Early Childhood Education Is a Big Deal


Dec 2022

Early Childhood Education

The emotional, social and physical development of young children provides the building blocks for educational achievement, responsible citizenship and lifelong health, just to name a few. A child’s early years are crucial for his or her overall development, both in the short and long-term. Guest editor of this SingTeach issue Dr Ng Ee Lynn, Senior Education Research Scientist from the Centre for Research in Child Development at NIE, shares with us more on the different areas of impact that early childhood education has on young children and the person they will become.

Early Education in Singapore

In the past, one common misconception of early childhood education (ECE) was that it is only about learning basic academic skills such as reading and writing when in fact, it is more than just that, going even beyond preparation for primary school.

“It is heartening to see now that this misconception is slowly eradicating because over the years, more and more attention is being placed on early education and the important role it plays in a child’s development,” Ee Lynn, whose research interests centres around learning and development in early and middle childhood, says.
Ee Lynn on Early Education

Minister of State for Social and Family Development Ms Sun Xueling also shared earlier this year at the Early Childhood Development Agency annual appointment ceremony that Singapore has spent more than $13 million dollars in the past 6 years to train early childhood educators (Teng, 2022). This indicates that developing the quality and profession of ECE in Singapore has been a priority for the nation.

“Early childhood educators play an essential role in providing stimulating and high-quality learning environments that support optimal child development,” Ee Lynn explains. “One of the key features of a high-quality learning environment is high-quality teacher-child interactions, which include creating a sensitive and warm learning environment that supports and maximizes children’s learning and classroom engagement.”

If the importance of ECE is more than we thought, this then brings us to the next question: How exactly does it benefit children in their overall development?

Four Areas of Early Development

“Although it is not compulsory for children to attend preschool in Singapore, an increasing number of parents now acknowledge and understand the benefits of early education,” Ee Lynn shares. She also adds that there are four important areas of early childhood development: cognitive, social and emotional, communication (speech and language), and fine and gross motor skills. These skills contribute to improved school readiness skills in the short-term, and better cognitive, physical, and socio-emotional well-being in the long-term.

During the early childhood years, children are capable of absorbing information around them and learning multiple new things simultaneously; they are constantly processing and making sense of new experiences.

“Exposing children to high-quality early education helps to support their cognitive, language and motor skills, as well as their social and emotional skills,” Ee Lynn explains. “As children transition from preschool to primary school, their social and emotional skills, such as impulse control and awareness of other people’s feelings, help them play and learn effectively in more formal group settings.”

However, for children to be able to develop social and emotional skills, it is also crucial that they can communicate with others effectively. Language skills help children communicate what they want and what they feel to others. As such, early language development becomes crucial to children’s ability to form social relationships and connect with others.

“The first 3 years when the brain is developing is the most crucial period for acquiring speech and language skills,” Ee Lynn shares. “A high-quality early childhood classroom supports language development by providing an emotionally supportive and cognitively stimulating environment. Moreover, if a school has a bilingual programme, children will also be exposed to how the sounds within different languages work together.”

However, for a child to truly benefit from ECE, quality preschool education is only one part of the equation. The other part is parent involvement.

There are four important areas of early childhood development: cognitive, social and emotional, communication (speech and language), and fine and gross motor skills.”
– Ee Lynn, on the four areas of early development

The Power of Parent Involvement

“When parents are involved in their child’s ECE, they are more in tune with what is happening in their child’s preschool and have a better chance of establishing a connection between what’s learned at school and what happens at home,” Ee Lynn says. This homeschool partnership is a crucial element in a child’s development and supports further learning.

However, one of the most challenging problems for many early childhood educators is in identifying the most effective way to better engage parents in their child’s learning. “One way to address this challenge is to establish good lines of communication between the preschool and parents,” Ee Lynn shares.

Also, to a large degree, community involvement is beneficial for children in the longer-term as it gives them a sense of belonging especially because they grow in the context of their community.

“As they interact within their smaller community environments such as an art class for example, they begin to get a sense of what the larger society is like. They learn to understand how their actions affect others, and what values and sensitivities the community shares,” Ee Lynn adds. The creation of a local community in early childhood becomes the supportive, positive, uplifting foundation of a child’s life.

“When parents are involved in their child’s ECE, they are more in tune with what is happening in their child’s preschool and have a better chance of establishing a connection between what’s learned at school and what happens at home.”
– Ee Lynn, on why parent’s involvement is crucial

Research in Early Childhood Educators’ Well-Being

As Singapore continues to build on efforts to develop the quality and profession of ECE, it becomes increasingly important that educators’ well-being is also considered.

“There has also been research that shows that poor physical, psychological and workplace well-being hampers early childhood educators’ ability to create and sustain high-quality learning environments,” Ee Lynn shares. “Several studies have reported negative relationships between educator stress/emotional exhaustion, and the quality of emotional and instructional support provided in the classroom.”

According to Ee Lynn, highly stressed teachers are susceptible to having conflictual interactions with their students, are less likely to establish supportive relationships with them, and more likely to use more reactive and punitive classroom management strategies. Emotionally exhausted teachers may also lack the motivation or energy to engage in preparation for daily instructional activities, which compromises the quality and rigor of the learning experiences they provide in the classroom. Consequently, the classroom climate is not conducive for meeting students’ learning and emotional needs.

“Consistent with this line of reasoning, several studies have reported strong connections between early childhood educator stress and child outcomes, including poorer social skills, poorer socio-emotional functioning, lower child engagement with adults, peers, and materials as well as higher instances of behavioural problems,” she adds. “Empirical findings clearly indicate that poor educator well-being has an adverse impact on children under the educators’ care and the educators themselves. International scholars and researchers are currently advocating for incorporating early childhood educators’ well-being as a crucial and essential element in creating and maintaining a high quality ECE system.”

As Singapore continues to strive toward raising the quality of ECE, Ee Lynn hopes that one day, there would be a focused national research agenda to clarify the state of early childhood educators’ well-being in Singapore, the factors that contribute to their well-being and the relationship between educators’ well-being and child outcomes.

Reference

Teng, A. (July 13, 2022). Over $13 million invested in training early childhood educators: Sun Xueling. The Straits Times. https://www.straitstimes.com/ singapore/parenting-education/more-than-13-million-invested-in-trainingearly-childhood-educators-sun-xueling



Original Article on: 
https://singteach.nie.edu.sg/2023/01/12/early-childhood-education-is-a-big-deal/


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