In my previous blog post, I wrote about the important timing for parents and caretakers in helping their children develop and the key factors that help shape a child’s brain. Children who receive appropriate care and stimulation in the early months and years of their lives, are more likely to develop positive cognitive and social skills and to experience good health, and will have increased potential for future earnings. Investment in these early days has the highest return than at any other time during a child’s life. In this post, we want to build on this momentum and focus on practical ways in which parents and care-givers can give their children a good head-start.
Early stimulation and play can help children grow, and prepares them for a smooth transition from early childhood to primary school. Parents and caretakers play a critical role shaping the child’s brain because a child’s experience during the early years affects brain development and functions.
Children from birth to three years of age need support and stimulation to develop in four key areas: Cognitive development and learning; movement; language; and social-emotional development. Between the ages of three and six, more complex stimulation is needed, including in moral awareness and in creative skills development.
It is important that parents and caretakers understand a child’s different needs according to age, so that they can offer suitable experiences and stimulation. Done right, these can help a child develop skills in decision-making, an ability to control body and emotions, an ability to understand self and others, an ability to build strong relationships with family and others, and eventually this will lead to success in learning.
|Khun Pantip and her daugther, Nong Gam.|
I met Khun Pantip Srilak and her daughter, Nong Gam, during my visit to the Baan Wah Royal IT Early Childhood Center in Khon Kaen, in the north of Thailand. This center is part of the UNICEF-supported ECD demonstration programme. Nong Gam is an out-going four-year-old child who has very strong social and emotional skills. She is able to play well with her friends and with older children and I was impressed by her ability to follow her teachers’ instruction and to interact with adults appropriately.
“On weekends, Nong Gam spends time with me at my shop, where she meets a lot of people. She loves playing with her friends and drawing. Apart from that, she also helps me out. We always spend quality time together. She is an active listener and interacts with elders with respect. I also notice that she has developed well after she started attending the Early Learning Centre, as thcenterre provides a positive learning environment.”
|Khun Chalita and her son, Tatcha.|
Khun Chalita Fuangaromya, is an actress and MC, who told me about her son, Tatcha.
“Tatcha just turned eight months old. My own technique is to provide him with a lot of quality stimulations, such as hugs, and a loving touch. I have a strong sense that he learns quickly and is very responsive to my voice. He reacts well to the environment. My husband and I really support age-appropriate stimulation. I love to read and talk to him. I also focus on activities that support fine motor skills and that practice co-ordination, including hand-eye co-ordination. We also promote a whole range of skills such as rolling, crawling, standing on a soft surface, playing with balls with different textures. For nutrition, I provided him with exclusive breastfeeding for six months and I now provide him with a healthy and age-appropriate diet”.
- Adequate nourishment is vital for physical development. Good and sufficient nutrition will bring in quality physical health. Infants should receive exclusive breastfeeding for the first six months; young children should receive only very low levels of salt and sugar.
- Sufficient and uninterrupted sleep increases a child’s brainpower, promotes positive emotions and increases mental alertness. Well-rested babies are more ready to learn and more attentive to stimulation. The sleep-wake cycles are different at different ages.
- A Conducive environment creates positive learning and promotes a lifelong capacity to learn for children. Children need to be safe and protected from fear, violence, abuse and neglect.
- When children are upset and have emotional moments, parents should be able to connect with their children’s emotions by allowing and encouraging them to explain the reasons for why they are upset. Parents should then revisit the lesson when children are in more control and receptive.
- Quality care promotes psychological resilience through quality parental education, child nurturing, and positive discipline.
- Quality stimulation helps to build better relationships with parents and caregivers and paves the way towards lifelong learning. These include playing, reading, singing, touching, and seeing new things.
For more child stimulation ideas and learning through play, please visit http://www.unicef.org/earlychildhood/files/Activity_Guide.pdf