Education is vital for the mental and social growth of children and a focus on structured learning from a young age can instil students with good habits that will help them make the most of their time in education. But should academic good habits be established before children reach their first years of schooling?
The Early Years Foundation Stage – including nursery – is increasingly being seen as a stage in education that should not be underestimated.
It’s a point that has been raised recently by charity Save The Children, which is calling for every nursery to employ a teacher to help toddlers develop their speech and language skills.
The charity quoted Professor Torsten Baldeweg, Professor of Neuroscience and Child Health at University College London’s Institute of Child Health, who argued: “Why is it important to stimulate children before they go to school? It is precisely this period where we have explosive brain growth, where most of the connections in the brain are formed.
“We need input to maintain them for the rest of our lives. And we know that if these connections are not formed they, to variable degrees, will suffer longer term consequences to their physical, cognitive but also emotional development.”
Gareth Jenkins, Director of UK Poverty for Save the Children, said: “Toddler’s brains are like sponges, absorbing knowledge and making new connections faster than any other time in life. We’ve got to challenge the misconception that learning can wait for school, as, if a child starts their first day at school behind, they tend to stay behind.
“To tackle the nation’s education gap, we need a new national focus on early learning to give children the best start – not just increasing free childcare hours, but boosting nursery quality to help support children and parents with early learning.”
As the Government looks to promote in-school training schemes in a bid to boost teacher numbers, perhaps these need to be funneled to the very earliest stages of education to address.
But are teachers essential? It might be preferable to have qualified professionals guiding the development of nursery children but it is, after all, expensive.
As teaching assistant jobs continue to attract passionate and competent candidates, perhaps it is these support staff who would be ideally placed to step into early years?
But not all agree that teaching is the answer to address the early development of children. In fact some fear that the imposition of a ‘nappy curriculum’ is harmful and leads to an unnecessary ‘schoolification’ of early years.
Dr Richard House, senior lecturer at Roehampton University’s Research Centre for Therapeutic Education, said: “Parents are under undue pressure to prepare children for formal schooling, according to a system too inflexible to cater for the highly diverse developmental needs of young children,” the letter says.
“Many feel disquiet about commercial influences and the statutory imposition of inappropriate computer experience on young children.
“There should be ways to pursue equality without imposing an indiscriminate compulsory framework upon all children, irrespective of their needs.”
Having more teachers in early years settings will only serve to entrench this ‘schoolification’ – and those concerned with this would argue that Save The Children’s concerns should be addressed by other means.
The search for the ‘right answer’ and the best solution to developing the next generation of children is likely to continue for some time to come.