Early childhood is a critical period for brain development and learning. The best early childhood programs are clearly focused on each child’s intellectual, social, emotional and physical growth.
Children are successful when their learning is personally meaningful and engaging. When there are opportunities for self-initiated play in the presence of engaged teachers, balanced with more focused, experience-based learning activities, the rewards are obvious. Children who are socially, emotionally and intellectually engaged learn better. When they master a challenging task or solve a complex problem it feeds back on their emotional state in a positive way.
Designing and maintaining a rich learning environment with ample opportunities for play-based learning and intellectual growth requires careful and thoughtful planning. The structure of an early learning environment – both physically and in the learning opportunities that are presented – is the most crucial role played by an early childhood professional.
how to recognize it and how to organize indoor environments to invite
children into play. (running time 3:21)
Neurologically speaking, providing the right conditions for development in early childhood is more effective than treating problems at a later age. Emotional well-being, social competence and cognitive abilities serve as the foundation of human development, and alongside that, a child's progression into learning. Play is one of the most effective ways to develop self-regulation and build the executive functions of the brain.
A growing body of new research indicates that many children start school but are not ready to learn. This is not because they do not know their letters or numbers, but rather because they lack one critical ability: the ability to regulate their social, emotional, and cognitive behaviors. This body of research shows that self-regulation -- often called executive function -- has a stronger association with academic achievement than IQ or entry-level reading or math skills. Diamond, A. (2007), Pellis, S. (2010)
how children weave play into all they do and how play-time for children takes place in
"the cracks of adult organized time." (running time 2:01)
Facilitating Children's Play: Dr. Jane Hewes has tips on how you can create an environment that allows children to explore their environment and learn through play.
- Miller, Edward & Almon, Joan (2009). Crisis in the Kindergarten: Why Children Need to Play in School. : Alliance for Childhood, College Park, MD.
- Blair, Clancy & Diamond, Adele (2008). Biological processes in prevention and intervention: The promotion of self-regulation as a means of preventing school failure. Development and Psychopathology. London, UK: Cambridge University Press.
- The National Scientific Council on the Developing Child (2007). The Science of Early Childhood Development: Closing the Gap Between What We Know and What We Do. Harvard University, Cambridge, MA.