A reading task could be a complex process altogether wherein the child needs to memorize the given information combined with some form of abstract thinking in order to understand the text. Just to recognize the alphabets and phonics is not enough to get the required reading skills. Similarly, the knowledge of three R’s in early educative years doesn’t ensure a child’s academic growth in higher classes where memorization of the information and thinking levels are quite different. Telling the children about “how, when and why” would increase their understanding and enhance their cognitive skills.
Basic goal of early childhood education
One of the goals of early education years is to develop and encourage the thinking and problem solving skills to accomplish the given tasks. A task like reading requires visual discrimination, comprehension skills, and pre reading abilities. Whereas, writing requires fine motor control, hand-eye coordination and the ability to construct and express thoughts. Arithmetic or maths skills require a child to think logically, recognize patterns, shapes and symbols, and to inter relate and express the ideas. As the children learn to read, write and perform mathematical tasks, they combine various physical, cognitive, social and emotional capabilities with these non academic behaviours.
The real aim of early childhood education is to help a child develop the skills which are necessary for the later stages of life. To prepare them for this, preschool children need time to master and refine the physical movements, stabilize their socio-emotional skills, and develop hands-on knowledge. This will provide a solid foundation for the life long learning processes.
The basics of learning readiness- Sight, sound, and touch
It is through sensory experiences that preschool children learn and master the skills of learning readiness. A good learning environment provides a variety of opportunities for children to see, hear, touch and connect with the surroundings. The characteristics of learning readiness are developed when he/she can listen, comprehend, focus and also learn through direct instruction. It’s not taught, it’s learnt through numerous interactions with the surroundings where a child prepares to benefits from the formal education later. A developmentally appropriate classroom offers a variety of learning opportunities through various hand-on experiences and exploratory activities. During the play time, children use sensorial experiences which are very important for their development. They also learn to relate the new knowledge to the existing one and store the information for later stages.
“When young children master the abilities and skills through play, they not only develop confidence, a positive disposition towards learning and a practical foundation for abstract learning, but they also exhibit a higher language level, more innovation, greater empathy and cooperation, better problem solving strategies and longer and greater attention span”- Smilansky (1990).
Another early childhood expert, Donaldson said that,” Greater attention span, an important asset in the primary classroom, develops as young children engage in longer periods of meaningful activity in a physically and mentally relaxed, receptive learning environment”
To achieve this goal, early education curriculum should comprise the basic three “I’s”– Interaction, Imagination and Integration.
Interaction– young children learn best when they are given an appropriate socio-emotional atmosphere. Their basic physical needs are also met through touch of their peer group and the care givers. Through hands-on experiences, children learn to develop the interactive skills. Their language abilities and confidence levels are also increased and they learn to make good and logical decisions in future academic tasks
Imagination– young children have a natural sense of curiosity and wonder. They possess an intrinsic need to see, feel and understand their surrounding. Children get motivated to imagine, wonder and explore the ways to organize and use the knowledge through creative and imaginary play. They also practice new skills for the future, refine language, and build social skills and use them later in their advanced learning processes as well.
Integration– According to DeVries & Kohlberg-1987, “Young children learn by using all of their senses to experience the physical world. During this multisensory learning process, children meet the basic need to integrate new awareness with previous knowledge through the process of active inquiry”. The integration of sight, sound and touch builds their understanding through hands-on experience, exploration and questioning. It allows children to come up with different outcomes. This ability to link their new and old knowledge is very crucial for their future learning experiences.