As the adage goes, “Children are little sponges”. They absorb all sorts of information from their surroundings. It has now been proven by science that brains grow fastest during the early years. By the age of five, a child’s brain is ninety percent developed. There is pressure on parents and schools to teach kids as much as possible to strengthen their foundations. However, the fact is that learning is second-nature for the kids. They have been learning even before they were born – when they were just in the womb.
The pre-kindergarten curriculums have, therefore, been modified. In the past, kids were taught in a traditional classroom environment, where the student was merely a passive receiver of information. Now science has shown us that children are natural learners. They are eager to adapt to new ways, and all that is required is guidance. If steered in the right direction, they can achieve their fullest potential. Now, learning is becoming more all-rounded, which involves exploring all five senses. This is a more holistic approach to teaching and learning. It also aids the children in exploring themselves and their varied interests, which is important for character development.
Since this is still a relatively new concept, educationists are researching more into this field, and several career opportunities are now available for those interested in bringing a revolution to the education system.
An essential part of this is changing and improving the curriculums of the Pre-K classes. The MS program in Curriculum & Instruction at the Emporia State University is one such program that provides in-depth knowledge to the educators on how to design, implement and manage the curriculum in schools.
Eventually, we might even witness a global change in the education system where the aim is to nurture the child, rather than boxing them in. It is not surprising that the information or the way it is imparted can greatly impact a child’s personality, behaviors, learning curve, and overall character.
Let’s look at how curriculum impacts a child’s development in the early years.
Nurturing the In-Built Curiosity
Children have an innate passion for learning. Have you ever seen a kid rummaging through the drawers they are not supposed to touch? That is because they have a natural curiosity and a knack for learning. To hone their creativity, the most effective teaching methodology is play-based learning. Math, languages, and sciences are incorporated into these plays. The plays can vary from block play to make-pretend play and each kind plays a different role in the child’s development. It also provides a positive learning experience, and therefore children associate favorable memories with the school. As they move to secondary classes, this helps them retain a positive attitude towards learning. In a traditional academic program, however, children lose interest because they are constantly being told what to do.
Self-Initiated Play for Emotional Development
Is it quite a task to hide cookies from your kid? They always manage to somehow find that cabinet where all the sweets are hidden. It might be annoying for a parent, but it is a commendable trait to have as this shows us that children are creative problem solvers.
In a traditional classroom environment, the kids lack authority and are taught to follow the rules. In fact, they are rewarded for following rules. This hinders their decision-making abilities. However, when they are given choices, they learn to make decisions to figure out their wants, boosting their self-esteem.
Pre-K curriculum encourages children to make up pretend scenarios, invent stories and create games that promote self-sufficiency, confidence, decision-making skills, and the ability to resolve conflict in group settings. They may, however, not be directly exposed to science, literacy, and numeracy, and so they do not score as high on standardized tests as their counterparts from traditional academic environments do. But this gap closes by the first grade and in the long term, it is play-based learning that leads to faster cognitive development.
Social skills are one of the most important life skills for adult life. Communication skills are crucial in personal lives and professional life, and the early years curriculum is designed to teach these skills to children via structured and unstructured activities.
The social side of play helps children build friendships and learn how to work collaboratively in a team. Make-believe games teach them how other people might feel and think as a reaction to their behaviors. It offers them an opportunity to safely explore the consequences of their actions in the real world and resolve conflicts. On the other hand, children in traditional academic programs often exhibit more behavioral issues than those in the play-based learning environment.
In a traditional classroom, children sit in front of a whiteboard all day long. They are not allowed to explore their physical skills, however, research shows that play promotes children’s motor skills. Providing children with various tactile experiences helps build muscle mass and coordination. Letting them touch and explore the feeling of sand, plushy toys, wooden blocks, wet paint is an example of a tactile activity. This could be coupled with teaching them new vocabulary or shapes etc.
Play also increases physical activity and it is an active form of learning and entertainment as compared to passive activities such as playing games on iPad, watching cartoons, or listening to the teacher giving the lesson. The physical movements as children run, climb, and jump during the play build their muscle mass and coordination.
If given the right amount of attention and encouragement, children will explore and nurture their innate talents. Fitting them into a box can lead to dissatisfaction and stress from an early age. Studies show that focusing on academic skills does not lead to faster cognitive development. So it is important that when the children get to kindergarten, they can adjust to a school setting, engage with their peers, and show excitement towards learning. Emotional and social development is just as important, if not more than acquiring academic skills. And this is what children learn in a holistic curriculum.