and so on motivates young students to become self-directed learners.

Knowledge based environment: In the rapidly evolving world of today, the approach towards education is changing every day. A well-designed curriculum tailored to 21st-century skills makes learners ready to take on challenges of the future pertaining to their higher education and professional life. Furthermore, including technology to design strategies in the classroom can positively impact learners.

A balanced approach to early year education: There are many different ways to teach young children, and each method has its own merits and demerits. What works in a certain demographic may not work in another setup. Time, physical space, teacher competence, parent community cohorts, student diversity etc. all have an effect on the educator’s choice of method to impart learning. Also, each child is unique in their achievement of developmental and cognitive milestones. Keeping all these realities in mind, it is essential to follow a balanced approach toward kindergarten education. Incorporating an authentic learning environment comprising a pretend play area, reader’s den, sand play etc., which are experiential, fun activities, with some level of learning, encourages learners in the context of real-world problems.

Observation is the key: Early childhood is all about curiosity and natural growth. Over-burdening kids with an elaborate curriculum, a huge amount of reading and writing, and a lot of assessments can become a hindrance to their natural growth. In the early years, it is important to recognise the abilities, strengths and weaknesses of children and help them to channel them properly.

(Inputs given by Beas Dev Ralhan, Co-Founder & CEO, Next Education India Pvt. Ltd)